Robert Bentley won’t retreat on taxes as budget stalemate continues

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Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said he will not retreat as he battles with members of his own party over tax increases.

The cuts to state services, which will be required if lawmakers fail to plug a revenue hole, will cause a “tremendous amount of pain to the citizens of this state,” Bentley said.

“We’re dealing with real people and real people’s lives,” Bentley told The Associated Press. “We have to have some taxes. We have to have new revenue.”

The GOP governor has taken up a high-profile quest to convince the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature to approve taxes to avoid budget cuts. So far he has failed. Lawmakers rejected his call for $500 million in taxes in the regular session that ended in June. A special session, in which Bentley sought $302 million, appears as if it will conclude next week without significant new revenue.

The governor said a cut-filled budget headed to the Senate floor Monday is unworkable. Lawmakers say they expect Bentley to pocket veto the bill and bring them back for a second special session.

State agencies are now seven weeks from the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year and do not have an operating budget. The governor would not say when he expected to call lawmakers back, leaving open the possibility that he could call them back right before the start of the fiscal year.

The sharpest resistance has come in the Senate.

“That’s where we are on total different sides right now. You’ve got a lot of people, in the Senate anyway, who believe it’s just time to live within our means,” Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said.

“Right now there have not been the screams from our constituents that there is a problem,” Marsh said.

The House has been more willing to work on revenue ideas. A 25-cent-per-pack cigarette tax failed in committee by one vote when both Republicans and Democrats voted against it.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said, “when that collapsed, everything collapsed.”

However, Hubbard said he thought the House was “very close” to getting a consensus for something that could pass through the chamber in a second special session

“We just have to do what we believe is in the best interest of the people of the state of Alabama. Let’s put a proposal together and let’s send it up (to the Senate) and try to put the pressure on them to try to do the right thing,” Hubbard said.

Marsh has proposed taking $225 million from the education budget, saying a savings account for the fund and the fund’s other taxes, which grow every year, could absorb the loss. He said lawmakers could decide later about backfilling the revenue.

The state Department of Education and other education groups have launched an offensive push against that idea. Hubbard said the House would not go along with taking money from education without replacing it.

Marsh has also proposed letting voters decide on establishing a state lottery and casino although that money would not be available for the immediate budget.

Despite two losses with lawmakers, Bentley said he remain optimistic. He said the pressure is beginning to build on lawmakers.

However, lawmakers opposed to Bentley could have an advantage in a second special session. Marsh said senators will try to arrange their meeting days so there will be time to override a budget veto.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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