Alabama Legislature

Despite Anti-Tax Pledge, Ivey Key Supporter of Gas Tax Proposal

Gov. Kay Ivey (Source: Ivey campaign)

Gov. Kay Ivey is a proponent of a statewide gas tax increase, despite previous signed pledges to oppose “any and all” tax hike efforts.

Ivey is one of dozens of current and former Alabama politicians — most of them Republicans — who at some point signed an anti-tax pledge from the group Americans for Tax Reform.  Ivey’s not the first or only to later back away from it.

Americans for Tax Reform is led by lobbyist Grover Norquist, who recently asked state leaders to reject a proposed gas tax hike.

An infrastructure improvement plan and gas tax increase are expected to be a major part of the 2019 legislative session, and Ivey has signaled to lawmakers it’s her No. 1 priority.

Ivey’s office this week declined to comment on what’s changed since 2010 and 2006, when the then-state treasurer signed the pledge.

Americans for Tax Reform’s website lists five current state lawmakers who signed it, including Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. He’s chairman of the House General Fund committee. This week, he said he’s made a few mistakes in his 25 years as a lawmaker, including signing the pledge about 15 years ago, before the recession and a downturn in state revenues.

“It’s not a good idea for state officials to sign that (pledge),” Clouse said.

Forty-four U.S. senators and 209 U.S. representatives have signed the pledge, including Alabama’s seven elected Republicans in Washington, according to the group’s website.

Clouse said it’s an easier promise for federal officials to keep. Alabama lawmakers must pass balanced budgets each year. Congress hasn’t passed its annual appropriations bills on time since 1997, Clouse pointed out.

The pledge seems less popular among Alabama officials than it once was. In 2012, 21 state legislators had signed it, compared to five today.

Clouse broke from the pledge in 2015 when lawmakers increased the state’s cigarette tax by 25 cents per pack. He’s now in favor of a gas tax increase. He said the legislation has to be straightforward so Alabamians know exactly how the money will be spent.

Despite also having signed the pledge, state Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, said he will consider the gas tax increase.

“I think the needs for infrastructure needs in our state far outweigh anything we did a few years ago,” Holley said Monday. “We have some very dangerous bridges and some dangerous highways. Our infrastructure needs improving and we can’t do that if we don’t have revenue.”

Ivey signed the pledge in 2006, when she was state treasurer, and again in 2010, when she was a candidate for governor. She later dropped out of that race to run for lieutenant governor. She became governor in April 2017 when Gov. Robert Bentley was forced to resign.

Bentley had also signed the pledge and then reversed course after winning reelection in 2014 and proposing several tax increases.

Ivey, who will be sworn in for her first elected term as governor next week, signaled her support of a gas tax increase soon after becoming governor.

“Companies rate roads as the second most important reason for selecting a place to locate,” she said in a statement in April 2017. “Our transportation network supports nearly a million jobs. The numbers reinforce adjusting the gas tax to move Alabama forward.”

Other current signees in the Statehouse – Sens. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, and Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Talladega – couldn’t be reached for comment.

The pledge for governors on American’s for Tax Reform’s website says the signee “will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Language for lawmakers says they’ll “oppose and vote against” increases.

Alabama’s 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1992. A specific increase proposal isn’t yet public, but key leaders in the Statehouse are proponents, including Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia.

Americans for Tax Reform last month sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to reject an increase.

“Attempting to impose a regressive tax hike that will do the greatest harm to households who can least afford it is already bad enough,” the group’s web site says. “It’s even worse when it has already been documented that existing transportation dollars are not appropriately spent.”

Each year, $63.5 million in earmarked money is taken from the Alabama Department of Transportation and given to other state agencies.

The official legislative session begins March 5.