The House of Representatives approved an increase Friday in gas taxes to fund infrastructure improvements, sending the bill to the Senate.
The proposed 10-cent-a-gallon increase is expected to generate more than $300 million a year. It’s being fast-tracked in a special session Gov. Kay Ivey called to consider the issue and could be approved by early next week.
House Bill 2 increases the allocation for improvements at the Port of Mobile from the originally proposed $10.2 million a year to $11.7 million.
Some critics have raised strong objections to redirecting gas tax revenues toward the port. Expanding the port to take on greater capacity is a priority for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, who last year secured federal matching dollars to deepen and widen the Mobile Bay shipping channel.
Several north Alabama lawmakers said they supported sending money to the port to improve and expand it.
“I am in favor of it, because it is critical to the entire state,” said Rep. Parker Moore, R-Decatur. “That is one thing that I need to do a better job of communicating to my constituents, because we have a lot of industry in my district, and with that industry comes a product and that product gets shipped down to the port and sent all over the world. So if we’re not able to get that shipped out then that product is going to go to some other state, then we’re going to miss out.”
Gas Tax Plan
Advocates for the tax increase say the cost to the average driver would be $55 a year.
The proposed 10-cents-per-gallon tax increase would happen gradually: 6 cents this year, 2 cents next year, and 2 cents in 2021. The tax would then be indexed to rise or fall based on the National Highway Construction Cost Index to keep up with inflation and rising construction costs. According to the bill, any future increases or decreases could not exceed 1 cent per gallon every two years.
The bill allocates two-thirds of all new revenue to fund state road projects, 25 percent toward county road projects and 8.33 toward city projects. The division of new revenue between counties and cities has been a sticking point in previous gas tax proposals, but both the Alabama League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama are supporting Ivey’s bill.
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said the need for infrastructure improvements is well known.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect bill, but sometimes you have to step up and do the hard thing for what helps the whole state,” Collins said.
Ivey called a special session Tuesday night, after her state of the state speech. Lawmakers had been alerted to it earlier and some Democrats are angry about the short notice. The regular session began Tuesday and the special session began Wednesday morning.
“There was no conversation beforehand, so I get very concerned and disappointed when we are not really organized as we should be,” Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville said.
Daniels said he received an email about the special session at the same time as other House members.
“I can only give guidance when I’ve been given guidance,” Daniels said. “So until those types of things improve, I think you will see the polarization probably become a little bit more turbulent.”
By calling a special session on the gas tax, lawmakers can focus on it alone. During a regular session, “budget isolation resolutions” require support from three-fifths of the quorum before a non-budget bill can be debated and voted on. That rule doesn’t exist in a special session and the gas tax only needs a simple majority of lawmakers in both chambers to support it.
The bill could clear the House this week and move to the Senate.
“I applaud the governor for stepping up and owning the issue,” Minority Leader Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said. “The pace that we go will dictate whether or not it gets passed.
If it looks like we’re being pushed too fast, some folks might fall off the fence.”
Rep. Andy Whitt, R-Harvest, said he would like to see more of the new money go directly to each of the counties.
“These funds are critical and need to be easily accessible,” Whitt said. “I do like that all funds will be spent directly on roads and bridges and not salaries or building.”
Alabama Daily News reporters Will Whatley and Todd Stacy contributed to this report.
This coverage of the 2019 session of the Alabama Legislature is provided by the Capitol News Service of Alabama Daily News, based in Montgomery. BirminghamWatch is publishing reporters’ news and analysis but not commentary, from this new partner.