By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, April 13, the Alabama Senate voted not to repay the $437 million of principal that they raided from the Alabama Trust Fund in 2012. Senate Bill 267, sponsored by State Senator Bill Hightower, instead would divert most of the BP oil spill settlement money to new road construction, over half of it to Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
In 2012 a number of prominent conservative groups had predicted that the legislature had no intention of paying the money back when Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) and the legislators promised the voters that they would pay the money back if the voters approved the massive bond raid. Now some of those same conservative leaders are saying, “I told you so” to voters.
Ann Eubank who is the co-chair of the Rainy Day Patriots and director of the Alabama Legislative Watchdogs said, “Well, it’s just another instance of our supermajority Republican Legislature lying to us in order to get their hands on the money. Conservative Republicans in order to get elected, Liberal after they get there. Just wait for the big money commercials to make sure the low information voters do as they are told. Just follow the money and see where it goes. Same song, different verse.”
Deanna Frankowski with the Alabama Constitutional Conservatives said, “When you leave out a payback payment option in the Bill and then when the voters cause an uproar wanting a payment option to be included the Legislators added it into the bill so that it will pass. Now, they want to pass ANOTHER Bill to forgo the outstanding balance due. Just one more time the Legislators have said one thing and done another! Don’t be fooled by this new Constitutional Amendment.”
In 2012 voters were asked to go to the polls and approve borrowing about $143 million a year from the Alabama Trust Fund (ATF), which is the State’s investment account where our oil and gas royalties go and then are reinvested. The interest is used for roads, Forever Wild, and to prop up the State’s troubled General Fund (SGF) to avoid cuts to programs like State parks, prisons, mental health, and the struggling Alabama Medicaid Agency. The public was told that the principal from the ATF would give the economy time to turn around and begin booming by 2016 when our new business friendly legislature would have lured thousands of jobs to Alabama. Well it turned out that the ‘bridge loan’ from the trust fund was just a bridge loan to get past the 2014 election. Not only was there not money to pay back the ATF, but the legislature had to cut $66 million from SGF programs, raise taxes on cigarettes, nursing home beds, and prescription drugs and transfer $66 million from education to cover the lost trust fund raid money. Gov. Bentley even closed four State parks, 31 rural driver’s license office, a number of State armories (for inability to find the money for building maintenance) and even some state owned liquor stores. Bentley somehow still found money in the budget to raise the pay for his cabinet and staff, rebuild the Governor’s beachfront mansion, upgrade the state jet, and maintain “an inappropriate relationship’ with his top political aid, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
State Treasurer Young Boozer (R) opposes diverting the BP settlement money to road building projects. The Treasurer said the State should instead pay off the debts and restore the Alabama Trust Fund.
SB267 would still pay off the 2008 $162 million trust fund raid passed under the administration of Gov. Bob Riley, which is required by law; but not the $437 million 2012 raid.
The Senate rejected Boozer’s plan and instead passed SB267.
SB267 now moves to the Alabama House, which is also considering a measure to raise gas taxes for more road work. The Bill needs 3/5s support to pass the Alabama House.
It would still have to be ratified by Alabama voters in November.