Alabama House approves gas tax increase; bill goes to Senate
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Drivers in Alabama would see a 10-cent per gallon increase in the state gas tax to fund road and bridge construction, under legislation approved Friday by the state House of Representatives.
House members passed the bill 83-20, handing a victory to Gov. Kay Ivey who called lawmakers into special session to consider the tax increase. The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate.
“What a victory the House has delivered today for the people of Alabama,” Ivey said after the House approval. Ivey said the boost in infrastructure funding is “desperately” needed to keep roads and bridges safe and alleviate traffic congestion.
Ivey is proposing a 10-cent a gallon gas tax increase that would be phased in over three years. The state tax would then 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.
Rep. Bill Poole, who is sponsoring the legislation, said Alabama’s current gas tax has been unchanged since 1992.
“Our citizens know we have to do something to address our infrastructure,” said Poole, a Tuscaloosa Republican.
Although supporters had been optimistic that the bill would win approval, the proposal pitted the Republican governor against some members of her own party. The executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party approved a resolution opposing the tax increase.
Some lawmakers said their constituents opposed the increase and others said there were alternative ways of obtaining money, such as a state lottery.
“I intend to be the voice of the people for House District 3. They are overwhelmingly opposed,” said Rep. Andrew Sorrell, a Republican from Muscle Shoals.
Rep. Kerry Rich, a Republican from Guntersville, said he was voting yes because he said the state “desperately” needs improved infrastructure.
“I want to use my time here to make a difference in the lives of the people for good,” Rich said.
The bill passed with bipartisan report. Eighteen of the 20 no votes were from Republicans.
There were multiple unsuccessful attempts to amend the bill during the five hours of debate. Rep. John Rogers, a Birmingham Democrat, proposed allowing the funding to be used for mass transit instead of only road and bridge construction. Another amendment would have stripped the ability to adjust the tax upward in future years without another vote of the Alabama Legislature. Both ideas were tabled.
The tax increase would be phased over three years beginning on Aug. 31 of this year. 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.
During negotiations on the bill, House Democrats met with Ivey on issues they want to see addressed, including Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
Ivey said she made a commitment to the minority caucus that “after we get the infrastructure bill tended to and set aside” that she would convene regular meetings with them and GOP leadership.
Asked if she was open to Medicaid expansion, Ivey replied that, “I’m open to good ideas to move our state forward.”
The Alabama Senate is expected to debate the bill next week.