Today it seems most Alabamians with access to social media have commented on Gov. Kay Ivey’s Reboot Alabama infrastructure plan, which includes a 10-cent gasoline tax that easily passed the Legislature and became law on Tuesday.
Perhaps some voters were surprised that a Republican-dominated Legislature easily increased the tax, which will help fund road and bridge projects as well as improvements to the Port of Mobile.
Local lawmakers were split in their voting. Reps. Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope and Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle voted no. Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman and Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview cast yes votes.
Throughout last fall’s campaign, the topic most discussed was the condition of roads and bridges. County commissioners, city council members, mayors and others have been pleading for better funding to address the crumbling infrastructure of county and state roads. Many residents and those investing to expand or introduce new industries have asked for the same.
With Alabama lagging behind most states when it comes to tax on gas since the last increase was 27 years ago, there were few options other than upping the tax, although the plan was not made public until recently.
Although not popular, the governor and the Legislature delivered what was needed.
The tax will be installed over a three-year period, beginning this summer. Millions of new dollars will be collected — more than $320 million annually. Lawmakers also wisely added stipulations that the Alabama Department of Transportation cannot touch the revenue for hiring personnel or constructing buildings.
One of the main criticisms of the bill, other than it increases the tax, is that it can be adjusted up or down with the National Highway Construction Cost Index and could increase up to a penny every two years. Some lawmakers are unhappy about that portion of the bill and want to look at amending that in the regular session.
Senators tabled a proposed change by Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Birmingham, that would have created a $40 million pool for tax rebates for low-income motorists, which Gudger supported.
Nevertheless, Alabama lawmakers have long avoided doing anything more than patching the budgets by borrowing from one fund to another. The state was literally left with few, if any, options to improve infrastructure while the economy continues to soar upward.
Criticism was expected and understandable in many respects. But many roads where buses and other vehicles travel are unsafe. Leaving the roads and bridges unattended is dangerous and irresponsible.
Before we leave this topic, there is one more discussion point.
Although we have little doubt Ivey would have easily been elected due to the state’s Republican stronghold, many of this week’s tax critiques are those who loudly cried there was no reason Ivey needed to take the stage and debate both Republicans or Democrats prior to the November election, despite calls from the state media, including this newspaper, that debates only educate and inform voters. There’s a good chance a proposed gas tax would have surfaced during a debate.
Now it’s time to move on – the gas tax is on the books.
It’s our hope the Legislature, working in this spirit with the governor, will do more good for long-term funding of other statewide needs.
A lottery should be presented to voters, providing additional funding for schools, the General Fund, which budgets most public services for residents, and a worsening state prison system. Let’s make the 2019 regular session one that continues to push Alabama forward.