Alabama Gov. Bentley funding plan and Words of Wisdom from Former Legislator

Alabama Gov. Bentley funding plan and Words of Wisdom from Former Legislator

Members, I am sharing two articles with you today that are of the upmost importance. This first article spells out Governor Bentley’s plan to solve the General Fund crisis. Please note that the Governor does propose to take funds from the ETF and replace it with a new tax that will need legislative approval. The new tax will no longer allow the exemption of FICA tax from state income tax. This tax will only affect those who are working.

Be sure to read both articles.  

Janice J. Charlesworth
Executive Director
Alabama Education Retirees Association
800-537-6867 or 334-262-4177
Visit our website

By Charles J. Dean |

In an unusual move, Gov. Robert Bentley met Thursday with about 20 lobbyists in his office to discuss his efforts to persuade legislators to solve the state’s looming budget crisis by voting to increase taxes.

It is unusual for any governors to meet with such a large group of lobbyists but particularly Bentley. The governor is not a fan of the role lobbyists have come to play in the legislative process.

As governor and before that as a legislator, Bentley has been an outspoken critic of lobbyists, especially so-called contract lobbyists who earn their living representing clients who pay them to promote or oppose legislation they feel helps or harms their particular interest, business or group. 

Bentley once said if he had the power he would ban lobbyists from the State House.

Asked about those views in Birmingham on Wednesday, Bentley said he had not changed his mind regarding the role of lobbyists but that he also has to do all he can to persuade the Legislature of the critical need to solve the budget crisis.

 “It is what it is,” Bentley said of lobbying. “I may not like their role but they play a big role in what happens and right now I need them at the table to help me help people who will be hurt if we don’t act to solve this budget crisis,” said Bentley.

In conversations with a number of those who attended the meeting Thursday, Bentley was described as gracious in what he said and earnest in asking their help going forward in the effort to solve the budget crisis.

The group also received a briefing on the outlines of what Bentley hopes to accomplish in a second special session likely to be called sometime in September to try to solve the problem.

What the lobbyists generally heard Thursday was not all that different from the governor’s plan that just went down in a special session.

In a nutshell, the lobbyists said what Bentley himself said in a press conference Tuesday – namely that he will be seeking about $300 million to fill the hole in the General Fund through a combination of tax increases and money transferred from the state’s education budget.

The lobbyists said the governor’s plan is centered around two key parts. The first is transferring about $225 million from the state’s education budget.

The second is Bentley will seek to replace the education dollars he takes with dollars generated by ending the tax deduction Alabamians now take on the amount they pay in federal income taxes.

That amount comes to about $182 million a year. The remaining dollars would come mostly from savings that are projected to be realized from legislation that passed in the first special session. 

Bentley will also propose again a 25-cent-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax but this time phased in over time with first a 15-cent –a-pack hike and then an additional 10 cent hike a little later.

That increase is expected to generate about $66 million in new taxes.

So far, through the regular session of the Legislature and through the just failed special session, lawmakers have only been able to agree on a General Fund budget that would have cut $200 million.

Bentley called those budgets unworkable and vetoed the one in June but didn’t have to veto the one passed Monday by the Senate because the House on a 92-2 vote refused to approve it.

Original Article at AL.COM HERE

Members, if you have not had the opportunity to read this very enlightening Guest Opinion article by AERA Treasurer and former legislator, Paul Parker, I encourage you to do so. Having walked in the shoes of a legislator during financial crisis, Paul has the expertise to provide insight to those in office today and to the voters of Alabama. Thank you Paul Parker.

Janice J. Charlesworth
Executive Director
Alabama Education Retirees Association
800-537-6867 or 334-262-4177
Visit our website

By Paul Parker, a Democrat who served Morgan County for 16 years in the legislature and now lives in Rogersville

In 1982, I was elected to the House of Representatives of the state of Alabama. At that time, believe it or not, the state budgets were in a period of crisis. Revenues were down while the needs of mental health, prisons, Medicaid and education were on the rise. George Wallace was just starting his fourth and final term as governor.

Being the naïve, young, eager legislator that I was, I was flattered when I was asked to serve on the powerful State Administration Committee. I was told this was a special committee hand-picked by the Governor himself. I was too young and naïve to understand this meant I was expected to do pretty much what the Governor wanted. 

Just a few days into my new adventure as a legislator, I was summoned to the office of my friend the Speaker of the House, the Honorable Tom Drake from Cullman, who had been hand picked by the Governor for this position. Speaker Drake reminded me just how bad the fiscal condition of the state was and he also told me that as a freshman, I was getting the good luck and honor of choosing first. What was I to choose, I asked. A bill, I was informed; a revenue enhancement bill otherwise known as a tax.

There were several bills presented to me as options to raise the much-needed revenue to fund the needs of our most vulnerable citizens. I was given a few minutes to look over the bills and decide which one I would choose to sponsor.  Even though I was young and naïve I did have the presence of mind to choose a tax which I thought was the least offensive to the citizens. I was indeed lucky to be afforded the opportunity to go first.

During this crisis, enough members of the legislature stepped up to the plate and put their big boy pants on, as Jeb Bush recently said, and passed the necessary revenue measures to fund state government. The legislature at that time was made up of almost all Democrats. The leadership of the House and the Senate were Democrats and the Governor was a Democrat.

We did what was required without any assistance from the few Republicans in the legislature. We stepped up to the plate and made the tough choices because it was the right thing to do.

Alabama is again in a crisis. Agencies like mental health are operating on the same dollars they received nearly 20 years ago.  Those in need of services find long waiting lines for much-needed medications and services, if they are available at all. Finding the revenue to adequately fund mental health and other needs is not an easy proposition. It will require leadership and making tough decisions.

This time, all those in leadership positions in Montgomery are Republicans. The Governor seems still willing to step up to the plate. But the leaders of the House and the Senate, his fellow Republicans, have been unwilling to do the right thing. They complained that the Democrats refused to help. Then they sought retribution against the Democrats by cutting Medicaid. Playing games with the least among us, our needy children and elderly, is not stepping up to the plate. It is cowardly.

Some legislators even proposed taking money from the already underfunded education system to plug the holes in the general fund. We in Alabama need to invest more in the education of our children instead of less.

I know facing difficult decisions that are unpopular is not easy. During the 16 years I served in the Alabama Legislature I often wished there were easier choices. But governing is not easy and it requires courage.

I hope the Republicans in the legislature will finally get a dose of fortitude and have the will to do what is right for the people of Alabama.

Original Article at AL.COM HERE