MONTGOMERY – Gov. Kay Ivey’s first legislative session since winning a term in her own right will feature a laundry list of contentious issues when it begins Tuesday.
On the top of that list is Ivey’s proposal to raise the state’s gas tax to pay for improving roads and bridges, which could be one of the first votes the GOP-led Alabama Legislature will be asked to take.
Ivey’s infrastructure plan will be the predominant issue of the 15-week session. Advocates for the first statewide gas tax increase since 1992 say bad roads are dangerous, cause costly congestion and hinder economic development. But passage of the legislation is not a sure thing in the 140-member Legislature where 41 members are new this year.
Other potential high-profile bills include a proposal for a statewide lottery, a likely teacher pay raise request and continued attempts to address the state’s understaffed and aging prisons.
In a recent interview with Alabama Daily News, Ivey said she knew that confronting difficult issues was going to be necessary when she decided to run.
“When I was trying to wrestle with the idea of even making a race for governor, I had to face the fact that our state has some very difficult challenges and needs,” Ivey said.
“Because they’ve been, with the prisons and the infrastructure, neglected for years and years and decades. I knew if I was successful in running for governor, I was going to have to deal with those. And you don’t look forward to dealing with difficult things, but that was one of the soul-searching questions that I had to answer for myself. Was I willing, if I was going to run for governor, would I be willing to take on the high priority needs that the state has because of neglect by others through the years?
“And it was a hard decision for me to make because we have some heavy lifts.” Read more.
Gov. Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Corrections aren’t yet talking publicly about possible fixes for the state’s crowded and aging prisons, but they are extending a multimillion-dollar contract with an outside project manager to study construction needs.
Some leaders in the Statehouse say they expect Ivey to move forward with a plan for new prisons that doesn’t require legislative approval.
“We’re going to have several prison-related bills (in the 2019 legislative session), but none will be infrastructure,” Sen. Cam Ward said recently. He expects Ivey next year will begin the process to pay private companies for prison space.
“XYX company builds it, we lease it,” Ward, R-Alabaster, said. The new prisons would be staffed and run just like state-owned facilities. Read more.