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Gas tax supporters optimistic as bill goes to divided House

By KIM CHANDLER,  Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — As she stakes out an agenda for her first full term as governor, one of Republican Gov. Kay Ivey’s initiatives is a proposed 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to fund road and bridge construction. But to be successful, she first must clear attempted roadblocks from some members of her own party.

Republican leaders in the GOP-dominated Alabama Legislature lined up in support of Ivey’s proposal, and said they are optimistic it will win approval. But the Alabama Republican Party executive committee passed a resolution opposing the increase and some Republican lawmakers say they are opposed.

Ivey pitched the issue as a necessity to address crumbling infrastructure, holding a press conference by an aging rural bridge that local officials say could soon be closed because of safety concerns.

“This is an issue that is felt by every Alabamian,” Ivey said.

Rep. Bill Poole, the sponsor of the gas tax legislation, said he is “optimistic we will be able to secure the support that will be necessary to pass it.”

“It’s a hard issue. It’s is going to be a passionate debate. It is perfectly fine for folks to disagree on options, but at the end of the day this is the best option that we have to address this issue in my opinion,” Poole said.

The proposed 10-cent gas tax increase would be phased in over three years. The tax would then be indexed to construction costs so it could be adjusted up to a penny every two years without legislative approval. Alabama’s current state gas tax of 18 cents a gallon has been unchanged since 1992 and is among the lowest in the nation, according to comparisons from the American Petroleum Institute.

Lawmakers anticipate that Ivey will call a special session to focus attention on the bill and bypass a tough procedural hurdle that requires a three-fifths vote to bring bills up for debate before state budgets in a regular session.

Debate on the bill will begin in the 105-member House of Representatives where lawmakers appear divided.

Rep. Tommy Hanes, a Republican from Bryant, said he will vote no.

“I will be a no simply because working people with families and senior citizens on fixed incomes cannot live with new taxes,” Hanes said. Hanes said the people of his district are telling him to vote against the gas tax increase.

Additionally, the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee last week approved a resolution opposing the increase because it would increase people’s total tax burden unless there is a tax cut somewhere else. The resolution opposing the gas tax increase passed with 61 percent approval.

The 105-member House has 27 freshmen members. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said during the election that he had counseled Republican candidates that this is an issue they could see in their first session.

McCutcheon expressed optimism about the bill’s chances.

“I’m getting responses and they are all positive from the members in the House. They are beginning to study the bill,” McCutcheon said.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said House Democrats have mixed views.

Daniels said some lawmakers support the tax because of the need to improve local road and bridge conditions, particularly in rural areas. Others are opposed or can’t commit until they see the legislation.

“I don’t think anybody disagrees that there is a need for infrastructure and support for infrastructure. I don’t think anyone is disputing that. There is also a need for Medicaid expansion to save our rural hospitals,” Daniels said.

The legislative session begins Tuesday at noon.

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