Session begins, Alabamians grit teeth

“It’s time we change course,” said Alabama Governor Robert Bentley in his 2015 State of the State address. “It’s time for a bold move.”

Lawmakers in the room were hoping the governor was laying out his agenda for a new golf course, not a course of tough legislative action.

Alabamians across the state are hoping Governor Bentley just wants us to show off bold moves on the dance floor, not moving cash from our pocket books to the state.

To the governor, to lawmakers and to all Alabamians I have to say: it’s time to grit your teeth. Because the course is going to be rough and the boldness of the Alabama legislature is yet to be tested and leaves us all wondering what changes lie ahead.

Governor Bentley proposed eight pieces of legislation that will, essentially raise taxes in Alabama. Many include bringing back or getting rid of old tax credits, but some are actually brand new tax increases.

In fact, two increases include a 2 percent increase on the tax collected from automobile sales and the other is a 3 percent increase on the tax paid when renting a vehicle in the state of Alabama.

The third new tax increase is an additional 82.5 cents per pack on cigarettes. The governor’s tax proposals will have combined estimated total new revenue of about $541 million. That’s $541 million more coming out of Alabamians’ pockets per year.

Gritting those teeth yet? Blood boiling yet? This is how the upcoming legislative session is going to go for lawmakers all across the state. Wondering, wishing, hoping, debating, crying, and begging for better solutions to the state’s problems.

In the legislature, it will be a knock-down, drag-out fight between those ‘no new taxes’ candidates (even though Bentley was one) and the ‘we need new revenue’ legislators. The legislative leadership have voiced skepticism over any new taxes, but at the same time they admit that our state is facing, at minimum, a $300 million budget shortfall – if not much more.

This is just the beginning of the many issues the legislature will be debating this year. Others include: charter schools, changes to the Alabama Accountability Act, same-sex marriage bills, the lottery, compacts with the Poarch Creek Indians – just to name a few.

I will do my best over the next few weeks to outline the hot issues and relevant topics taken up by our state’s lawmakers. I wish I could pain a picture of high hopes, but with polar opposite options of underfunded budgets or new taxes, it’s hard to do so.

The best I can say is keep your fingers crossed and grit your teeth. This legislative session is going to be a bumpy, but necessary ride!

Brett Johnson
Political Columnist

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