- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday delayed debate on proposed tax increases that have divided some Republican legislators, despite being backed by the GOP caucus.

The House effort to fill a hole in the Alabama General Fund stumbled at least temporarily with just nine meeting days remaining in the legislative session.

“We are running out of time,” Gov. Robert Bentley said Tuesday. “They’ve got to make up their mind what they’re going to do in the House, because it has to originate in the house, but here again, I’m somewhat optimistic that at least some or maybe all of these bills will pass.”

The House Rules Committee had proposed a debate agenda for the GOP proposal, which was anchored by a 25-cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase. The Rules Committee replaced the debate agenda for the day with a slate of unrelated bills, but could bring the tax bills again as soon as Thursday.

“Some of the budget bills are being prepared for consideration on the floor. We felt it best today that we want that calendar to be right before we bring it on the floor,” Rules Committee Chairman Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, said.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, asked McCutcheon if that meant if they were “still looking for votes.” McCutcheon responded that the budget bills needed to be “right” because the state is facing a “real crisis.”

Some Republican legislators have said they are against the bills that were brought by their caucus.

Guntersville Republican Will Ainsworth of Guntersville said he planned to vote against the bills.

“I ran on no new taxes,” Ainsworth said. “I’m going to honor that commitment to the voters of my district.”

Alabama faces a projected General Fund shortfall of about $280 million in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Bentley proposed a $541 million tax increase to avoid what he has described as draconian cuts to state services, such as the closure of state parks and prison facilities and deep cuts to mental health services. The governor, however, has found limited support.

The House GOP caucus last week announced support for a plan to raise $150 million in new revenue. Other bills include proposals to raise the title fee on automobiles from $15 to $25, to raise the business privilege tax, and to change how motor oil is taxed.

“It’s about 35 percent of the money that we truly need to solve this problem long term,” Bentley said. “But it is a start in the right direction, and I’m very pleased that they have started that and hopefully they will vote on that on Thursday.”

Bentley said he thought the delay in the House vote would allow more time for those who are against new taxes to reconsider.

“I’m not sure that they’ll pass all of them, but I do believe that they will pass at least some of the taxes. … We will have to come back for some more later on in the summer, because we need to solve this once and for all … and we can do that,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, was less optimistic.

“I’ll believe a revenue bill from the House when it comes up from the House,” Marsh said.

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