Special session starts Monday

Published 11:03 pm Thursday, July 9, 2015

By Kim ChandlerThe Associated Press

MONTGOMERY — Gov. Robert Bentley said Thursday he will call a special session on the budget next week, a move that shocked legislators who said they haven’t yet worked out how to handle a looming general fund shortfall.

The governor said he is bringing lawmakers back to Montgomery in a special session beginning Monday after the 2015 regular session ended in a budget stalemate last month. Lawmakers rejected Bentley’s proposed tax increases, and the governor vetoed what he called an unacceptable spending plan that would have cut $200 million from state agencies. Agencies are without a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

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“One of the most serious issues we face in our state is the funding of the General Fund budget,” Bentley said in a statement. “With no budget in place to fund state government following the Regular Legislative Session, the Legislature must return for a Special Session.”

Lawmakers had expected the special session to begin in August based on previous discussions with the governor. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said that legislators will keep to that timeframe. Marsh said lawmakers, after convening Monday, will recess until Aug. 3 as legislative taskforces continue to work toward a budget solution.

“We agreed it would be best for success to put this off until Aug. 3 to allow these groups to continue to meet and work with members,” said Marsh, R-Anniston.

The governor gave legislative leaders little warning, informing them shortly before he sent out a press statement.

“I’m just flabbergasted. I just can’t believe it,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.

Marsh said legislators had made work and vacation plans around an anticipated August session and some were “a little bit angered” by the sudden change.

Marsh and legislative budget chairmen said lawmakers have been working on budget ideas but have not reached an agreement.

Special sessions can last up to 30 calendar days and the Senate budget chairman said that lawmakers might require all of that time.

“Because we’ve not seen the governor’s package, it’s going to take time to sift through his proposals. Therefore, I don’t see a quick special session by any stretch of the imagination,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.

Clouse said he expects the governor to propose a tobacco tax increase, changes to the business privilege tax and shifting tax revenue from the education budget to the more cash-strapped general fund.

The governor said last week that he will seek tax increases, but less than the $541 million he unsuccessfully pursued during the regular legislative session. Bentley has been meeting with lawmakers individually this summer.