MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley rolled out his plans Friday for a special session in which he will try again to persuade lawmakers to opt for tax increases over slashes to government services.
Bentley is bringing lawmakers into special session starting Monday to craft a general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The governor said while Alabama residents have been traditionally opposed to taxes, he believes they object more to the cuts that will happen without new revenue.
“They are adamantly opposed to cuts, cuts in our state parks, cuts in our mental health system, cuts in Medicaid which will affect our hospitals,” Bentley said at a news conference in his office.
Bentley said he is seeking “fair minimal taxes” including a cigarette tax increase, changes to business privilege taxes and either a soft drink tax or small changes to a state income tax deduction. He is also seeking to give lawmakers the ability to shuffle revenue on some existing taxes, shift some money to the General Fund from the education budget and direct money from the state’s share of the BP oil spill settlement to pay off debts.
The 2015 session ended in a political stalemate and without a general fund budget for the coming fiscal year. Legislators rejected Bentley’s call for $541 million in taxes and the governor vetoed a budget that would have slashed $200 million from state agencies.
The governor is seeking a lesser amount in round two, because of favorable developments including federal funding of a health insurance program for children.
Bentley said the approximate increase that the state needed was $310 million to $320 million.
There is one revenue idea that Bentley does not want to look at during the special: gambling.
The governor said he will not put gambling in his special session call.
The Monday special session start comes weeks earlier than lawmakers expected. Bentley said he did that for several reasons, including an “element of surprise” to head off what he said was building pressure from pro-gambling forces.
“There is going to be a tremendous amount of pressure put on all legislators that will relate to gambling,” Bentley said.
However, legislators have signaled they don’t intend to stay long in Montgomery.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Thursday that legislators plan to immediately recess until Aug. 3 to give time to study the proposals and work on budget ideas.
Rep. Steve Clouse, chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, said the governor likely faces an uphill battle on some of his ideas.
However, Close said he was hopeful lawmakers could approve at least $200 million in revenue.
“Hopefully, we can get in that range. If we can do that, we can level-fund most of our big agencies, mental health, prisons, public health,” Clouse, R-Ozark, said.
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