- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday asked legislators to approve a $541 million tax increase, saying the state must break a cycle of being in a perpetual budget crisis.

 The Republican governor used the opening State of the State address of his second term to make his case to legislators, some of whom have expressed skepticism about his proposals. Bentley said the state has run out of ways to cut, plug and trim their way out a budget crisis. 

 ”If we are to solve our financial problems for future generations of Alabamians we must act today,” Bentley told legislators in the address on the opening day of the 2015 legislative session.

 Bentley is one of several GOP governors around the nation who have broken ranks on their GOP traditional stance against tax increases - to the dislike of some in their party.  Bentley said that as a conservative Republican, taxes aren’t his preferred solution. But he said the state has cut, trimmed, consolidated government, and now has no other choice but to increase revenue.

 ”There is nothing more conservative than paying your debts and getting your financial house in order,” the governor said.

Bentley has proposed eight separate tax increase proposals, but much of the money would come from two sources: Tobacco taxes and sales taxes on automobiles.  The governor has proposed raising the tax on cigarettes by 82.5 cents per pack, to bring the total state tax to $1.25 per pack.  Under his plan, the sales tax on automobiles would go from 2 percent to 4 percent, which is the state sales tax on other items.

He has also proposed to end some corporate tax loopholes that he says allow large corporations to escape their fair share of taxes. 

 Bentley has gotten mixed reviews from lawmakers.

“They have not bought into it,” said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. Marsh said while they could change their minds, lawmakers aren’t convinced the state needs that much new revenue to fund the essential services of government. 

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Democrats are willing to work with Bentley. However, Ford said he wished the governor would consider gambling as a revenue source, either through a lottery or a compact with the Poarch band of Creek Indians.

In his state of the state address, Bentley also called for other changes:


Invoking Alabama’s success in recruiting the Mercedes auto plant to the state two decades ago, the governor called for new legislation that he said would help the state recruit new industries to the state.

“Our current incentives are 15 years old and out of date. They are 100 percent based on borrowing money,” Bentley said.


Bentley said by the end of his second term that he wants every Alabama 4-year-old to be able to attend the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program.

Alabama’s pre-kindergarten program has gotten high marks for quality but reaches only a fraction of the state’s preschoolers. Currently, 12 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds, or about 7,370 children, are enrolled in 410 classrooms across the state.


Bentley threw his support behind an effort to overhaul Alabama’s prisons, which hold nearly twice the number of inmates they were originally designed to house. Alabama lawmakers will debate a proposal that includes sentencing changes, increases resources for probation, and 2,000 new prison beds. 

 ”Now, it won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be cheap. But we cannot ignore and underfund what is an alarming and dangerous problem that must be addressed,” Bentley said.  



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