Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Times Daily: Legislators not lining up for gas tax

By Tom Smith Senior Staff Writer, Timesdaily.com

The proposed 3-cent tax on gas to fund county road and bridge improvements seems to be gaining support from county governments, but has yet to be introduced in the Legislature.

Terri Reynolds, director of public affairs with the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama (ACCA), said the legislation does not have a sponsor and stakeholders are still discussing the final contents of the bill.

“However, a few legislators have expressed interest in sponsoring the bill,” she said.

The bill must be introduced in the House, and Reynolds believes that will likely occur by the end of this month or in early March.

The proposed legislation calls for the addition of a 3-cent tax on gasoline that would pay off a $1.2 million bond issue in 15 years.

Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens, isn’t as sure as Reynolds is that the bill will get a sponsor.

“They don’t have a sponsor now, and I don’t know if they will find one,” Crawford said. “There are needs here and there, I understand that, but I’m against raising taxes in general.”

He said legislation was introduced last year calling for a 6-cent gas tax increase and it “didn’t get anywhere.”

“This year, they’ve come back with half of that, trying to get something that county commissioners will get behind,” he said. “Sometimes you can tweak it and make it sound better, but it’s still a tax.”

According to the bill, proceeds would be divided among the state’s 67 counties based on population. ACCA officials said the minimum allocation for each county under the proposal would be $10 million.

Colbert County would receive $15,484,001.43; Franklin County, $12,360,596.23; and Lauderdale County, $20,730,063.07. Each municipality in the counties would share 20 percent of the county proceeds.

At its recent meeting, the Lauderdale County Commission approved a resolution supporting the legislation. The Franklin County Commission discussed the proposal at a recent work session and is expected to vote Tuesday. The Colbert County Commission is expected to discuss the issue and possibility vote on it at its next commission meeting.

Jeannie Grimes, public relations manager for the ACCA, said 42 counties have passed resolutions in favor of the proposal.

There are still some legislators who have questions about the proposal.

“There is some movement on the proposal, but I don’t know how much at this time,” said Rep. Marcel Black, D-Muscle Shoals. “I want to look at it to see how (the money) is being distributed, and I want to learn a little more about the bill.”

Black said he’s leaning “against it” until he hears more. “Also, I’m looking at the politics of it to see what the Republican majority is going to do. Some ran on no new taxes,” Black said.

Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Greenhill, said he understands the need for the tax, but is worried about it getting the votes needed to pass.

“This proposal would mean an average increase of $2.50 per month to citizens. That’s not a lot,” Pettus said. “There are so many people who are not in favor any tax whatsoever, I worry about getting it out of the House at all.”

“We’ve got to pay our bills and we’ve got to have infrastructure, we’ve got to do something,” said Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence.

Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, said he hasn’t seen enough about it to form an opinion “one way or another. There’s so much going on in Montgomery right now. I’m going in with an open mind on everything.”

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, said money is needed for infrastructure, but this tax may not be the answer.

“We have to keep our roads up for sure,” Greer said. “I’m in the position if we are going to pass (a gas tax), let’s wait and do it right.”

Franklin County Engineer David Palmer, who is president of the county engineers association, said the plan would have a positive impact on all counties.

“If we don’t invest in our infrastructure now, we will pay the price later,” he said.