By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, March 3, the Alabama Senate passed Senate Bill 180, sponsored by State Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville). SB180 divides up how the money would be spent if the legislature passes any increases in the state taxes on a gallon of fuel, as many powerful special interests are advocating.
Senator Dial said on the floor of the Senate that his bill doesn’t create a new committee it just keeps using the ATRIP committee we already have. Dial said that each county will get a minimum of $2.5 million each and they don’t have to provide a match. After that first $32 million the rest of the money will be divided under the existing formula we use today.
Dial said that SB180 is not creating a new money. We have not seen a funding bill yet, which must originate in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Alabama State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Bay Minette) said, “This is a good bill and would suggest that members consider and support this bill.”
Sen. Dial said, “All funds that are raised go to roads and bridges. It is wrong to call the gas tax a tax. It is really a user fee for motorists that use the roads and bridges. If you walk, ride a bicycle, or ride a horse you don’t pay the tax. People ask me about toll roads, our tolls are paid at the pump rather than the tolls. The user fees have not gone up since 1992 and that changes in fuel efficiency of vehicles means that they should.”
Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said that he visited Geneva County and the school superintendent there told him that the majority of kids there live on dirt roads so when it rains they can’t go to school. “We got some of them in Jefferson County. This starts the process so we can get good roads.”
Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) objected to using the new tax dollars to do another massive bond issue and questioned if the 20 years of payments would outlast the road repairs. Sanford said, “We just did the big bond issue on ATRIP and I am concerned my children are going to be strapped paying for this.”
Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) wrote in his blog, “As I reported in an earlier blog, proponents of an increased gasoline tax took a divide and conquer approach to move the legislation along. Several contentious points exists with this proposal but the most contentious seemed to be how any new tax revenue would be divided between the state, counties and municipalities. An actual gasoline tax increase has not been introduced (as we near the halfway point of the session) but a formula to distribute any new tax was introduced by SB180 and has worked its way through the Senate receiving final passage Thursday.
Looking solely from the formula aspect (and not a new tax) there were some good things in the legislation that I supported – namely that any new revenue must be spent on roads and bridges, not equipment and people. What I didn’t like about it is that the distribution formula appears to cut municipalities out of the initial cut, rather keeping the funding going to the counties. The municipalities would have to compete at the state level and/or work deals with the county. Our area has a great reputation for working together to improve our roads. I’ve often said that people drive through multiple counties and municipalities to get to work, school, worship or play; they really don’t care who owns the road, they just want them improved. We’ve done (and continue to do) a remarkable job in recent years with several projects in the Senate District to include the on-ramp at County Line Rd and I-565, the Slaughter Rd intersection and Indian Creek Bridge replacement, and several ongoing projects in Madison and Limestone Counties such as the widening and repaving of County Line Road. Again, these are all evidence of the local government teams working together and I’m proud to be a part of the team.
The divide and conquer approach this bill takes is it locks in about $500,000 for each county each year, guaranteeing all 67 counties will receive these funds for road and bridge work each and every year. Should this bill pass the House in its current form – get ready to see all 67 County Commissions on the steps of their respective County Court House asking the legislature to approve a gas tax increase. Latest rumor has the target at an increase of twelve cents a gallon, but of course you’re not supposed to notice paying that at the pump. I’ll keep you posted as things develop further.”
SB180 passed the Senate on a 25 to 4 vote. Senators Sanford, Sanders, Holtzclaw, and Bussman all voted Nay.
The Senate also passed House legislation long advocated by Dial to help all schools in the State to become wired.
Sen. Dial said afterward on Facebook, “One of the best days of my career in the Senate; with lots of help passed bill to establish the ‘Alabama Safe Infrastructure Trust Fund’ bill. The funding bill will allow for all schools to have a high speed internet connection; the bill will move Ala. ahead to total digital learning in the classroom. The bill is named after my good friends and colleague, Jabo Waggoner and Roger Smitherman.”
Alabama motorists currently pay 16 cents per gallon to the state of Alabama. The federal government collects another 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. County and municipal governments also levee their own taxes on fuels. According to gaspricewatch.com Alabama averages 39.3 cents of taxes per gallon of gas and 46.3 cents in taxes on every gallon of diesel bought for over the road use.
Special interests like the road builders and the county commissioners have been advocating for higher gas prices for the last several years. They claim that improving fuel efficiencies mean that today’s cars drive more miles but pay less gas taxes per mile of used and that the increase is needed to make up the difference.
The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) supports the legislation. On Friday, March 4, BCA’s Dana Beyerle wrote, “Another priority for BCA is SB180, which the Senate passed by a vote of 25-4. It would ensure that all new funds for roads and bridges are dedicated for that purpose and used in an accountable and transparent way. SB180, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, now goes to the House for consideration.”