What legislators expect

SPECIAL SESSION TWO...

The Blount Countian last week asked members of the Blount County delegation what they expect from the next special session of the Legislature, which will probably be called within the next two weeks. We asked if there was a sense of cooperation brewing, and what kind of a budget proposal they expect to be hammered out by the Legislature. Here are their answers, lightly edited for brevity.

District 11 Rep. Randall Shedd

I expect a tougher session than the first, but I hope reason and compromise will break out in Montgomery before the session ends.

I read that Sen. Del Marsh has taken gambling off the table, which I agree has been a distraction. Even if you want gambling, the state constitution doesn’t allow time for gambling to be approved by voters and in place in time to address the problems of the 2016 budget, which starts Oct. 1, 2015.

But I read that Sen. Paul Sanford plans to come with a lottery bill, which again would not help the 2016 budget and I think it will become a distraction because of the fierce opposition of some legislators. I believe it would bog down the session.

I’m concerned that the Senate will pass legislation taking money from the Education Budget, without replacing it. I don’t think the House or Gov. Bentley will accept that.

I don’t see a consensus, but I am hopeful cooler heads will prevail. I’ve been saying for months that I believe we are looking at a combination of cuts and new revenue streams.

But, if I had to guess what I think will happen, I expect we will see a budget passed similar to the one passed in the regular session but vetoed by the governor. This time, I expect Gov. Bentley will again veto the budget, but the Legislature will have time to over-ride his veto, and will.

If new taxes are passed, or any new revenue for the general fund occurs, I want to know how it will be spent.

I am drafting legislation called “Priority Budgeting” I plan to introduce in the special session that will spell out how we spend any new revenue. People should know things like Children’s Hospital, rural hospitals, nursing homes, veterans services, state parks, etc. will be funded and not be used as a threat in the future to raise taxes or borrow money.

District 17 Sen. Shay Shelnutt

The feeling I get from talking with other senators, and from members of the House, is that we need to do all we can to make sure we have eliminated every bit of waste in Montgomery before asking taxpayers to pay another cent in taxes.

Raising taxes is the easy way out and one that governments have a long history of using. However, taxpayers in Alabama should know that there are members of the Legislature who are putting in long hours behind the scenes to reform and modernize our budgeting system and look at cost-saving measures. These legislators…are trying to find solutions to the state’s budget shortfall without adding to the burden that is already on the backs of the working people of this state.

Every tax dollar the government requires from an individual or family is one less resource that person or family has to save for college education or retirement. So my philosophy is that government should take as little money from taxpayers as possible.

I believe the Legislature can balance the budget without significant tax increases on the hard-working families of Alabama. I hope that the Governor will support our efforts. However, the Governor may choose to veto whatever budget the Legislature sends him (as he did at the end of the regular session in June). I hope that won’t happen, but if it does, I think the Legislature will probably over-ride the veto.

District 34 Rep. David Standridge

In my opinion, there are three general thoughts on solving the budget problems in Montgomery: the taxers, the gamblers, and the reformers. It’s obvious that the taxers believe the answer is raising taxes. The gamblers believe that gambling is a solution for the long term but admit that it wouldn’t help for the budget that starts Oct. 1. The reformers believe that the budget can be solved by changing the way we budget in Alabama and by cutting spending. Usually changing the way we budget means moving funds from the education fund to the general fund. This reform is met with stiff opposition from the education groups. Of the taxers, the gamblers, and the reformers, none seem to have a majority.

The governor believes that the answer is raising taxes which is probably the least popular in the Legislature. It’s easy to just say “cut the budget” but in reality people expect services like state parks, mental health, homeland security, prisons, courts, driver’s license offices, veterans offices, Medicaid, state troopers, juvenile probation, DHR, and many more. I don’t believe our citizens want the elderly kicked out of nursing homes, Children’s Hospital closed, our homeland security compromised, our courts not being able to operate, and having to go to Birmingham to a driver’s license office.

What is the amount really needed? We were told early this year that we had to have $700 million in new revenue and now that number is somewhere between $150 million and $300 million. So what is the real number? I know we have to fund essential functions, but I’m not in favor of growing government. This is why I have been reluctant to agree with any tax increases on the hard-working people of my district. We also have to keep in mind that our state parks produce about 90 percent of the revenue they need to operate themselves, so why are they even in the discussion about a way to solve the problem?

Between sessions, there have been numerous meetings by committees and groups to discuss these issues. I believe the solution probably lies somewhere in the middle. While I don’t believe that we can just tax our way out of this problem, there is a need for reasonable discussion, debate, and compromise. I hold out hope that this will occur during the next special session.

District 9 Sen. Clay Scofield

Ed. Sen. Scofield was out of town at the time of this inquiry. His response did not arrive in time to include in this article.