AFA Members Know Luther is the Right Choice

The election for the United States Senate is tomorrow.  AFA has endorsed Senator Strange because of his unwavering support of private landowner rights.  You might be interested in what some of your fellow members are saying:

“The 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution recognizes the sovereignty of the states.  Senator Luther Strange, as Alabama’s Attorney General fought tirelessly to oppose the Obama Administration’s attempts to erode the rights of the states.  He has continued this battle by supporting President Trump’s efforts to reign in the federal government’s overreach.  I am going to vote for Luther and suggest your consideration to do likewise.”  Gray Skipper, Vice President, Scotch Plywood Company, Inc., Fulton

“Tuesday, September 26th is election day in Alabama.  I hope you plan to vote and to vote for Luther Strange.  Luther is highly qualified and his leadership is well known.  For example, it was Luther who led the Attorneys General from states affected by the BP oil spill to convince Congress that those states should receive the BP money.  He has successfully prosecuted politicians for corruption.  He served our state with honor and dignity and will continue to serve the nation the same way.”  Ann Bedsole, Mobile

“Luther Strange has consistently and strongly supported forest landowners and the forest industry while serving as Attorney General.  He knows and understands our issues and will be a respected leader for us in the U.S. Senate.  He deserves our support.”  Fred Stimpson, President, Canfor Southern Pine, Mobile

“The leadership of Jasper Lumber is grateful that Senator Strange took the time to come visit our facility and to meet the hard working, dedicated people of Walker County.  Senator Strange is fully committed to small business and creating an environment in which small businesses can thrive and allow working people to prosper through tax reform and reducing bureaucratic policies that weigh down the opportunities for growth.”  Al Bracewell, President, Jasper Lumber, Jasper

“It’s been said that if you want to know how well someone will act in the future, look at their past.  The past track record for Luther affecting forestry is unwavering.  We’ll continue to have an advocate if Luther remains in the U.S. Senate.”  Montgomery Simpson, Governmental Affairs Manager, Weyerhaeuser

“Luther stands for the values that are the foundation of the Alabama Forestry Association, smaller government with accountability to the tax payer“  Hank Bauer, Jr., AFA President

The election tomorrow is tightly contested and it’s important that those supporting Luther turn out to vote.  Please let your friends, family and co-workers know the importance of their vote.  Luther Strange should clearly be the choice of landowners and the forestry industry.

 

Severance Tax Bill Moves Forward

AFA’s bill to modernize the state’s antiquated and confusing severance tax statute took a major step forward yesterday.  Managed by Elaine Beech (D- Chatom), HB313 passed the Alabama House of Representatives on a unanimous, 103-0 vote.  The bill now moves to the Senate where it is anticipated to get its first reading on the next legislative day, April 11, 2017.  The bill is expected to be referred to the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee chaired by Senator Tom Whatley (R- Auburn).  A similar bill, the Senate companion sponsored by Senator Greg Albritton (R- Range), was given a favorable report by this committee earlier in the session.

Please take a moment to express your appreciation to all the members of the House of Representatives that supported the legislation yesterday.  The overwhelming support that was demonstrated on passage is testimony to Representative Beech and the respect that she has within both parties in the House.

The purpose of the legislation is to; (1) change everyone to a weight calculation for severance taxes and to do away with the lumber tally and log scale providing clarity to reflect current industry practices, (2) make sure that there is no double taxation, (3) be revenue neutral, (4) clarify that out-of-state manufacturers are not responsible for paying the Forest Products Manufacturers tax, (5) set forth that the collection of severance taxes is at the point of first delivery, and, (6) codify the legislative intent that forest based wood waste used for energy is to not be subject to severance taxation.

Alabama Legislature Heads into Spring Break

The Alabama legislature will adjourn this week having completed 13 of its allotted 30 days for the 2017 General Session.  They plan to take a couple of weeks off for spring break and will return on Tuesday, April 4.

The number one priority for every legislative session is to pass the appropriation bills necessary to fund state government.  As such, this legislature is moving promptly as the General Fund Appropriations bill (HB155- Clouse) originated in the House and has moved through that body and now awaits consideration in the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund committee.  The Education Fund Appropriations bill (SB129- Orr) originated in the Senate and has moved from committee and is expected to be considered before the full Senate today.

The General Fund appropriation includes an increase of $800,000 for the Alabama Forestry Commission for FY18 which begins October 1, 2017.  There is also a supplemental funding bill for the AFC (HB157- South) which will allow $550,000 to be drawn from the Emergency Forest Fire Fund to assist in funding for the current year’s (FY17) needs.  We anticipate that an additional bill seeking further supplemental funding for the current fiscal year to be introduced soon.

In the area of fiscal responsibility and limited government, a bill to phase out the state’s involvement of the retail sale of alcoholic beverages (SB160- Orr) passed out of committee and awaits consideration before the full Senate.

A bill to increase the state’s fuel taxes is rumored to be introduced soon.  The current discussion revolves around a 5 cent/gallon increase immediately and 2 cent/gallon increases in 2019 and 2021 for a total of 9 cents/gallon.  Additionally, Washington County has introduced a local bill (HB362- Beech) that will set up a county wide referendum to increase fuel taxes by 2 cents/gallon and the creation of a 1% sales and lease tax.  The proceeds will be earmarked for road and bridge construction.  This bill has passed the House and awaits consideration on the Senate floor.

AFA is proposing legislation to clarify and modernize the forest products severance tax and the forest products manufacturer tax (HB313- Beech, SB244- Albritton).  Both bills have passed out of their respective committees.  We anticipate that HB313 will be addressed by the House during the week of the legislature’s return from spring break.

 

2016 Legislative Wrap Up- Part IV of V- Appropriations

dollars2Wednesday, 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 (see Here), II- BP Settlement (see Here), III- Prison Construction (see Here), IV- Appropriations (today), and V- Other Legislation of Interest.

Today….Appropriations

The Alabama legislature’s primary constitutional responsibility is to pass the appropriation bills necessary to fund the operations of state government for the next fiscal year.  Usually, they wait until the very last days of a session in order to accomplish this requirement, however, this year they passed the two main appropriation bills fairly quickly with the General Fund Appropriations bill passing on the 19th legislative day (out of 30 possible days) and the Education Fund Appropriations on the 25th legislative day.

Of note, once these two bills are passed by both houses and transmitted to the Governor, the Budget Isolation Resolution (“BIR”) is no longer required before addressing other legislation.  This is meaningful because to adopt the BIR, a bill must receive a vote in excess of 2/3 of the members present and voting at the time in order to receive consideration on the floor.  The Republicans hold 26 seats in the Senate and 72 seats in the House, both of which exceed the 2/3 threshold when all members are present.  This is why they are oftentimes referred to as holding a “supermajority.”  If the Republicans are working together as a caucus, the BIR is not a problem.  Absent the “supermajority”, the minority party (in this case the Democrats) could stop legislation from coming to the floor by voting against the BIR.

Enough with the parliamentary procedure lesson….

The Education Appropriations bill, HB117, sponsored by Representative Bill Poole (R- Tuscaloosa) provides $6.327 billion for FY17 education related expenditures.  This is an increase of $337 million in spending over the FY16 appropriations.  The cap imposed by the Rolling Reserve Act for FY17 was $6.432 billion (for more on the cap see this article).  The actual projected funding for FY17 is less than the cap, so therefore, all of the $337 million increase will be spent and nothing will be put into savings.

Included in the $6.327 billion in education spending is the Foundation Program for K-12 students which is funded at $4.033 billion for FY17, an increase of $192 million over the prior year.  By way of comparison, the highest funding for K-12 in the state’s history occurred in the FY08 budget at $4.15 billion and the next highest was $4.036 billion in FY09.  The Education Appropriations were subsidized in FY08 by draining a proration prevention account of $439 million and in FY09 by $437.4 million borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund.

Though this year’s appropriation for the Foundation program would be the third highest in the state’s history, it is the largest non-subsidized amount.

The Republicans took control of the legislature in the 2010 elections.  Their first regular session in the role of leadership was in 2011 where they addressed FY12 appropriations.  Prior to this change in leadership, proration was declared in education spending in each of the 2008 through 2011 fiscal years.  Since the change of leadership, proration has not been needed.

Why?  One of the first legislative initiatives enacted by the new leadership was passage of the Rolling Reserve Act.  This act places a “cap” on education spending based on the prior 15 years of actual revenues.  Any actual revenue in excess of the “cap” is placed in a reserve account to be utilized during economic downturns and lagging revenues.

The cap has forced the legislature to budget in a fiscally responsible manner and as a result there has not been the need for proration.

The General Fund Appropriations bill, SB125 sponsored by Senator Trip Pittman (R- Montrose) provides for $1.847 billion in funding, an increase of $90.9 million over the FY16 appropriation.

By far, the largest appropriation in the General Fund Appropriations bill goes to Medicaid.  This year Medicaid funding was increased by $15.3 million to $700.4 million over the previous year’s spending authorization.

Ummm….an increase of $15.3 million, yet the media reports that Medicaid is suffering from cuts or is “experiencing a shortfall.”  The “shortfall” is derived from the department’s request of an additional $100 million this year over last year’s funding.

To put this into perspective the FY02 Medicaid appropriation was $231 million, which, when compared to this year’s $700 million, is an increase of over 200% in the last 15 years.

The next largest appropriation in the bill is that for Corrections which was funded at $412 million for FY17 compared to $197 million in FY02.  Again, a nearly 100% increase over the last 15 years.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture & Industries was funded at $8.3 million in FY17 compared to $13.7 million in FY02, a 40% decrease.  Likewise, the Alabama Forestry Commission was funded at $6.7 million in FY17 (a $300,000 cut from last year) as compared to $14.2 million in FY02, a 53% decrease.

The General Fund appropriation for FY02 was $1.2 billion, when compared to this year’s $1.8 billion representing a 50% increase over 15 years.  Clearly, the growth in Medicaid and Corrections has swallowed all the growth in funding, and more, to the detriment of all other non-education functions of state governance.

What message does this send regarding our priorities?  Timber and Agriculture are two of the most important segments to the state’s economy.  At the rate that Medicaid and Corrections are expanding, the other General Fund agencies will soon be completely swallowed up.  To make matters worse, the other agencies are forced to adopt higher fees and earmarked taxes in order to make up their reduced budget appropriations.

2016 Legislative Wrap Up- Part III of V- Prison Construction

prisonWednesday, 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 (see HERE), II- BP Settlement (see HERE), III- Prison Construction (today), IV- Appropriations, and V- Other Legislation of Interest.

Today…. Prison Construction

Alabama prisons are currently occupied by 188% more prisoners than there are beds.  This is defined as “overcrowding.”  The prisons have 13,318 beds to house 25,102 prisoners.

On May 21, 2015, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed legislation, SB67 sponsored by Senator Cam Ward, which was intended to provide sweeping changes to sentencing and probation standards with the intent to reduce crowding to a level of 137%.

The changes seek to steer low-level offenders away from prison by creating a new Class D felony category and to reduce recidivism with making changes to probation and supervision.  The legislation was the product of a Prison Reform Task Force.

The Alabama prison system was placed in federal receivership in the 1970’s, which led to a court-ordered release of inmates.  The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating conditions at the state’s only prison for women after accusing the state of failing to protect inmates from sexual abuse and harassment.  The Equal Justice Initiative and the Southern Poverty Law Center have filed separate suits on behalf of state inmates to address safety, health and disability issues.

The changes made by SB67 have only recently begun to be implemented.  In February, 2016, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles announced that it was hiring 100 new officers and another 23 probation and parole specialists.  Additionally, a new Day Reporting Center opened in Birmingham in January and others are expected to be opened throughout the state.  These changes will theoretically allow supervision of all prisoners that are released for parole.

The legislation also provides $4 million in funding to expand substance abuse treatment for probationers and parolees.

Interestingly, the Prison Reform Task Force recommendations make no mention about the need to construct new prisons.  In fact the task force was told that “Alabama cannot build its way out of the chronic overcrowding of state prisons.”

The Governor, however, has apparently come to a different conclusion.  While the changes created by SB67 were still in their formative stages, he proposed to the legislature a massive $800 million prison building plan that would result in the construction of 4 new prisons and the closure of 14 older facilities.

The legislation, SB287 sponsored by Senator Trip Pittman (R- Montrose) passed the Senate on a 23-11 vote.  Only five Republican senators voted against the plan; Bill Holtzclaw (R- Madison), Paul Sanford (R- Huntsville), Shay Shelnutt (R- Trussville), Paul Bussman (R- Cullman) and Clay Scofield (R- Guntersville).

The $800 million in funding is proposed to come from a bond issue that will be result in a $50 million payment requirement over the next 30 years ($1.5 billion repayment).  Proponents of the bill maintain that the $50 million will come from “savings” produced by consolidating the prisons (requiring fewer personnel) and reduced maintenance expense.

No economic study was publicly produced to evaluate whether the savings projection was realistic.  Additionally, no economic study was provided to determine the impact that prison facility closure would have on the local communities where they are currently located.  There was also no study discussing the impact on prison personnel that would be relocated.  In fact, there was no disclosure at all regarding where the new facilities would be constructed.

SB287 also set forth a no bid process for the construction project.

The bill reached the House, passed out of the Ways & Means General Fund Committee and was considered before the full House on April 28th, the 28th legislative day.  During House consideration, the bill became quite controversial.  Several representatives attempted to amend the bill.

Representative Mike Holmes (R- Wetumpka) offered an amendment that would preclude the state from closing an existing prison until the Department of Corrections had conducted an economic impact study to determine the impact of the closure on the region’s employment, economic growth and debt service (many communities have outstanding debt requirements for infrastructure they constructed on behalf of the prisons).

Representative Holmes’ amendment passed on a 49-44 vote and the proponents of the legislation were clearly not pleased.  Voting on the prevailing side were 23 republicans and 26 democrats.  After considerable arm-twisting, the vote was reconsidered and this time the amendment failed on a 54-33 vote.  7 republicans and 9 democrats changed their vote.  The republicans were; Dickie Drake (Birmingham), Mickey Hammon (Decatur), Corey Harbison (Cullman), Steve McMillan (Bay Minette), Barry Moore (Enterprise), Jim Patterson (Meridianville) and Ritchie Whorton (Owens Cross Roads).

Later in the debate, Representative A.J. McCampbell (D- Livingston) offered an amendment that would require the DOC to produce a report by the 25th legislative day of the next regular legislative session and would then allow the legislature to approve or reject the report.  If the report was rejected, no bonds would be let and no project would be built.  Surprisingly, McCampbell’s amendment passed on a 49-35 vote with 23 republicans and 26 democrats supporting it, very similar to the first Holmes’ amendment vote.

With this amendment, the bill then passed the full House and was sent to the Senate to either concur with the changes or to go to conference committee.  Obviously, the bill’s proponents were not happy with the amended bill.

Upon arrival in the Senate, the bill now had 2 legislative days remaining for passage.  Intense negotiations began and it appeared that the senate was posturing for a filibuster of the bill.  The Senate voted to send the bill to conference committee where negotiation proceeded throughout the 29th day and into the 30th day.  Ultimately, late on the 30th day, a compromise substitute was developed.

The substitute would essentially reduce the amount of the bond issue from $800 million to $550 million reducing the number of prisons to be built and added some additional transparency language.  The McCampbell amendment was stripped from the substitute.

The Senate then began a filibuster on the bill on the last legislative day.  The filibuster led by Senators Paul Sanford (R- Huntsville) and Vivian Figures (D- Mobile) lasted until about 10:30 pm when it was ended by a cloture petition that passed on a vote of 23-9.  There are 26 republicans in the senate and 23 of them voted to close debate (3 republicans abstained; Paul Sanford, Shay Shelnutt and Larry Stutts).

The bill received final passage at approximately 10:45 pm and was sent to the House for concurrence.  The House rules allow for debate on this motion and it would have required invoking cloture in order to get it passed prior to the midnight deadline.  The House public viewing gallery was packed with lobbyists holding their collective breaths.

What transpired was quite interesting.  The bill was never brought up for consideration.  House Speaker Mike Hubbard later told reporters that there were not enough votes to stop the debate and so the bill died.  Supposedly, many House members were uncomfortable voting on the hastily negotiated substitute.

The Governor, obviously disappointed, is considering whether to call the legislature back to Montgomery to address the issue.

AFA Position:

The Alabama Forestry Association supports the reforms passed in the 2015 session and believes that adequate time should be given to see if this legislation results in positive improvement in the prison crowding challenge.

With respect to new construction, AFA supports a fiscally responsible and transparent solution.  The original construction bill has a $50 million payback requirement that, if the savings are not generated, will fall back to the state’s General Fund appropriations causing even more stress on an already tight budget.  If new prisons are ultimately determined to be the answer, AFA supports building one at a time, rather than a massive construction project.  Additionally, AFA believes that a “design, bid, build” model for construction is better for Alabama’s taxpayers rather than the proposed “negotiated” no-bid solution offered in the current proposal.

2016 Legislative Wrap Up- Part II of V- BP Settlement

bpWednesday, 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; Part I- Fuel Tax (see www.alaforestrygovtaffairs.org/2016-legislative-wrap-up-part-i-of-v-fuel-tax-legislation/), Part II- BP Settlelment (today), Part III- Prison Construction, Part IV- Appropriations, and Part V- Other Legislation of Interest.

Today…. The BP Spill Settlement.

Alabama, pursuant to a settlement agreement negotiated by Attorney General Luther Strange, will receive $1 billion from BP over a 20 year period (approximately $50 million per year).  Legislators are concerned that there is a prospect that, for whatever reason, BP will not honor this agreement for its full term.  So there is a strong desire to “monetize” the payment stream through a bond issue.  Analysts estimate that such a bond issue would generate approximately $650-$700 million immediately (the difference between the $1 billion and the amount actually received is due to the uncertainty of the payment stream).

Once the decision was made to monetize the payment stream, the next question was how to spend this one-time money.  Several alternatives were considered, but none of them could gain the support necessary for passage during the Regular Session.

The whole process got started when the Senate originated a bill by Senator Bill Hightower (R- Mobile).  This bill, Option One, would have paid the $161 million debt to the Alabama Trust Fund borrowed in 2009 to prop up the General Fund.  This payback is required by the Constitution and must be paid by 2018.  The remainder of the funding would be used for road construction with the coast getting a vast majority of the funding.  Though it passed the Senate on a 30-5 vote, the bill ran into a brick wall in the House.

Powerful Chairman of the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee, Representative Steve Clouse (R- Ozark), introduced a separate bill that represented Option Two.  This option would pay back the $161 million and also would pay back the remaining amount owed from taking an additional $435 million out of the Alabama Trust Fund, once again to prop up the General Fund in 2013, 2014 & 2015.  Repayment of the $435 million is statutorily required over the next 20 years ($407 million currently remains on this debt).  Option Two would also repay funds owed by Alabama Medicaid to the federal government.  Any excess beyond that would go to the General Fund for appropriation.

As Option Two moved to consideration by the Ways & Means General Fund Committee, the Mobile and Baldwin county legislative delegations, not liking this option, proceeded to work together to shut down activity in the House through filibusters.  In order to appease the coastal legislators, Representative Clouse offered a compromise substitute to his bill that became Option Three.

Option Three would pay back the $161 million constitutional requirement and an additional $287 million that would be paid towards the original $435 million debt.  The $287 million would fast forward the payment stream required statutorily and would then leave approximately $120 million that would still be owed to the ATF.  The remaining amount of the funds, a little over $200 million would go to Mobile and Baldwin counties to be used for road projects.

Paying the $287 million to the ATF would “free up” $15 million that had been allocated for repayment in the 2017 FY general fund appropriation bill.  Additionally, $55 million (from previous BP payments) had been set aside for prospective debt repayment that could now be also be available.  This combined $70 million would be used for a one-time payment to Medicaid for the FY15 budget.

Clouse’s compromise bill, Option Three, then passed out of committee and the full House on an 82-12 vote.  At the same committee hearing, Senator Hightower’s bill was also given favorable consideration.

Clouse’s bill then moved upstairs to the Senate and was referred to the Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee.  At this point, two legislative days remained; the minimum amount of time necessary to pass the bill.  The Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee is chaired by Baldwin County’s Senator Trip Pittman (R- Montrose).  Senator Pittman brought Clouse’s compromise bill, Option Three, up for discussion and it became immediately apparent that there was a great deal of disagreement over the bill.

Senator Arthur Orr (R- Decatur) an equally powerful chairman of the Senate’s Finance & Taxation Education Committee offered a substitute that became Option Four.  This option involved paying back the $161 million constitutional requirement and paying the remaining $407 million owed to the ATF in full, leaving approximately $100 million for road construction projects throughout the entire state’s nine ALDOT districts.  Each district would receive $10 million, while the Mobile/Baldwin district would receive $20 million.

In this option, Medicaid would also get the additional $70 million.  Orr’s Option Four was favored by a good number of legislators in central and north Alabama.  After explaining his substitute, Orr moved for passage.  Pittman then moved to table Orr’s motion.  Pittman’s tabling motion failed and then Pittman immediately moved to adjourn the meeting before any action could be taken on Orr’s substitute.  Senators then frantically met several times trying to come up with an acceptable compromise.  Ultimately, Pittman did not call another meeting of the committee and the 29th legislative day ended effectively killing the legislation.

Or maybe not…

On the final legislative day, in literally the final hour, a couple of Mobile House members tried a last ditch effort to resurrect Hightower’s bill (remember, Option One?  It had passed the Senate and was out of House committee) and tried to substitute it with Clouse’s bill, Option Three.  Due to the late hour, and maybe other unknown reasons, the motion to substitute failed on 37-50 vote.

So what does all this mean?

Well clearly there is no consensus on what to do with the $650 million available from the BP Settlement.  Equally clear, however, is that absent doing anything, the legislature will essentially fritter away $50 million per year as the BP payments will continue to go directly into the General Fund and be spent on ongoing operations.

AFA Position:

AFA supports a policy of having all one-time payments in excess of $5 million be placed into the Alabama Trust Fund.  The BP payments meet this criteria.  In addition, AFA supports a policy of the state repaying its debts out of the ongoing operational appropriations of general fund agencies through savings generated by reducing the size of overall government.

Recognizing that our position is not universally supported by the legislature and knowing that, absent a consensus plan, the BP payments will not be used in a fiscally responsible manner,  AFA does support the monetization of the BP payment stream for the purposes of retiring state debt and the remainder being placed in the ATF in perpetuity.

 

 

2016 Legislative Wrap Up- Part I of V- Fuel Tax Legislation

pumpWednesday, 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 Position:

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.

Must See Video- Cut Government before Raising Taxes

gastaxUnfortunately, this is not an April’s Fool Joke.

The Alabama House of Representatives is expected to consider raising fuel taxes by $200 million as early as next Tuesday, April 5th.  The legislation, HB394, introduced by Representative Mac McCutcheon (R- Madison) will raise fuel taxes (gasoline and diesel) to the average of the taxes/fees placed on gasoline by the contiguous bordering states.  This will result in an increase of approximately six cents/gallon.

Opponents to the fuel tax increase maintain that there is plenty of opportunity to cut the size of government to address the critical need for infrastructure…without having to raise taxes.  Created by Representative Will Ainsworth (R- Guntersville), a video has been produced that stars fellow conservative members of the House and Senate.  Their message is compelling…..Watch the video below and let us know what you think…..

McCutcheon Introduces $200 Million Fuel Tax Increase

mccutcheonAs expected, Representative Mac McCutcheon (R- Madison) introduced the second bill of a two bill package that will result in an increase in taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel of six cents per gallon.  HB394 was considered and given a favorable report by the House Transportation, Utilities & Infrastructure Committee today.  It will receive its second reading and will be available for full House consideration as early as next week, but most likely will not be addressed until legislators return from Spring Break the first week of April.

HB394 ties the total fuel taxes paid in Alabama to the average taxes/fees placed on gasoline by the contiguous bordering states.  The average of the taxes/fees for bordering states on gasoline is 26.95 cents/gallon, while Alabama is currently at 20.87 cents/gallon.  Therefore, the tax on gasoline will increase by 6 cents per gallon upon passage of this legislation.

Interestingly, the bill also ties the increase in diesel fuel taxes to that of the gasoline average.  The current average of the taxes/fees for bordering states on diesel is 26.31 cents/gallon, while Alabama is currently at 21.85 cents/gallon.  This is a differential of 4 cents/gallon, but since the proposed legislation ties the increase for diesel to the border state gasoline average, diesel will increase 6 cents/gallon which would place Alabama above the border state average on diesel by 2 cents/gallon.

The legislation also has an automatic adjustment mechanism that will re-calculate the border state average once every four years over the next 12 years.  Not coincidentally, the adjustment occurs in the year following the election of the legislature.

The fuel tax increase contemplated by the legislation will result in a $200 million increase in taxes.

Ainsworth Only “No” Vote in Committee

The House Transportation Utilities & Infrastructure Committee is chaired by Representative Lynn Greer (R- Rogersville) and is made up of 9 Republicans and 4 Democrats.  McCutcheon’s bill, along with Senator Gerald Dial’s bill, SB180 (the “Accountability” bill directing how the increased taxes will be spent) were both given a favorable report on voice votes by the committee.  The only “No” vote on the tax increase was cast by Representative Will Ainsworth (R- Guntersville).  If you would like to contact Ainsworth, a rising star in conservative circles, he can be reached at will.ainsworth@alhouse.gov.

The other members of the Committee are Representatives Joe Faust (R- Fairhope), George Bandy (D- Opelika), Napoleon Bracy (D- Prichard), Barbara Drummond (D- Mobile), Victor Gaston (R- Mobile), Dexter Grimsley (D- Newville), Nathaniel Ledbetter (R- Rainsville), Phillip Pettus (R- Killen), Chris Sells (R- Greenville), Kyle South (R- Fayette) and Margie Wilcox (R- Mobile).

The committee considered the legislation for approximately 30 minutes and at no time did any committee member acknowledge that the legislation creates a $200 million tax increase.

Lots of Trough Feeders

The list of supporters for the $200 million tax increase is a long one.  Led by the Business Council of Alabama, the coalition of those that will benefit from road construction projects include the Alabama Department of Transportation, the Alabama Roadbuilders Association, the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, contractors, engineers and others.

“Thank Goodness for Mississippi”

The taxes/fees paid by the citizens of the State of Mississippi are 18.79 cents/gallon for gasoline and 18.4 cents/gallon for diesel, representing the lowest of the four contiguous border states.  However, legislators in Mississippi are considering raising their taxes/fees on fuel by a whopping 17 cents/gallon.  If this were to occur, their action, taken in Mississippi, will raise Alabama’s fuel taxes by another 4 cents/gallon or another $130 million.  Alabama’s citizens, in effect, will have their taxes raised without any representation.  Similarly, the State of Florida pays 36.58 cents/gallon in taxes/fees on gasoline, of which 19 cents/gallons are imposed by the various counties.  Again, Alabama’s citizens could be subject to an increase in taxes because of an action taken in a county in Florida.

Stay tuned….

AFA Legislative Update

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The Alabama Legislature met for three legislative days this past week and has now completed one third of the allotted 30 working days for the session.

General Fund Appropriation

Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Chairman Trip Pittman (R- Montrose) quickly moved the General Fund FY17 Appropriation bill through committee and the full Senate this week. The bill allocates $1.82 billion in spending for non-education government agencies.  The bill includes level funding of $685 million for Medicaid. The Alabama Forestry Commission received $6.7 million in General Fund dollars which is a reduction of $300,000 from the current year. The funding bill appears to be on an expedited schedule and now goes to the House of Representatives.

Fuel Tax Increase

The first bill of a two bill package passed out of the Senate’s Transportation and Energy Committee yesterday. A substitute to SB180 was offered by the bill’s sponsor, Senator Gerald Dial (R- Lineville). This bill, referred to as the “Accountability” bill, sets forth the criteria for allocation of any new revenues that may materialize from a planned second bill to increase fuel taxes. Dial’s Substitute made more money available to local uses than the previous proposal. The Substitute sets aside $32 million generated by the increased taxes for a new ATRIP program that will be used as a payment stream for a new bond issue for county road and bridge projects. Additionally, each county will receive an additional $500,000 that was previously available but only with a match requirement. The Substitute removes the match requirement. There is no obligation on the counties to use their money to address structurally deficient bridges.

The second bill will actually increase the tax on diesel fuel and gasoline. Sponsored by Representative Mac McCutcheon, the bill will be introduced in the House of Representatives and is expected to propose an increase of $0.12/gallon on diesel and gasoline over a three year period. A $0.12/gallon increase results in a whopping $400 million tax increase. Local entities would get an increase of $180 million over their current allocation.

Workers Compensation

AFA is promoting a bill to reduce the uncertainty of workers compensation expense regarding future liabilities faced by the Forest Fund and its clients. SB122, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr (R- Decatur), received a favorable vote in the Senate’s Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee on a 12-2 vote.

Special thanks should be sent to Senator Orr for handling the bill, Senator Phil Williams (R-Gadsden) the Chairman of the Committee and the following Senators for voting with us; Bill Hightower (R- Mobile), Clay Scofield (R- Guntersville), Clyde Chambliss (R- Prattville), Greg Reed (R- Jasper), Jim McClendon (R- Springville), Larry Stutts (R- Tuscumbia), Paul Sanford (R- Huntsville), Steve Livingston (R- Scottsboro), Tim Melson (R- Huntsville), and Trip Pittman (R- Montrose). You can find the contact information for the Senators at http://www.legislature.state.al.us/aliswww/SenatorsPicture.aspx.

The only two Senators voting against us were Senators Cam Ward (R- Alabaster) and Bobby Singleton (D- Greensboro). Representatives of the plaintiff lawyers association testified at the committee hearing against the bill.

The bill now moves to consideration by the Rules Committee for placement on the Special Order Calendar to allow for consideration by the full Senate.