By Steve Flowers, Guest Columnist
After their successful special five-day Special Session, the Legislature has been in their Regular Session for a few weeks now. The Session will end in June so it is about one-fourth over. Almost one-third of the members are new, freshmen if you will. Even though they are, for the most part a bright and talented group, they are still wet behind the ears when it comes to legislative ways.
Most are still striving to find their way to the bathrooms. Most major issues, especially revenue enhancement measures, are addressed in the first year of a four-year quadrennium. Bless their hearts, right off the bat they were hit with a major vote to increase the gas tax to support an infrastructure plan. That will make the rest of their first year a downhill slide.
There are indeed other issues that need addressing in the good old Heart of Dixie. Most Alabamians want the right to vote for a lottery, which they would vote for in a New York minute. Most folks think it is ludicrous that we simply give our money to our sister states. It is not a popular subject, but our prison overcrowding problem has to be addressed. Democratic members are vitally interested in expanding Medicaid to improve and meet the state healthcare needs. Rural hospitals need help. There is also a lot of interest in reforming our criminal justice system.
Even though these above mentioned problems and priorities need to be addressed, there is one Constitutional certainty that the two state budgets must be crafted and put to bed. Our state constitution also mandates that they must be balanced.
The Education Trust Fund budget is in good shape. Tax revenues that support education grew tremendously last year. Lawmakers will have more money to appropriate for schools. In fact, this will more than likely be the largest education budget in state history.
The Education coffers will also be enhanced by the Supreme Court ruling that allows the state to collect online sales taxes. In Alabama state and local sales taxes are the cornerstone of support for basic services.
The state’s growth taxes, income and sales, are earmarked for education. This lack of growth in the dollars that support the General Fund has caused headaches for the legislative leaders who write these budgets. However, these budget leaders have done a good job. In this current year’s General Fund budget, they were able to increase funding for state prisons. They also added extra dollars for mental health and law enforcement, as well as the state court system. In addition, the State Budget gave state employees their first cost-of-living raise in decades.
See complete story in the Pickens County Herald.