GOP sets House agenda

Published 3:00 am Friday, January 29, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Republicans in the Alabama House on Thursday said a small business tax credit and a teacher pay raise are among their top priorities for the legislative session that begins Tuesday.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard and GOP leaders announced the agenda titled, “Right for Alabama.” Hubbard said legislators aren’t specifying an amount for the teacher pay raise this early in the budget process.

“The teachers deserve a raise,” said state Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy. “And if the money is going to be there, we’re going to need to come up with a pay raise for the teachers.”

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Boothe said he is supports the overall Republican agenda, although he acknowledges several potentially controversial issues weren’t included in the agenda.

Bills on the agenda would give a $1,500 tax credit to small businesses for each new job created; develop a process to provide grants for school wireless technology and create a position of taxpayer advocate at the Alabama Department of Revenue.

“It is a broad-based agenda that demands fiscal accountability from state government through zero-based budgeting, creates jobs through small business tax credits, and brings 21st century technology into every public school classroom,” Rep. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva.

Some of the agenda items include previously stated GOP goals such as public pension reform.

A tough general fund budget – which includes the likelihood of funding cuts for many non-education state agencies – is expected to dominate the upcoming session.

Lawmakers spent much of last year in a fight over a shortfall in the general fund budget. After two special sessions, they ultimately approved a 25-cent-per pack cigarette tax and other measures to minimize cuts to state agencies.

The agenda doesn’t seek any new revenue. It does endorse a “zero-based” budgeting process to ask agencies to justify dollars they have already received.

“That is a sea change from how we have operated in the past,” Hubbard said.

House Republicans announce an agenda at the start of every session.

The agenda is approved unanimously by the 70-member Republican caucus. Republicans are expected to be divided on several of the contentious proposals to come before lawmakers this year, including an effort to establish a state lottery and a possible gas tax increase to fund road and bridge construction.

“I think the consensus is a lottery bill will be put out there for a vote,” Boothe said, adding he would have to review the specifics of any bill before deciding if he would support it. “The devil’s in the details. It depends on how the money would be divided.”

Boothe has in the past supported bills to allow the public to vote on a lottery. “I’ve said before that I would vote to let the public vote on a lottery,” he said.

Boothe also has said he believes a gas tax to fund road and bridge repairs will be a hot-button issue in this session.

“There hasn’t been a bill written yet, but the big question will be how the money would be allocated. The counties want it, the municipalities want it, the state wants it,” he said.


Some agenda items are largely symbolic shows of disapproval of federal policies that state lawmakers have limited ability to impact, including opposition to the president’s executive actions on gun control and any effort to relocate Syrian refugees to Alabama.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford said the agenda lacked substance and was “unconstitutional nonsense challenging the federal government.”

“This agenda is very vanilla. It’s big on talk and short on substance. There’s just no meat on that bone,” Ford said.