Wednesday, May 4th, marked the close of the 2016 Alabama Legislature’s Regular Session. Legislators passed the constitutionally required appropriations bills fairly early in the session which left time for debate on several high profile issues. Many of these issues were not resolved which causes speculation that a special session may be called later in the year.
A detailed analysis of several legislative initiatives will be discussed over the next couple of days; I- Fuel Tax, II- BP Settlelment, III- Prison Construction, IV- Appropriations, and V- Medicaid.
Today…the Fuel Tax.
Representative Mac McCutcheon introduced legislation that would have increased gasoline and diesel taxes to the average of the bordering states. This would have increased the tax by six cents/gallon (a $200 million annual increase) immediately and the legislation also included language that the tax would automatically adjust once every four years for the next 12 year period.
The fuel tax was not ever brought to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote supposedly because the Senate had indicated it would not pass the bill and House members did not want to go on record voting for a tax increase if it was not going to be supported in the upper chamber.
After the appropriations bills (or “budget” bills) have been passed and transmitted to the Governor, legislation only requires a simple majority of those present and voting for passage. In the House, 53 votes are needed if all 105 representatives are present. Democrats represent 33 votes and it appeared that the conservative block of Republicans had gathered the 20 votes they needed in conjunction with the Democrats to block the legislation. But it never came to a vote.
In the Senate, a simple majority is 18 votes. Proponents of the bill had the votes for passage, however, there were 6 senators committed to filibustering the tax increase. In order to stop the filibuster, a cloture petition requiring 21 signatures is required. Opponents to the bill had 15 fiscally conservative senators that were not willing to cloture their fellow Republicans so there were not enough votes to stop the debate. Several of these 15 senators came under incredible pressure from the members of the BCA, Roadbuilders, Heavy Equipment vendors and Engineering Companies in their area.
Threat of the fuel tax being brought up existed until there were only 2 legislative days left. At that point there was not enough time to pass it in the House and the Senate and the bill died. Expectations are that the fuel tax will continue to be brought up whenever the legislature meets, including the potential special session later this year.
An increase in the fuel taxes, if one is enacted, will be distributed pursuant to legislation enacted into law that was introduced and managed by Senator Gerald Dial. This new law, that addresses fuel tax increases imposed in 2016 or 2017, will distribute the first $32 million raised annually (one penny of the increased tax) would be used as the payment stream for a new bond issue to fund a new round of ATRIP projects for the counties. Counties that still have posted bridges must use this funding for bridges first before any roadwork can be done. The remaining funding would be distributed 2/3 to ALDOT and 1/3 to the counties.
Dial’s bill also included “accountability” measures that would require that all funds be used only for roads and bridges and could not be used for administrative overhead, equipment purchases, offices, etc.
AFA supports sufficient funding for rural infrastructure, specifically, the repair/replacement of the approximate 1,000 bridges that are posted. However, AFA further believes that adequate funding would exist for this purpose if existing fuel tax revenues are allocated fairly between ALDOT and the counties. Currently, 99% of the tax on diesel fuel is directed to ALDOT, while the current tax on gasoline is distributed 55% to ALDOT and 45% to the counties. AFA supports allocating the existing diesel tax in a similar fashion to that of the gasoline tax.