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House reconsiders taxing Forever Wild but amendment fails again

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives voted down a proposed constitutional amendment charging the Forever Wild program with payments in lieu of property tax payments.

On Thursday, the House voted to re-consider the controversial resolution that would cost the state lands programs over $230,000 a year.  For the second time in the same week, supporters failed to come up with the 63 votes necessary to pass a constitutional amendment in the Alabama House.

The Legislature had completed a busy Thursday afternoon session when state Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, made a motion to reconsider House Bill 362 which had been rejected on Tuesday.  Rogers said it was a good bill and that the schools needed the money.

HB362 was sponsored by state Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alexander City.

State Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, has expressed concerns that while the property tax revenues could be covered today from timber sales; that could rise significantly in the future to over $ 1 million a year.

Tuggle said that he had amended his bill to cap the amount of payments in lieu of taxes to never exceed $750,000 to address Rich’s concerns.

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Rogers motion to suspend the rules to allow this matter to be brought up on the calendar passed 66-8.

The motion to reconsider HB362 passed 60-14.  Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, asked that rule 32 be put in effect, so no voting on absent members voting machine was allowed.

Tuggle said that since this is a constitutional amendment the voters will get the ultimate say if it did pass the legislature.  He estimated that Forever Wild would pay $300,000 to $360,000 a year in lieu of taxes.

“It would not impact Forever Wild’s operations any,” Tuggle said. “This is about money that has rolled off of tax rolls. I can show you where the $7 million in taxes have rolled off the rolls.”

Tuggle’s amendment capping the payments that Forever Wild would pay was adopted on a 51-4 vote.

HB362 failed yet again on a 49-12 vote.  While HB362 had the most votes of the people who did vote, the state constitution requires that a constitutional amendment get a three-fifths majority to pass.  It takes 63 votes and HB362 could only cobble together 49.  It failed on Tuesday on a 38-26 vote.

Tuggle said that Forever Wild receives $15 million a year from the Alabama Trust Fund to purchase more property and normally rollover about $3 million of that which they don’t spend.  On top of that, they have $33 million in the bank in their stewardship account.

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Tuggle said that Forever Wild makes enough money from its annual timber sales to pay the taxes.  Forever Wild was renewed by the legislature and the voters in 2012 and will continue to draw $15 million a year from the Trust Fund through 2032.

Forever Wild is strongly supported by both Alabama hunters and environmentalists; both of whom support the program, which protects the habitat of wild animals.

Tuggle said that he had received over 800 emails from people who opposed HB362.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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