Gov. Kay Ivey has called a special session intended to force lawmakers to focus on her proposed gas tax hike. Her decision comes after she said she would do so “if necessary” during her second State of the State address just an hour earlier on Tuesday.
The governor’s call during the beginning of the regular legislative session is just another hint at how seriously she is taking her promises to raise the motor fuels tax this year to fund infrastructure investment.
“It’s time to make our crumbling infrastructure a problem of the past,” Ivey said Tuesday night. “As governor, I say enough is enough.”
In a somewhat quietly dramatic sequence of events, the Senate and House Tuesday night voted to adjourn the regular session until March 19 just minutes after Ivey’s address, opening up the opportunity for Ivey to issue a proclamation declaring a special session.
Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, then said the proclamation would be coming “any minute.”
Then it did — right after 8 p.m.
Such a move forces the Legislature to focus on infrastructure — mainly the gas tax. Alabama’s constitution allows the governor to list purposes in their call for a special session, and anything outside of those listed issues is unlikely to be addressed by lawmakers.
“Due to the dire need to act now, I am [calling] the Alabama Legislature into a special session, focused solely on passing this critical infrastructure legislation,” Ivey said in a statement. “Beginning tomorrow, as we enter this special session, we must shift our focus and tackle this issue together! It’s time to make our crumbling infrastructure system a problem of the past.”
Ivey’s special session will be focused on a motor fuels tax increase, legislation about a Joint Transportation Committee to provide for effective legislative oversight of ALDOT’s use of the gas tax revenue and legislation that would give the Alabama Highway Finance Corporation authority to borrow money and issue bonds for the purpose of improving the Alabama State Docks and the Mobile Bay ship channel.
The money for the Port of Mobile has been in quiet discussion for months, if not years. It’s seen as a bargaining chip in the game of trying to get the gas tax through.
Anything not in the call requires a two-thirds vote of each house to be enacted, a hoop that lawmakers are unlikely to try to jump through during the special session.
The Senate adjourned to give two weeks for a special session within the regular session. The regular session will resume on March 19. Depending on how fast the chambers move on the bill, there could be votes on the gas tax by Friday if lawmakers choose to come back Friday.
The governor always delivers her State of the State address at the beginning of each year’s legislative session. The 2019 regular session began Tuesday morning. Republican leadership in both chambers have said they hoped to have Ivey’s bill — a broad effort to increase revenues for infrastructure investment — on the floor for a vote by Thursday.
Even in the now-called special session, the bill would still need to go through the typical three-day process before it could be voted on, but the special session also disposes of some procedural loopholes.
One is the budget isolation resolutions, essentially a preliminary vote on a bill. Because Alabama’s constitution requires the Legislature to pass balanced budgets, lawmakers have to vote on a resolution that essentially acknowledges they haven’t gotten to that yet.
To pass legislation before budgets are submitted to the governor, a chamber must first approve a Budget Isolation Resolution — or BIR — by a three-fifths vote of the quorum.
The BIRs can sometimes be a snag for the majority party early on. In a special session, no BIR is required.
Ivey’s proposal would raise the motor fuels tax by 10 cents over the next three years.
Dubbed the Rebuild Alabama Act, is being carried in the Alabama House of Representatives by Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, and in the Senate by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, Prattville.
Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, are strongly supportive of the measure.
Given the unified stance of the GOP leadership, it’s likely the bill will move swiftly through the legislative process regardless of whether or not Ivey calls a special session.