No easy answers in upcoming special session

Published 10:25 pm Friday, July 10, 2015

It seems Gov. Robert Bentley is making a stand on the issue of casino gaming as a potential source of revenue in Alabama.

And he’s not going to support it.

Thursday, Bentley called for a special session of the Legislature to begin on Monday. In issuing his order, the governor specifically states that casino-style gaming legislation would require a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature for consideration.

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He knows that is not likely to happen, at least not by Monday. Proponents of the myriad of plans that would have utilized casino revenues as a source of funding for the state had planned on having the month of July to build support in the Legislature. The governor’s move pre-empts that lobbying time and ultimately forces lawmakers to find ways to balance the state’s budget now.

So what’s on the table?

One consideration is raising taxes, a move supported by the governor. He has recommended a $500-plus million plan that uses a combination of increased tax revenues (such as sin taxes on cigarettes) and closing loopholes in other tax breaks, to balance the budget.

Another option is to divert revenues from the Education Trust Fund, a move lawmakers have used in the past. Unfortunately, it’s a shortsighted step that could shortchange our state’s schools and educational processes and likely would not be a popular move with many lawmakers.

Or lawmakers could consider diverting some of the $2.3 billion the state expects to receive from BP’s settlement on the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. Of those revenues, some $1 billion is already earmarked to be paid over 10 years, with revenues likely going directly to the state’s general fund. Exactly how much additional revenue the state will receive is being debated, as U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne said earlier this week he believes the settlements available to the state would be significantly lower than the total quoted by the governor.

Finally, lawmakers could just resubmit the version of the budget they passed during the regular session – which is sure to garner a veto from the governor.

Unless the Legislature can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat with a yet-to-thwarted plan to balance the budget, using a combination of increased tax revenues and diverted funds, Alabamians are facing a bumpy special session come Monday.