Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1469: Special session questions

  What shall we do? That is the question every Alabama legislator is asking. What will they do? That is the question many Alabama citizens are asking about Alabama legislators. The central question is: What? What? What?

  Legislators returned to a special session of the Alabama Legislature Monday. Governor Robert Bentley hastily called this special session for July 13. The legislature came into session on the day specified and hastily adjourned to August 3. What impelled Alabama’s governor to quickly call a special session of the Alabama Legislature without consulting legislative leaders? I can’t answer that “what.” What impelled the Alabama Legislature to hastily adjourn to August 3? I can’t really answer that “what” either. It’s just: What? What? What?

  What brought us to this sorry situation? The immediate answer is the lack of a General Fund Budget. The legislature previously passed an inadequate budget for fiscal year 2016 with $250 million in additional cuts and adjourned sine die. The governor vetoed the budget. The result was no budget for the operation of general government come October 1. Everyone knew that a special legislative session was coming. What caused it come in the way it did, I can’t tell you. It’s just: What? What? What?

  What really brought us to this moment? It’s a long, long story. The short story of the long story is Alabama’s terrible tax tragedy. The short story of the long story is Alabama’s failure to fix its terrible tax system. The short story of the long story is the complete exhaustion of every fake fix conceivable. It’s just: What? What? What?

  What will we do in the special session? The short answer is “I don’t know.” An even shorter answer may be “nothing.” We now know what the governor is proposing: shift certain taxes from the education fund to the general fund; eliminate the FICA state tax deduction; remove certain revenue earmarks; loosen up the Rolling Reserve Act; increase the business privilege tax; increase taxes on cigarettes and soft drinks; repeal the withholding tax exemption for individuals; earmark the BP settlement monies to repay the Alabama Trust Fund; and so on.

  I realize that most of these items will not mean much to you, but I have no space to explain them at the moment. The governor made these general proposals but did not release specific bills until the last minute. Of course, the Devil is always in the details. Some are asking, “Does it matter what the governor proposes to this legislature?” It’s just: What? What? What?

  Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh is proposing casino gambling at four sites along with a lottery and a compact for the Poarch Creek Indians. This would require a Constitutional Amendment adopted by a 3/5 vote separately in the Senate and House and a majority vote by the people of Alabama. Any benefits would come down the road, way too late to help this budget crisis. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard says he is opposed to Senator Marsh’s casino plan. Does it really matter what Senator Marsh is proposing? It’s just: What? What? What?

  The Poarch Creek Indians have gambling at two locations and are raking in many millions every week. They say that they will advance Alabama some $250 million to fill the hole in the general fund budget providing they get a compact that will allow even more gambling. Their ads are all over the media. The governor and the Senate President Pro Tem are opposed to this approach. Does it matter what the Poarch Creek Indians are proposing? It’s just: What? What? What?

  I hear that Senate and House leaders are developing a plan. I don’t even know what are the outlines of that plan. No one else seems to know. The planners may not even know. Does it really matter what they propose? It’s just: What? What? What?

  It seems to me that our leaders are trying to find an easy way out. However, there is no real way around raising taxes. I am afraid that we will rob Peter to pay Paul. Worse yet, we will even rob Peter’s children to pay Paul. However, robbing one to pay another only goes so far. Eventually there will not be anyone or anything left to rob. Until we fully embrace the real challenge, it will be just: What? What? What?        

EPILOGUE – Sometimes there are no easy answers. Because we will not embrace hard answers, we are often left with nothing but: What? What? What? The answer is in us if we just embrace it.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

No comments:

Post a Comment