By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday called state lawmakers into an immediate special session focused on her proposed gasoline tax increase to fund road and bridge construction.
Ivey announced the special session, which had been anticipated by lawmakers, following her annual State of the State address Tuesday night. The special session will begin Wednesday morning.
“As we enter this special session, we must shift our focus and tackle this issue together. It’s time to make our crumbling infrastructure system a problem of the past,” Ivey said in a statement.
Ivey is proposing a 10-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase to be phased in over three years. The tax would then be indexed to construction costs. The state’s gasoline tax was last increased in 1992.
“While our neighboring states are increasing their revenue for their transportation budgets, Alabama has not,” Ivey said in her State of the State address.
Ivey pitched the issue as a necessity for both public safety and economic development. She said half of the state’s 16,000 bridges are older than their 50-year life span, and congested traffic arteries are a hindrance to both commuters and commerce.
The Republican governor has the support of leadership in the GOP-dominated Alabama Legislature, but has faced opposition to the gas tax increase from some in her own party.
The executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party approved a resolution opposing the increase and some GOP lawmakers have said they are opposed.
State Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, is carrying the bill in the Senate and said he is optimistic about its chances for passage.
“I’m just real excited about Governor Ivey and her leadership. She’s all in as you can see from her speech and we’re ready to go to work,” Chambliss said.
State Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who leads the Democratic minority in the Senate, said he supports infrastructure funding but did not want to see a bill ruched through.
“I applaud the governor is stepping up and owning the issue,” he said. “The pace that we go will dictate whether or not it gets passed. If it looks like we’re being pushed too fast, some folks might fall off the fence.”
Calling a special session eliminates a tough procedural vote hurdle that exists in a regular session which requires three-fifths approval to bring bills up for debate before state budgets are approved.
The governor began her annual address with a moment of silence for the 23 killed by a tornado in Lee County.
She said the state will rally together to help the county recover from the storm’s devastation.
“While there is always uncertainty in what tomorrow may bring, there is absolute certainty in the resiliency of the people of Alabama,” Ivey said.
Ivey’s annual State of the State speech is given on the opening day of the regular legislative session, and Ivey outlined other legislative priorities.
The governor said she is proposing a four percent raise for teachers and a two percent raise for state employees, an additional $25 million to expand state’s pre-kindergarten program and an additional $31 million in the state general fund budget for the state prison system. Alabama Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn has said the department is seeking to hire an additional 500 officers to begin complying with a federal judge’s directive to improve prison staffing levels.
Alabama Daily News staff contributed reactions from the Capitol to this report.