In a press conference Tuesday, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh announced plans to introduce legislation that would bring card tables and slot machines to existing gaming facilities across the state and introduce a new lottery.
Marsh urged the governor to allow his gaming proposal to be put up for vote in September, rather than imposing new taxes on Alabamians.
“This is a viable option that should be put to the people to decide,” he said. “The people should have the right to make this choice before we put $600 million of new taxes on them.”
Birmingham Mayor William Bell joined Marsh at the press conference to lend his support to the gaming proposal because of its potential to boost economic development in his city.
“We can’t stand on the sidelines,” Bell said. “In the last gubernatorial election, you had officials saying that we should let the people have the right to decide on gaming. Gaming is by choice, taxes aren’t by choice. If we have a lottery, people can choose for themselves whether to participate in that activity.”
An Auburn University study estimated that Marsh’s plan could boost state revenue by as much as $400 million.
Marsh’s proposal is one of four options lawmakers have at this point to overcome the budget shortage. Other options include adopting Gov. Robert Bentley’s plan to plug the $541 million shortfall using tax increases, approving a $250 million offer from the Poarch Creek Indians in exchange for exclusive rights to manage gaming, or allowing across-the-board budget cuts that could include the loss of up to 1,000 jobs.
On Monday, Bentley rejected the gambling proposal outright, saying it would “make Alabama look like Las Vegas” and not address the budget concerns: “It is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have ever seen.”
In Tuesday’s press conference, Marsh presented a side-by-side analysis of his gaming proposal against what he called the “Creek Plan” and Bentley’s plan.
“My proposed legislation would bring 11,000 new jobs. It’s fair to all and it’s not raising taxes on the people,” he said. By comparison, he said the governor’s tax proposal “raises taxes and results in no new jobs” and that the $250 million bailout proposal by the Poarch Creek Indians wouldn’t solve the state’s long-term budget problems.
Marsh was optimistic that his caucus would support his legislation because of its potential for long-term economic gains.
“I’m not hearing a lot of excitement on tax increases. What I’m hearing from my caucus is ‘Keep this in play.’”
Since March, Bentley has been urging legislators to adopt his plan to plug the $541 million shortfall using tax increases, including increased taxes on cigarettes, car sales, and car rentals.
The House’s General Fund budget committee is scheduled to hold public hearings on several of those proposed increases, including higher cigarette and car rental taxes, later Tuesday.