HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The Alabama Legislature is currently in it’s regular session and there are lots of topics that have been discussed surrounding this session.
Political analyst Jess Brown joined Leadership Perspectives to discuss some of these topics like allocated American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) money, the plans for a mega-prison costing almost a billion dollars, the bill proposed to eliminate Alabama’s grocery tax, why it doesn’t look like Alabama will be getting a lottery this year and more.
The 2023 Alabama Legislative Session began on March 7, and Governor Kay Ivey signed into law a plan on how to spend $1.06 billion of federal ARPA money voted on during a special legislative session. Overall, there was widespread bipartisan support for the bill. It passed in the Senate 29-3, and in the House 96-0 with six abstentions.
“I was first of all surprised that Gov. Ivey delayed on appropriating the money. She didn’t have to wait this late, she could have done this months and months and months ago. Speculation is she’d rather deal with a legislature that’s already elected rather than legislative candidates facing reelection. So she delayed it, and I was a bit surprised,” Brown said. “I thought there would be all sorts of parochial interests come out of the woodwork with all sorts of special projects here and there, and parochial politics which might override the governors preferences, but that’s not what happened. She largely got what she wanted down to the last dime. And I think the vote in the house was 96 to zero.”
Alabama is proceeding with plans to build the first two ‘mega-prisons’, but the price for the one of those mega-prisons has jumped. According to reporting by the Associated Press, the supersized prison which is meant to house 4,000 prisoners was originally set to cost around $623 million, but the price is now $975 million.
Brown talked about this jump in price, as well as legislators feelings toward the price jump and prison conditions.
“Politically I’ve never thought that the condition of the prison system hurts a politician very much. In Alabama, the Alabama electorate has never been very sensitive to the whole idea of humane treatment for prisoners. If they did, we would have had governors and legislators voted out of office long before now,” Brown said.
The sales tax on groceries was a big topic coming into this legislative session. In Alabama, shoppers pay a minimum of four percent grocery tax put into effect by the state in 1939. The tax affects items shoppers buy at grocery stores across the state.
This is not the first effort to eliminate grocery tax in Alabama. It’s been brought to the floor of the state legislature multiple times. This year some lawmakers are hoping to actually push it through.
“”I realize that taking the state portion of the sales tax off groceries has been discussed for a generation. I think it’s going to happen, I think it will be phased in. The reason I think it’s going to happen is I’m told now you even have some corporate business people interested in this. I’m beginning not hear just legislator A and B, but some people who would chair the committees that would move legislation like this like Senator Orr from Decatur,” Brown said.
Finally, Brown discussed with Steve Johnson why he doesn’t believe a lottery will be coming to Alabama soon. He believes there’s really not been interest in a lottery manifested by the governor and legislative leaders.
The Governor’s Commission on Gambling said the lottery alone with no casinos would generate $200 to $250 million for state coffers. But interest in casinos and dog tracks has possibly held the lottery hostage in the legislature. The Governor and legislative leaders seem to want a “comprehensive solution” including casinos, dog tracks, and the lottery.
For more on this and all the topics above, you can watch Brown’s full interview with Steve Johnson on Leadership Perspectives in the video player at the top of the page.