Gas tax proposal continues on legislative fast track

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama Senate committee approved a proposed 10-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase Monday, keeping the bill on the legislative fast track in the special session called by Gov. Kay Ivey.

The Senate Transportation and Energy Committee approved the proposed gas tax increase and related bills without a dissenting vote. The measures now move to the full Senate floor, where they could receive final passage as soon as Tuesday.

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh said he feels confident the Senate will approve the bills Tuesday, but he said there could be lengthy debate and a number of attempted amendments.

“This is the right thing to do and it will pay benefits for the state of Alabama,” Marsh, R-Anniston, said after the committee vote.

After her State of the State address last week, Ivey called lawmakers into a swift-moving special session to consider a 10-cent a gallon gas tax increase to fund road and bridge construction.

Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Poole said Alabama ranks “dead last” in the Southeast for gasoline taxes. The state last increased its gasoline tax in 1992.

“We have to do something as a state whether it’s hard, difficult or controversial — we have to do something. It has been 27 years since the state of Alabama has increased its motor fuel tax,” Poole said,

The proposed 10-cent increase would be phased in over three years, beginning with six cents in 2019 and two cents in each of the next two years. The state tax then would be adjusted up or down with the National Highway Construction Cost Index and could increase up to a penny every two years. The proposal also would place an annual $200 fee on electric vehicles and a $100 annual fee on hybrid vehicles.

So far the bill has found strong support in the Alabama Legislature. The House of Representatives approved the bill last week on a bipartisan 83-20 vote.

If approved, the tax would rise by 6 cents in 2019 and an additional 2 cents in 2020 and 2021. The bill also sets aside $11.7 million of the revenue to be used for a bond issue for improvements at the Port of Mobile.

While supporters were optimistic, some senators expressed reservations about any tax increase.

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said Monday she wants a public commitment from Ivey to work toward Medicaid expansion before she could support the tax increase. Figures said the gasoline tax would be shouldered by working people while the state gives millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations.

“To put this very expensive, regressive tax on the backs of low-income people, it’s going to be a burden on them,” Figures said.

The Mobile senator also criticized what she described as the “big hurry” to pass the legislation.

“We’re being pressured now to vote for this tax. We’re being told to have the courage. Oh, I have plenty of courage. I’m waiting for leadership to have some courage, finally. It would have taken courage to pass Medicaid expansion,” she said.

There was an unsuccessful attempt in the House to strip the ability to adjust the tax upward in future years without another vote of the Alabama Legislature. There could be another attempt to strip the provision during Senate debate Tuesday.

Poole said the indexing measure is needed to try to keep up with inflation.

The special session could wrap up Tuesday if the bills get final passage.

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