House Minority Leader Gives Thoughts on the Legislative Session and Thanks BCA Backing of Prison Reform

House Minority Leader Craig Ford discussed the past and future legislative session at today’s Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs briefing.

Ford, D-Gadsden, outlined several revenue producing measures linked to gaming that have been introduced and the possibility that the 2015 legislative session will end without the completion of one of the two state budgets.

Ford also praised the Business Council of Alabama for supporting the prison reform legislation that will decrease the prison inmate population over the next five years.

“We thank the BCA for supporting the prison reform legislation,” Ford said. “For us Democrats and Alabama, that’s a big deal. If we did not work together we’d be paying a lot more in taxes.”

SB 67 sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was sent to the governor last week after passing both houses of the Legislature in nearly unanimous bi-partisan voting. Ward’s bill is designed to reduce the state prison system’s capacity from about 190 percent to about 160 percent over five years.

The corrections reform bill changed some criminal penalties, revised sentencing guidelines, and created alternative community correction programs.

Ward’s bill and HB 420 by Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, which authorizes the Corrections Institute Finance Authority to issue additional bonds for prison construction, will ease prison overcrowding and save taxpayers money, Ford said.

Prison reform is of vital interest to Alabama as the real threat of a federal takeover of prisons would result in more than $400 million in new taxes to build additional prison capacity.

Ford said that the remainder of the session will be about the two state budgets and various plans to address a potential shortfall in the General Fund, plans that include several gaming measures and selected tax increases. 

Ford has introduced a lottery for education and there are several other gaming measures on the table.

Ford said the House and Senate might not be able to pass a General Fund prior to session’s end, necessitating a special session. He said of all the proposed tax increases, a higher tobacco tax may be the only one to pass.

Governor Bentley said Alabama needs $541 million in new revenue to avoid massive cuts to General Fund state agencies and avoid a potential federal prison takeover lawsuit.

Ford said that political roles involving tax increases have been reversed in the House and Senate. With Republicans in the supermajority in both houses, Democrats do not have to lead the way out of the budget crisis, Ford said.

The House General Fund and Education Trust Fund Committees last week approved bills to raise $135 million for the General Fund and another $10 million for the Education Trust Fund.   See BCA’s most recent Capital Briefing for more information on the tax proposals.

The BCA’s Tuesday morning briefings are held each week during the legislative session and feature legislative and administration officials who discuss topics of interest to Alabama’s business community.

-Dana Beyerle

Rep. Ford also sat down with Dana Beyerle and Leah Garner to speak about prison reform efforts and answer questions on the status of the general fund budget for the Business Council of Alabama’s Two-Minute Tuesdays.