Holley guest at Brundidge Rotary

Published 4:00 am Thursday, July 2, 2015

Alabama’s 2015 legislative session ended with Gov. Robert Bentley vetoing the general fund budget and pledging to bring lawmakers back into special session.

State Sen. Jimmy Holley said the rumor is that legislators will be back in Montgomery during the Dog Days of summer.

“It’s just a rumor at this time but the Legislature could be back in session in mid-August in an effort to come to an agreement on the general fund budget,” Holley told members of the Brundidge Rotary Club at the club’s Wednesday meeting.

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Holley was the Brundidge Rotary Club’s program guest and spoke to the Rotarians on the recent Alabama legislative session, which ended with no agreement on the general fund but an approved education budget.

“The legislative session was not all gloom and doom because the education budget passed,” Holley said. “In the session, lawmakers approved legislation to allow charter schools in Alabama.”

The bill, which is already signed into law, will allow for 10 new startup charter schools each year and unlimited conversion of existing schools.

“The bill will give parents greater choices in deciding which schools their children will attend,” Holley said.

He said the charter schools will be located in areas where there are failing schools.

“There could be a charter school in Pike County but it is unlikely,” he said and added that there is also a unique opportunity for two-year schools, academic and technical, to have separate boards.”

In an attempt to amend the state’s crowded prison system, Holley said sweeping changes have been made to sentencing and probation standards.

“Our state prisons are operating at 190 percent capacity and, if that percentage increases another 10 percent, the federal court could take over our state prisons,” he said. “We do not want that to happen.”

Prisons, Medicaid and mental health each received a 5 percent funding cut, Holley said.

Most of the state’s woes are preceded with dollar signs and Holley said few state tax bases are growing and that adversely affects agencies across the board and people all across the state.

Tax increases in any cloak will not be popular with those who feel the pinch.

To ease the pinch, Holley said a business privilege tax credit has been given to LLCs; however, there has been an increase to large corporations.

Proposed taxes on soft drinks could generate $250 million annually for the general fund and additional taxes on tobacco could generate an additional $50 to $60 million for the state’s coffer.

The Rotarians asked if a lottery would not pump needed dollars into the state’s ailing bank account.

Holley said, case in point, lotteries in Georgia and Florida support student scholarships, not the general fund.

“And only the people can change the Constitution and that’s what would have to happen to allow gaming and a lottery in Alabama,” Holley said.

Rotarian Larry Shiver said an increase in Alabama’s property taxes, which are the lowest in the country, could put big bucks in the state’s coffer.

The Rotarians seemed in agreement that Alabama should take the Poarch Band of Creek Indians up on its recent offer of a $250 million advance to the state.

Holley didn’t say one way or the other.