- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama legislators are heading to special session sometime this summer after arriving at an impasse over the state’s general fund budget.

The session ended with a vetoed spending plan and plenty of finger-pointing over who was to blame. Getting a budget this summer will depend on something in short supply this spring: agreement.

“The Legislature was not ready to solve this in February. They were not ready. They have become more ready,” Gov. Robert Bentley said.

Republicans control both the governor’s office and a lopsided majority in both chambers of the Alabama Legislature. Being of the same party, however, did not shield state office holders from sharp disagreements on how to handle a $200 million shortfall in the fiscal year that begins in October, and unfunded needs in prisons and Medicaid.

Bentley proposed $541 million in new taxes, but his push was rejected by lawmakers. Senators one night debated a bill that would shift some funds from the better-funded education budget. However, senators said House members essentially killed the bill by adjourning early. House Republicans at one point backed a $151 million tax package, but the bills didn’t get a vote after Senate leaders indicated the bills would fail in that chamber.

Lawmakers ultimately approved a general fund that cut $200 million from state agencies, which Bentley vetoed.

The governor said he plans to again ask lawmakers to approve both taxes and budget changes when they are called into a special session.

“My goal is to fundamentally change the way we budget in Alabama. If we don’t have that as a goal, then we are going to fail and year after year we are going to have this problem,” Bentley said.

He said he might streamline his initial tax proposals- which included a broad range of bills from a cigarette tax increase to changes in corporate taxes - to reduce opposition.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said some senators want to talk about combining the state’s two budgets now separated as one for education and one for other government functions. Marsh said he would like to see discussion of legalized gambling as a revenue source. Marsh unsuccessfully proposed a casino and lottery bill this year.

“So I’m going to ask if the governor does call us back, that the call is broad enough allow us to put everything on the table,” Marsh said.

Bentley said that gambling would not help the state’s 2016 budget problem because of the time that it would take to get a referendum approved and set up a lottery or casino oversight.

Lawmakers were resigned to a special session even as they approved the budget Thursday.

“Our job is not done. We’ll be back. I hope at that time we’ll be able to come with a resolution that will fund our state government,” Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told senators before the budget vote.



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