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Local legislators surprised by session

Local legislators say Monday special session called by Gov. Robert Bentley caught lawmakers by surprise.

State Sen. Jimmy Holley, D-Elba, said legislators had been gauging the time they believed the special session would start, but they hadn’t imagined it would be so early in the summer.

“We (thought) we were going to have it on about August 15, so I was very surprised when I got the call that we would be in a special session on Monday,” Holley said. “We still have opportunity, but it’s tapping into a different time frame than what we were initially doing. The bills still need to be prepared and put in order … It takes a little bit of opportunity to prepare bills and make sure the committee can meet and individuals are not gone somewhere for vacation.”

After Bentley vetoed the Legislature’s budget at the close of the regular session, lawmakers knew a special session would be needed to finalize the budget and funding. Several plans have been proposed, and lawmakers were using the summer to finalize options for finding the $310 million in needed revenues.

“I think there are three things we can ultimately do,” Holley said. “It will certainly be considering revenue measures. We will be looking to transfer some items that are in the Education Budget to the General Fund and backfilling those with other bills that aren’t as quite growth-oriented. We’ll be trying to look at revenue that is growth-oriented as well so the General Fund can start having some growth taxes versus relying on the Education Trust Fund.”

But Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, said taking money from the Education Trust Fund is not an ideal solution.

“I’m not for taking the money from the education budget and putting it in the General Fund,” Boothe said. “Education is too poor now … If I could be guaranteed that there was some way they could take the money from the Education Fund to the General Fund and backfill it, then maybe. If that’s solid and will return and will make the Education Fund whole, then I’ll look into it. You’ve got to keep in mind that we’ve passed an education budget. I think it would be foolish to try and affect that budget.”

It’s been rumored that legislators would meet briefly Monday and then recess until lawmakers could come up with a more concrete solution to the General Fund troubles.

“According to the plans, it’s to meet and adjourn and let the committees work and come back in three weeks,” Boothe said. “We’ll have to take the time to go back through the process and come up with some bills … I don’t expect us to be in session long on Monday.”

While an increase to growth-oriented taxes is on the table, using casino gambling revenues is not.

“It was specifically excluded from the call, not just unattended to,” Holley said. “It was specifically excluded from the list.”

In his proclamation for the Special Session, Bentley outlined several items that would be up for discussion during the Special Session including legislation shifting the distribution of taxes levied under Chapter 23 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama, legislation to un-earmark certain state taxes levied under various statues, legislation to provide for the allocation to the state for economic damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster, legislation to amend the Education Trust fund Rolling Reserve Act under Chapter 9 of Title 29 of the Code of Alabama, legislation to amend the business privilege tax levied under Article 2 of Chapter 14A of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama, legislation to increase the tax levied on tobacco products under Chapter 25 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama and to create a tax to be levied upon consumable vapor products and/or electronic cigarette products, legislation to amend the individual income tax deduction for taxes paid under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act allowed under Chapter 18 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama, legislation to impose a tax on certain beverage products including soft drinks and soft drink products as an alternative to the amendment of the individual income tax education for taxes paid under FICA, legislation to repeal the withholding tax exemption for employers upon receipt from employees of a withholding exemption certificate under Chapter 18 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama and legislation to create an authority for financing improvements at the Gulf State Park and to authorize the Authority to issue bonds not to exceed $50 million for the Gulf State Park project.

Boothe said that while he hadn’t received complaints about raising taxes, especially for cigarettes, over-taxing revenue could be dangerous.

“I’m perceptive to some of the proposals that he made,” Boothe said. “I think the least amount of resistance we’ve had is the cigarette tax. I haven’t had a lot of people call me and oppose the cigarette tax. But, you have to be careful and not over tax and not tax yourself out of business. We can’t make it where someone will drive somewhere else and buy cigarettes. If they can go and buy them somewhere cheaper they’ll do that. You have to consider all the aspects of it.”