Senator Predicts Whirlwind Final Third of Legislative Session

Senate President Pro Tem Jabo Waggoner today told Business Council of Alabama Governmental Affairs Committee members to expect heavyweight issues such as gaming revenue measures, tax proposals, downsizing state government, and building two state budgets during the final one-third of the 2015 legislative session.

Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, was the speaker for this week’s committee meeting on the 19th legislative day of the session that cannot last more than 30 legislative days. “The last 11 days of the session you’re going to see a lot of consideration for revenue and efficiencies,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner said the Republican Caucus was surveyed on finding new revenue for the strapped General Fund including a lottery and casino gaming, raising taxes, or budget savings through continued downsizing of state government. 

“I like downsizing but we might not be able to get there,” he said. “That’s what the Republican Caucus would like to do.”

Revenue potentials include seeking voter consideration of a lottery, expansion of Indian gaming and legalizing private casinos at dog tracks, a revenue offer by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which operates three casinos in Alabama, or state tax measures.

Waggoner said the 2015 session’s highlight so far has been passage of economic incentive bills that update the original incentive law passed in 1992 to attract Mercedes-Benz to Alabama but which needed refreshing in order for Alabama to remain competitive in attracting manufacturers.

“Thanks to the BCA and (Commerce Secretary) Greg Canfield, there are six bills that were introduced that will make us competitive,” said Waggoner, who has an economic preference. “I like the idea of more taxpayers rather than more taxes.”

The BCA supported the economic incentive bills that have been signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley.

Waggoner touched on un-earmarking revenues to the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund, eliminating two budgets, and combining revenues into one all-encompassing budget. Traditionally the ETF receives the growth taxes while taxes going to the General Fund have been unable to keep up with the growth of non-education, general government programs.

Waggoner said that prior to the election of pro-business House and Senate members in 2010, any discussion of un-earmarking and one budget was an academic exercise.

But now, he said, “It’s a new day and it’s something we need to look at because in the General Fund, Medicaid and prisons, we’re in a deep hole.”

Last week, House Rules Committee Chairman Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville, outlined a track to the end of the session in early or mid-June similar to the one that Waggoner outlined today.

“The dominant subject (for the remainder of the session) will be the budgets and revenue,” Waggoner said. “Our primary focus will be on the General Fund and education.”

-Dana Beyerle

Sen. Waggoner also sat down with Dana Beyerle and Leah Garner to answer questions on his Birmingham Water Works bill and the status of the general fund budget for the Business Council of Alabama’s Two-Minute Tuesdays.