On Thursday, 9 July the Governor announced that he would call the legislature into a special session to commence on 13 July at 4 PM.  This was somewhat of a surprise – although looking back, we really shouldn’t be surprised by what is going on in Montgomery these days. As the regular session drew to a close back in June, it became apparent that we would need a special session to resolve the budget challenges. Leadership shared with us that the Governor had agreed to wait until mid-August to call the special session.  So yes, leadership was surprised when they received a call less than 30 minutes before the Governor’s press conference last Thursday announcing the special session.

Several committees and sub-committees in both the House and Senate have been meeting since the end of the regular session to study various options – taxes, cuts, un-earmarking, gambling/lottery as well as a couple of other items that may prove interesting in the days ahead.  These committees were meeting on a timeline to complete their work by early August, hopefully deriving at some consensus between the House and Senate membership on a path forward and be ready for a supposed mid-August call for a special session by the Governor.

The Alabama Constitution limits a special session to 12 legislative days within a 30 day calendar. Therefore, once the Governor called the special session to begin on Monday, 13 July, both the House and Senate agreed to recess until Monday 3 August so that committee work could continue. In short, we’ve burned one of the 12 legislative days but have until 11 August (30 calendar days from 13 July) to complete the session. What the actual schedule will look like in August – Monday through Friday or Monday through Sunday – remains to be seen.  An important note to consider – the minimum days required for a bill to become law is 5 days; assuming of course that the majority has agreement to move legislation that quickly.

Why The Rush?

I’ve been asked why the Governor called the special session early. Reading the tea-leaves - the best answer I can give is he wanted to cut short the mounting pressure from lobbyist and special interest groups that are pro-gambling/lottery. I’ll agree the pressure is there as I continue to hear from all sides of the gambling/lottery argument but I disagree that the pressure will get any worse. What I don’t want to do is rush into a session and debate legislation to fix our budget woes based on incomplete studies on some of the options that will be presented. 

What’s In The Call?

When a Governor makes a call for a special session he limits what bills can be introduced during the special session. I linked to the entire Proclamation for the call in last week’s blog and provide a bulleted overview of what tax increases the Governor included in the call below:

Business Privilege Tax: End if a business net worth is less than $10k; increase maximum tax and rates for larger businesses = $38 mil

FICA Income Tax Deduction, the amount you pay to the Federal Government for Social Security and Medicare is currently deductable from your state taxes: Remove deduction for individual state tax returns = $182mil

Tobacco Tax increase $0.25/pack, proportional on other products including e-cigs (note, e-cigs are currently only subject to normal sales tax) = $70mil

Soda Tax: $0.05/12oz can (sodas are currently only subject to normal sales tax) = $182mil

Revenue Un-earmarking/Use Tax Transfer: Allow funds from FICA and withholding bills to go to General Fund Budget instead of Education Trust Fund Budget = $225mil

Un-earmarking: Agencies with earmarks and General Fund appropriations would have funds un-earmarked = $400mil total

What’s Not In The Call?

The Governor attempted to limit the introduction and passage of gambling and lottery legislation with this clause in the proclamation for a special session:

“All legislation regarding gambling or games of chance commonly played at casinos or gambling facilities is expressly excluded from this call and shall require a two-thirds vote for consideration throughout the duration of this extraordinary session of the Legislature.”

Read carefully, this certainly impacts legislation for what I call casino style gambling but does not limit a lottery – you don’t normally purchase lottery tickets at a casino. However, gambling or a lottery would require a Constitutional Amendment and therefore must receive more than a simple majority vote to be sent to the Governor. I explain this further below.

May Other Bills Be Introduced?

Yes, legislation outside of what the Governor has called a special session for may be introduced and numerous already have been – you can review bills introduced in the Senate here. No bills have been introduced in the House for the special session as of today's blog post. These bills can be assigned to committees and will work their way through the process but will need more than a simple majority to pass should they make it to a floor vote. Anything in the Governor’s call only requires a simple majority vote. Any legislation introduced outside of the Governor’s call requires a 2/3rds vote to pass. If legislation results in a Constitutional Amendment, such as for gambling or a lottery, it requires a 3/5ths vote.

I will continue to update the blog in the days and weeks ahead. As always I welcome your comments and feedback. Feel free to email me here. 

Semper Fi - Bill

 
 

Governor Bentley has called a Special Session of the Legislature to convene on Monday, 13 July.  Below is the Governor's proclamation and what he has included in "The Call" for a Special Session.  I will update the blog throughout the coming days.

Semper Fi

Bill

____________________________________________________________________________

WHEREAS, there exists an extraordinary occasion in the State of Alabama, which demands the convening of the Legislature of Alabama, in extraordinary session, as prescribed by Article V, Section 122 of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901.
 

            NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert Bentley, as Governor of the State of Alabama, do hereby proclaim and direct that the Legislature of the State of Alabama shall convene in extraordinary session at the seat of government, Alabama State House, in Montgomery, Alabama, at 4:00 p.m. on July 13, 2015, and do hereby designate the following subjects and matters, for the adequate support of the operations of state government and to fundamentally change the way Alabama state government undertakes budgeting, which I, as Governor, deem necessary to be considered and acted upon by said Legislature, in extraordinary session assembled:
 

1.               Legislation providing appropriations from the General Fund for fiscal year 2016, as required by § 70 of Article IV of the Constitution of Alabama and by the Budget Management Act under Chapter 19 of Title 41 of the Code of Alabama.
 

2.               All legislation regarding gambling or games of chance commonly played at casinos or gambling facilities is expressly excluded from this call and shall require a two-thirds vote for consideration throughout the duration of this extraordinary session of the Legislature.
 

Budget Reform:
 

3.               Legislation shifting the distribution of use taxes levied under Chapter 23 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama to the General Fund from the Education Trust Fund.
 

4.               Legislation to unearmark certain state taxes, levied under various statutes.

 5.               Legislation to provide for the distribution of payments allocated to the state for economic damages resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster.
 

6.               Legislation to amend the Education Trust Fund Rolling Reserve Act under Chapter 9 of Title 29 of the Code of Alabama.
 

Increase in Growth Revenue:
 

7.               Legislation to amend the business privilege tax levied under Article 2 of Chapter 14A of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama.
 

8.               Legislation to increase the tax levied on tobacco products under Chapter 25 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama and to create a tax to be levied upon consumable vapor products and/or e-cigarette products.


9.               Legislation to amend the individual income tax deduction for taxes paid under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) allowed under Chapter 18 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama.
 

10.             Legislation to impose a tax on certain beverages and beverage products, including soft drinks and soft drink products, as an alternative to the amendment of the individual income tax deduction for taxes paid under FICA.
 

11.              Legislation to repeal the withholding tax exemption for employers upon receipt from an employee of a withholding exemption certificate under Chapter 18 of Title 40 of the Code of Alabama.
 
Economic Development:
 
12.             Legislation to create an authority for financing improvements at the Gulf State Park and to authorize the Authority to issue bonds not to exceed fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) for the Gulf State Park Project.  

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand as Governor of the State of Alabama and caused this Proclamation to be attested by the Secretary of State at the State Capitol, in the City of Montgomery, on this the ____ day of _________, 2015.
 

                                                      _____

Robert Bentley  

Governor
 
 
PictureDirect TV Consumer Alert Email

What’s next, right? Over the past few weeks there has been talk in Montgomery of taxing everyday items such as sodas and now watching TV. This morning Direct TV (of which my family is a subscriber) sent out a consumer alert email concerning a possible tax increase for watching TV and encouraged consumers to contact their legislator. I’ve received over 100 emails this morning; great job folks!

As usual, I will use my blog to provide some background – inside baseball if you will – on this issue.

The problem is this; with little fanfare, a bill passed during the 2015 Legislative session that willfully gave away the ability of the legislature to fully control rate and fee increases by agencies in state government. You read that right – willfully gave away control. The bill is SB216 and you can read about the bill and sponsors here. The argument for the bill was that rather than have these agencies apply through the legislature each time a fee increase may be warranted, that we should just trust the government to do the right thing and that they would only pass such fees that are truly warranted so that the agency could continue to serve the people of the state.

I didn't buy that and vehemently opposed this bill along with a small group of other legislators but unfortunately the bill passed both legislative bodies – you can review the votes yourself; Senate (passed 21 – 8) and House (passed 61 – 38) for SB216.

I maintain that we supplant the representative function of the legislature when we allow agencies to raise fees without or even with limited oversight from those elected by the people to represent the people. I am concerned that this is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to future fee increases – aka tax increases – which we will see in the months ahead.

The emails that should be going out to legislators is a movement to repeal SB216 and return what was willfully given up, back to the representatives of the people.

Semper Fi

Bill




 
 
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Today’s blog post covers activity from last week (25th and 26th Legislative Days) through this week (27, 28 and 29th Legislative Days) and closes out the 2015 Legislative Session.

The Senate slowed to a crawl last week, entering a deadlock of wills as opposing views on how to solve the perennial budget crisis spilled over and impacted other pending legislation – collateral damage if you will. That posture continued into this week and the Senate adjourned Sine Die today after passing the General Fund Budget. By all accounts the Governor will call the legislature back for a special session later this year – at a cost of approximately $24,000 a day – to once again take up the 2016 budget.

While I support continuing to work through the budget issues I’m left pondering what will change in the weeks ahead? Are we going to see an unexpected windfall from somewhere that will solve the budget problem? Are we going to see widespread support for tax increases? Hopefully we will finally address the foundational problems of our state budgets.

This was a challenging session - the most challenging I've been a part of in 5 years serving in the Senate. We made difficult decisions and will face more in the days ahead. I reaffirm; I answer to the people that sent me to Montgomery, not the people in Montgomery. 

In closing out the blog – for those that have inquired about the pictures accompanying each day’s blog – early on this year I decided to not repeat a tie during this year’s session. I’ve been blessed by my wife and daughters with quite an assortment of ties for birthdays, father’s day, etc over the years and featured a tie in each day’s blog...a way to break the monotony of the daily blog. Assuming I’ve not lost readers to this point in today’s blog, I must admit one tie was repeated by accident!

I look forward to returning home and working for the people I represent across the Senate District that I am honored to represent in the days and weeks ahead.

*Edited on 6/5/15 to add the following;

As I drove the 3 hours home last night I pondered the budget and realized the silver lining in the dark clouds that hung over this year’s entire session – we didn’t kick the can down the road for another year. Yes, we passed an austere budget – the legislature believed it was workable but the Governor saw different and followed through with his threat to veto the budget – but the silver lining is we must still address the budget shortfall. By passing a stripped down budget and not coming up with some 11th hour fix (of which we’ve done in years past) we are forced to address the foundational problems in our budgets. Readers should understand the budget in question doesn’t go into effect until October of this year – we still have time to come back together, focus singularly on the budgets and find some common ground – working together from the Governor’s office, the House and the Senate - and that’s what I’m looking for from leadership across the board.

Semper Fi – Bill



 
 
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I arrived in Montgomery for this week’s session a little after noon today and held a few brief meetings in my office prior to the General Fund Committee meeting at 1 PM. We debated and passed several bills at the meeting. I opposed two bills on the General Fund agenda; SB216 with allows state agencies to increase fees and SB502, a Constitutional Amendment that would combine the two state budgets and unearmark funds in the budget. To some readers it may seem odd that I opposed these bills as they accomplish some things I support, but often in Montgomery – things are not as they appear!   

SB216, allowing state agencies to raise fees on the public has some built in backstops preventing a state agency from running away with fee increases however I maintain that we supplant the representative function of the legislature when we allow agencies to raise fees without or even with limited oversight from those elected by the people to represent the people.

SB502, a constitutional amendment, calling for a vote of the people to unearmark funds in the budget and combining the two budgets. While I certainly support a vote of the people, the language of the amendment is troubling and questionable; quoted in full context below, italicized emphasis added:

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to become effective January 1, 2017, to disallow any limitation on the appropriation or spending of state revenues and to allow for a unified appropriations bill.”

The Senate went into session at 2PM this afternoon and after some procedural action took up an 11 bill Special Order Calendar. A few bills were carried over for additional work but most of the bills were passed with little debate/objection. The Senate adjourned a little after 6PM for the day.

The Senate General Fund committee will meet in the morning and begin to debate the budget passed by the House.

Semper Fi - Bill



 
 
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The Senate went into session at 10AM this morning. After some procedural work we began work on a Special Order Calendar that included two bills; HB210 relating to the Administrative Procedures Act and HB211 making changes to the Legislative Council.

The Senate then went on adopt a second Special Order Calendar with 12 bills. The Senate worked though this bill passing all 12. Of note, HB241 creating the Alabama Homeowner’s Association Act passed and will go to the Governor for consideration. I have worked with several others on this legislation – actually first working on this as the Madison City Council President to address citizen concerns from that level. I’m happy to see this bill pass and feel that it will address a majority of the concerns that have been brought to our attention.

The House passed the Education Budget in a 105 – 0 vote...a truly amazing feat that no one seems to have every recalled. The Education Budget approves and appropriates $5.9B for education in our state. Some changes were made in the House requiring the bill to go to a Conference Committee. Both the Senate and House concurred with the changes. The bill now goes to the Governor for consideration.

The Senate adjourned just before 4PM and will reconvene on Tuesday of next week at 2PM. As discussed in previous blog posts, we are nearing the end of the 2015 Regular Session. Our State Constitution limits each regular session to 30 Legislative Days (a Legislative Day is counted when we are called to the floor for a vote whether it be one bill or 100 bills). Tuesday will be the 25th Legislative Day leaving us just 5 days to pass the General Fund Budget.

Whether you gather with friends at home for a BBQ, at the lake or the beach, I hope everyone enjoys a great Memorial Day weekend. Please remember the true meaning of Memorial Day on Monday - recalling those that have fallen in defense of our nation and our way of life.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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Today’s blog post covers two days as I was unable to post yesterday’s blog due to an unstable internet connection at the hotel. I typically write/post the blog updates in the evening when I’m at the hotel unwinding from the day.

In yesterday’s action, the 23rd Legislative day of the 2015 session, the Senate went into session at 2 PM and after some procedural work took up an ambitious Special Order Calendar. In the end we worked our way through the entire calendar with only a handful of bills being carried over so that members could work out some details.

I discuss several bills of note below:

The bill to remove the state from the liquor business, closing the ABC stores was brought up for a vote. I support this bill for a variety of reasons including that it saves the state General Fund Budget between $18 and $24M. No small amount as we look to balance a budget without raising taxes. The bill passed a procedural vote 17 – 11 but was carried over to another day due to the slim margin of support. Some Senators were not present or did not vote and we will need more votes to overcome the opposition on this legislation.

The House version of a bill I’ve carried in the Senate allowing stores to establish allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases. This bill moves to the Governor for signature now.

In budget news, I want to commend the House as they passed the General Fund Budget yesterday afternoon. The General Fund started in the House this year and after 23 Legislative Days of debate in the House will now come to the Senate for consideration. It is my hope that we will work through the bill in committee next week and debate the bill for final passage Thursday of next week. The House has also passed the Education Budget out of committee. It could be up for the full House debate as early as tomorrow. This bill started in the Senate this year and was voted out of the Senate on the 15th Legislative day.

As I’ve previously stated, we are duty bound to pass a balanced budget during the regular session – we can and should do so and I will continue to work every possible angle to ensure the balanced budgets are sent to the Governor prior to the session ending. A special session will cost approximately $120K dollars a week, money we don’t have and can’t afford.

In today’s actions (Wednesday) committees met throughout the State House on a variety of bills. There is a sense of a hurried pace with some legislation as lobbyist lobby and we near the end of the session...things tend to get interesting this time of year!

I am working to have the Growler Bill on the Senate Calendar for Thursday – fingers crossed. We go into session at 10AM.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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I started the morning with the Transportation and Energy Committee meeting at 0830.  We debated two bills; one was carried over and one was passed. The bill that passed is the House version of the Senate bill we passed last week; legislation allowing rewards programs that provide a price discount on gasoline when combined with other purchases

The Senate went into session at 10AM and after some procedural votes we started working on a very ambitious 25 bill Special Order Calendar.  We were able to debate and pass a total of 6 of those bills before the body decided to adjourn for the week.

And for a budget update, on this the 22nd Legislative day, the House finally voted the General Fund Budget out of committee – via a voice vote meaning there is no record of how committee members voted. Nonetheless, that General Fund Budget should come to a full vote of the House on Tuesday of next week. The soonest the Senate would see the budget, assuming it passes the House on Tuesday, will be when it gets a first reading in the Senate on Tuesday – the 23rd Legislative Day. At that point the General Fund Budget could be debated in the Senate Committee on Wednesday. No doubt there is still much work to be done as the Governor has already announced that he would veto the budget passed by the House Committee today.

I’m looking forward to a few events across District 2 this weekend including speaking at the annual members meeting of the Semper Fi Community Task Force and running a 5K at Blue Springs Elementary School. The highlight of the weekend though will be seeing our youngest daughter graduate High School. Congratulations to all of the graduating seniors and to their families for this great accomplishment. They sure grow up fast!

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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Today was committee day in the State House. In addition to various committee meetings, I had several meetings in my office with lobbyist and special interest groups regarding legislation in a range of status, moving through the legislative process.

As discussed in yesterday’s blog, time is running short for the session – 9 legislative days left – and a sense of urgency of sorts is emerging as members in both the House and Senate prioritize efforts to pass legislation.

I’m hearing through the halls of the State House that the House Budget Committee may finally bring the House General Fund Budget to a committee vote tomorrow, positioning it for a full House vote on Tuesday of next week – note that’s the 23rd legislative day....leaving just 7 days for the Senate to pass the budgets on to the Governor. I’ve encouraged leadership and members to move the budgets so that we can pass the budgets during this regular session. Some of my colleagues have already accepted that we will be unable to pass the budgets during the regular session and will need to go into a special session later this year to address the budgets.

I’m simply not ready to surrender to that notion.

The Senate will go into session at 10AM tomorrow.

Semper Fi - Bill


 
 
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It was an early start this morning as I backed out of our driveway at 6AM headed to Montgomery for this week’s session. The Senate Republican Caucus met at 9AM as we continue to work through the budget challenges before us. The House continues to debate several options – including tax increases. Both the Senate and the House are dedicated to passing a workable budget solution but time continues to pass and the 2015 Regular Session is rapidly coming to a close.

Today was the 21st Legislative Day. As discussed in the blog a few days ago, our Constitution limits each regular session to 30 Legislative Days...9 days remain in this session; far from the ideal situation to address the perennial budget crisis.   

In today’s action the press reported the House was poised to vote on a handful of tax increases, further setting up the House version of the General Fund Budget.  However, as the day progressed, an apparent shift away from supporting the proposed taxes was reported...and so we wait and the clock continues to tick on the 2015 Session.

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On another note, today was Military Appreciation Day in the Alabama Legislature. I was honored to participate in the ceremony honoring two of Alabama’s living Medal of Honor recipients during today’s Joint Legislative Session. We also recognized The Alabama Veteran’s Network – ALVetNet – which continues to play an important role in assisting our Veterans and their families.

In closing I want to thank everyone for all the Happy Birthday wishes today!

Semper Fi - Bill