Thursday, May 8, 2008

Senate Rejects Attempt to Debate Plan to Remove Grocery Tax

A bill, sponsored by Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, that would remove the state portion of the sales tax on food, and remove the state deduction for federal income taxes failed to get enough votes to move on to full debate.

In a 20 to 11 vote (with three abstentions), the bill fell just short of the three-fifths majority needed to debate the bill.

The Senate could bring the bill back up, and Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, who is handling the bill said he wants to bring it back before the Legislature adjourns May 19.

Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, said the bill would shift a $345 million tax burden to 35 percent of the people and he is opposed to it.

"This could have been phased in under the unprecedented growth we've experienced in previous years," he said.

How they voted:

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, voted no.
Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, abstained
Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, voted yes

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

House Passes Bill on Economic Stimulus Checks

After several hours of debate, the House passed a bill that would prevent the economic stimulus check that Alabamians began getting in the mail this month.

In a 101-0 the House passed the bill sponsored by Rep. Terry Spicer, D-Elba. The bill is designed to keep the state from applying income taxes to the rebate checks people are receiving from the government. Though some say it might be an unnecessary measure because the federal government has said that the rebate is not taxable.

A Senate version of the bill passed last week, but is likely unconstitutional because all revenue measures must originate in the House.

Senate Passes The General Fund Budget

The Legislature is now halfway to meeting its constitutional obligation.

The Senate has passed with some amendments the House proposed $1.9 billion general fund budget.

The General Fund budget pays for all non-education related state expenses.

The House will have to concur with the amendments before the bill heads to Gov. Bob Riley's desk.

The Senate still has to tackle the education budget, which could come to the floor as early as Thursday for debate.

Update: The House concurred on about $6 million in additions to the General Fund Budget, bring the grand total to just over $2 million. The budget is now in the hands of Gov. Bob Riley.

Senate Committee Passes Education Budget

The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee gave a favorable report to the House generated $6.3 billion education budget.

The Committee also gave a favorable report to companion legislation that collects state corporate income taxes from 44 companies that don't currently pay those taxes, and provides tax breaks to small companies and their employees.

Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced to the committee that negotiations on the corporate tax bill were continuing, but he recommend that it get the bills out of committee and amendments would be offered on the floor.

Marsh has been actively involved with behind the scenes negotiations, but he's been mum about just what he is trying to work out.

Higher education is hoping that somebody works out a plan to add $25 million more to their appropriations, though Committee Chairman Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said he is determined not to move the bottom line.

Seniors Support Knight Sales Tax Plan

The state branch of the AARP and the Silver-Haired Legislature are urging the Senate to pass Rep. John Knight's plan to remove the state-portion of the sales tax on food.

In a press conference today, representatives from both groups stood with Knight, Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, and representatives from Alabama Arise.

Sanders sponsored the failed Senate version of the Knight plan.

Joan Carter, state director of AARP, said 9 out of 10 people who now live on a fixed income would benefit from passing the Knight plan.

"All of us will benefit because we all buy groceries," she said.

Bill Adams, Speaker of the House for the Alabama Silver-Haired Legislature, said if he were in the Legislature he would let the people vote.

Adams served in the House during former Gov. Fob James' administration representing Cherokee and Etowah counties between 1979 to 1982.

He said legislators "have no right to say to the people of Alabama that they are not smart enough to decide.

"They should pass this bill and give people and opportunity to vote," he said.

Knight said he doesn't see why anyone would vote against the allowing Alabamians to vote on the issue.

He also said he is against a Republican effort in the Senate to tie the passage of the grocery tax bill to a measure that returns property appraisals to every four years.

"I don't see how anyone could stand in the way of allowing people to vote," he said.

Sanders will handle Knight's bill in the Senate. He said he will do what has to get it through this year, but was vague on whether the bill would come up today or Thursday.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Constitutional Convention Bill Bites the Dust

In what has become and annual tradition, a bill that calls for allowing Alabamians to vote on calling a constitutional convention made its way to the Alabama State Legislature this session.

Each year it advances a little farther in the legislative process.

This year the bill, HB308 sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, made it to the floor of the House for the big dance on the fourth to the last day, only to have its' toes stepped on.

The bill failed to get enough votes to get past the budget isolation resolution, or BIR.

The purpose of the BIR is to force lawmakers to tackle their constitutional responsibility of passing operating budgets to pay for the state's expenses.

Lawmakers, however, often use the BIR as a political weapon to hold up, or kill legislation.

Though the House has passed both its' versions of the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets, they must still pass the BIR because the Senate has not passed those budgets and transmitted them to the governor.

For the call to convention bill to have made it to final passage, it would have needed three-fifths, or 60 percent of total members voting, not the full 105 members.

The vote was 46 to 44 against passing the BIR. There was one abstention, four members not voting and 10 absent.

Calhoun and Talladega counties' delegations voted as follows:

Speaker of the House Seth Hammet, D-Andalusia, also voted against the bill.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cruise to Cuba?

Next Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., Commissioner of Ag and Industries Ron Sparks will hold a meeting that the House Tourism and Travel Committee hopes will end in a strongly worded resolution to the state's Congressional delegation urging them push the federal to open up more travel and trade opportunities with Cuba.

T & T Committee Chair Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, said there is a potential to attract millions from the Midwest , down I-65, divert them to attractions all over the state and then put them on a cruise ship to Cuba.