Lawmakers head back to Montgomery

Published 10:56 pm Saturday, September 5, 2015

Alabama lawmakers will head back to the statehouse Tuesday for a third time to attempt to pass a General Fund budget for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Legislators hit a stalemate when both the regular session and first called special session came to an end without an approved budget.

Gov. Robert Bentley announced Tuesday that legislators will be called back to Montgomery for a second special session that is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

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“The start of Fiscal Year 2016 is quickly approaching, and there is still no General Fund Budget in place for state agencies to operate,” Gov. Bentley said in a statement.

“There is still time remaining to pass a budget that does not drastically cut state services which will impact Alabamians. I look forward to working with lawmakers over the next few weeks to bring about real change in the way we fund state government moving forward.”

Bentley said the session will focus on budget reform, which includes transferring use tax revenue from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund, un-earmarking certain state taxes and amending the Education Trust Fund Rolling Reserve Act.

Bentley also plans to focus on ways to increase state revenue with amending the business privilege tax, cigarette tax, individual income tax deduction and other measures that will support the General Fund.

Rep. Darrio Melton and Sen. Hank Sanders point to poor leadership as the sole reason behind being in this do or die situation.

“I think it was a failure of leadership that we didn’t get a budget in the regular session,” Sanders said Friday. “It was a failure of leadership that we didn’t a budget in the first special session, and I pray that we do not have a failure of leadership in the second special session.”

In order to pass a budget, Sanders said legislators must be willing to do what is necessary.

“I think an attitude of willing to do whatever is necessary to protect the people of Alabama is the attitude we have to have, and without that attitude we’ll come up with a lot of things that are inadequate,” Sanders said.

Melton said one of the hold ups is the Republican supermajority’s failure to agree with one another.

“The Republicans have to stop fighting with each other,” Melton said. “Everybody has their own personal agendas. They are jockeying for position. We are in a super minority as Democrats. The Republicans can do whatever they want to with the numbers they have.”

Melton said his main focus is Medicaid expansion, which could bring billions of dollars to the state if agreed upon.

“The expansion of Medicaid is just simply the signing of a piece of paper. It doesn’t take an act of the legislature. The Governor has the sole power and the authority just to sign saying, ‘yes, we accept the expansion,’” Melton said.

“And that is over $3 billion we will receive off the top. We’re losing money … because he won’t expand Medicaid, and then to come back and say to the people Medicaid is in trouble I think it is disingenuous.”

Sanders said whatever decisions are made, some sort of revenue stream will be required in order to fund state agencies.

“I don’t think enough people are willing to bite the bullet and provide the resources that are necessary. Alabama has one of the lowest per people amount for General Fund government in the United States by far,” Sanders said.

“There have to be some additional resources to make it work. They’ve cut everything they know how to cut until our citizens are at risk on a number of fronts.”