Regular Session Begins, Special Session Quickly Called
The 2019 regular legislative session began on Tuesday, March 5. In total, 216 bills were pre-filed or introduced on Tuesday in the House and Senate. The legislature convened and quickly recessed until March 19 in anticipation of Governor Kay Ivey calling a special session to address infrastructure funding, known colloquially as “the gas tax.”
Tuesday night, the Governor addressed the Joint Session of the Legislature during her annual State of the State address. During her speech, Governor Ivey laid out her legislative agenda for 2019. She proposed a four percent cost of living increase for teachers and two percent increase for state employees. She also proposed a $25 million increase in the state’s pre-k program, $31 million increase in prison funding, and $75 million increase for four-year colleges and universities. She also encouraged the legislature to fund a new co-op program for Alabama’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and emphasized the importance of Alabamians’ participation in the 2020 census.
As expected, the Governor renewed her call for an increase in the state gas tax during her address. She said she was prepared to call a special session on the issue, which she did about an hour after the speech. By calling a special session, the legislature avoids a regular session procedural rule that requires a three-fifths vote to bring a bill up for debate.
The legislature went in to special session on Tuesday night and immediately introduced the gas tax bill and two other related pieces of legislation. The three-bill package is the top priority for Gov. Kay Ivey and the leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Alabama’s state fuel tax is 18 cents a gallon for gasoline and 19 cents for diesel. The bill by Rep. Bill Poole (R – Tuscaloosa) would add six cents a gallon this year and two cents each of the next two years. Starting in 2023, the tax would be linked to a national highway construction cost index that could adjust it by a penny once every two years. Alabama’s funding for roads is the lowest in the southeast.
The 10-cent increase would generate an estimated $320 million a year that would go into a new Rebuild Alabama Fund that would be distributed to the Alabama Department of Transportation (67 percent), counties (25 percent) and municipalities (8 percent).
Up to $12 million a year would go to support a bond issue to widen and deepen the shipping channel in the port of Mobile. Federal funds would pay 75 percent of the cost of that project, and the maximum principal of the bond issue would be $150 million paid over 20 years.
The bill would also add a $200 annual registration fee for electric vehicles and a $100 fee for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Three-fourths of that money would go into the Rebuild Alabama Fund, while one-fourth would be used for a new grant program to develop charging stations across the state.
Conventional hybrid vehicles were included in the fee structure in the original bill as introduced during the regular session. Prior to the introduction of the bill during the special session, we worked with Rep. Poole to remove conventional hybrids from the legislation as they will pay the increased gas tax and will not utilize the charging stations.
Amendments to the legislation
1. During debate on the legislation, Rep. Connie Rowe (R – Jasper) offered an amendment to change the distribution formula based on population of cities and counties. This is important to high growth areas such as Baldwin, Shelby, and Madison counties, among others.
Originally, the bill would have adjusted the population numbers based on the decennial census, i.e. every ten years. The Rowe amendment changed this process to every five years. Rep. Poole spoke to the benefits of the amendment and encouraged members to vote for it and it passed unanimously, 98 ayes to 0 nays.
Our thanks go to Sen. Chris Elliott (R – Fairhope) and Rep. Steve McMillan (R – Gulf Shores) who worked behind the scenes with the bill sponsor and leadership to prepare the way for this important amendment to be adopted.
2. Rep. AJ McCampbell (D – Gallion) offered an amendment that encourages ALDOT to hire minority-owned businesses and firms owned by economically-disadvantaged firms. In addition, ALDOT must file reports if they fall short of projected numbers. It was approved 98 – 0.
3. Rep. Poole offered a technical amendment on behalf of the Department of Revenue that made small technical changes to the bill. It was approved 102 – 0.
4. Rep. Pebblin Warren (D – Tuskegee) offered an amendment that will require County Commissions to submit a detailed list of projects they intend to fund. It was approved 101 – 0.
5. Rep. McCampbell offered another amendment to add a minority appointment to the ATRIP committee. It was approved 100 – 0.
6. Rep. Rich Wingo (R – Tuscaloosa) offered an amendment to encourage a two-system method of paving to include asphalt and concrete. It was approved 101 – 1.
The bill eventually passed the House on Friday by a vote of 83 – 20.
The House and Senate also passed companion bills related to the Joint Transportation Committee, Highway Finance Corporation, off-road vehicles, and low-speed vehicles.
The House and Senate will reconvene on Monday, March 11, 2019 at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., respectively.