By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Very powerful, very wealthy special interests support spending more taxpayer money on road construction projects and they spend a lot of money on elections so that they get their way in the Alabama Legislature.
Two weeks, ago the Alabama House of Representatives carried over a controversial bill sponsored by State Representative Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) when it became obvious that bipartisan opposition would defeat the bill on the BIR vote. Since the bill was carried over it could be brought back at any time at the call of the chair.
State Representative Isaac Whorton (R-Valley) said on Facebook, “I am hearing that the Alabama House will take up a gas tax proposal next Tuesday. From the little info that I am getting, this will be the same 9 cent proposal that had very little support last time. I thought that it was “dead.” Will keep you all updated.”
State Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) said on Facebook last week: “Was told this morning that the House Speaker is putting pressure on the Municipalities to get on board with the gas tax. But he said it was dead, right?”
The Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) replied, “I am not putting pressure on anyone. I am talking to the interested parties involved because there is still an interest. The Municipalities are part of the discussions. You have been down in Montgomery long enough to know everything you hear is not always the facts!! Please contact me for the rest of the story.”
Sen. Sanford replied to the Speaker, “If I misrepresented I do apologize. My statement came directly from someone in the meeting. But I do recall hearing on the radio “the Gas Tax is dead for this session and quadrennial”.
Speaker McCutcheon stated in response, “The gas tax bill that was brought to the House Floor is dead. There are some House Members that are working on an alternative plan. I told them I would look at it. During these discussions interested business leaders contacted me to consider looking at the issue. I having met with business leaders, county and municipal officials to share my concerns!!!”
The Alabama Political Reporter keeps hearing that highly paid lobbyists have been working the legislature on behalf of the road builders and the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) in order to resurrect the controversial tax increase in some form and that they are going to try to rush this through the legislature with a minimal involvement or notification to the voting public.
Sen. Sanford offered a compromise proposal that would have generated another $62 million a year for the Alabama Department of Transportation simply by imposing a very modest across the board cut to the other State General Fund agencies (SGF).
On Wednesday, Sen. Sanford wrote, “Just amended the General Fund Budget to move $63.5mm back to ALDOT for roads. That is money that has been transferred away for multiple years that will now go towards its intended use. All other GF line items were reduced by 3.44 percent.
FYI: the $63.5mm amount is almost equal to a 3 cent gas tax increase.
That proposal was approved by the state Senate’s Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee on Wednesday. On Thursday that amendment was defeated on the Senate floor during the General Fund debate.
Sen. Paul Sanford said, “General Fund Amendment to return your gas tax dollars to the Dept of Transportation failed on the Senate floor just now, at the hands of a Republican supermajority. However, there were 7 brave Conservatives willing to cut Government Spending verse demand more of your money.”
Republican Senators Paul Bussman, Larry Stutts, Phil Williams, Arthur Orr, Trip Pittman, and Bill Holtzclaw voted with Sanford to restore all the existing gas tax revenues to roads.
The legislature has neglected the roads for years by hundreds of millions of dollars, by diverting current road taxes to fund the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Courts. This longstanding diversion of road dollars to other non-roadwork uses is largely why the state’s infrastructure has not been properly maintained.
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. The proposed 9 cents a gallon state tax increase would raise that to 48.3 cents on gasoline and 55.3 cents on diesel.
The money instead of going directly to roads would instead be used to pay down a massive $2 billion bond issue that the state would write to fund election year road projects in every county in Alabama in the run up to the 2018 elections. The money would be managed by a new ATRIP committee in Montgomery, which would approve all of the projects.
The House could vote on rising the gas taxes as early as Tuesday.