Taxpayers want more details about how the money from a proposed 10-cent gas tax increases would be spent, local residents told Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston.
"If we don't have something to hold them accountable, I'm going to be seeing bad roads and you done took my money," said Anniston resident Glen Ray.
Boyd took questions from about two dozen constituents at a town hall meeting Monday at the Ken Joiner County Administration Building in Anniston. It's one of a series of meetings Democratic lawmakers have been holding across the state, according to a press release from House Democratic Caucus staff.
Boyd was among the 83 House members who voted last week for the gas tax increase proposed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. Alabama currently charges 18 cents per gallon in tax on gas, a per-gallon rate that hasn't increased since the early 1990s.
Gas tax proponents in both parties have said revenue from the tax hasn't kept up with the cost of roads, though efforts to increase the tax in recent years have failed to pass the Legislature. Ivey last week called lawmakers into special session to ponder a gas tax. The proposal has already passed the House and is before the Senate this week.
Boyd, in her town hall meeting, praised the governor for her plan but seemed to warn residents to manage their expectations for road repairs with the new money.
"When I got started, I didn't know how much asphalt costs," Boyd said.
County officials last week said the tax would likely yield about $1.5 million for Calhoun County, enough to pave about 11 miles of the county's roughly 1,000 miles of rural road every year. That's in addition to the roughly 15 miles per year the county does now.
Local leaders haven't outlined specifics of where the money would be spent, though Mudd Street, Roy Webb Road and Bynum-Leatherwood Road — all high-traffic roads — are all high on the county's current priority list.
County Commissioner Fred Wilson, who was in the audience, said he'd likely spend his portion of the money helping Anniston resurface roads such as Dimple Lee O'Neal Drive, Crawford Avenue and Clydesdale Avenue.
"I've come to them and said if you'll go half with me I'll improve those roads," Wilson said.
Residents in the audience wanted more detail. Ray said local governments should create a chart of roads they intend to pave, so people can know the money is going where it was promised. Another speaker in the audience asked what was being done to make sure contractors in Anniston got the work from road projects in the city.
"Let's break it on down: what you're talking about is minority contractors," said Boyd, who is black. She said there's a list of approved contractors eligible for state road contracts. She said she has concerns about how the list is compiled, but has been encouraging local contractors to get on the list.
A handful of speakers said the 10-cent tax would be a serious burden for people at the lower end of the income scale, comments that led to discussion of the prospect of raising the minimum wage.
Former state Senate candidate Jim Williams of Anniston asked Boyd what she thought of another Ivey plan: a proposed increase in spending on the prison system and a smaller proposed increase in spending on mental health.
“Personally that seems backwards to me,” Williams said.
Boyd, long a critic of conditions at Tutwiler Prison for Women, said she wasn’t satisfied with Ivey’s plan to seek contractors’ proposals for construction of three large new prisons. She said the plan seemed to include only men’s prisons and wouldn’t solve the Tutwiler problem.
"I didn't talk so much on the taxes after the vote, but you will all hear from me when we get to a vote on the prisons,” she said.
Boyd said she’d tried to intervene in the closure of the Salvation Army men’s shelter in Anniston earlier this year, and she said local organizations might need to come up with a solution to the problem.
“Why would we have a homeless problem with as many churches — come on now — there's a church on every block,” she said. Boyd pointed out First United Methodist of Anniston minister Rev. Dale Clem, who was in the audience, as an example of of someone who does good work with the homeless.
Clem said churches in most cases simply aren’t allowed to house people, because they have too few sprinklers to meet fire codes.
“You've got to have a fire floor,” he said. “It's very expensive to try and accommodate these rules.”
The conversation repeatedly circled around to mental health. Better care, speakers said, would help with both the homeless and prison overpopulation problems. Mental health care is mostly provided on the scene by police, speakers said.
"Many citizens in this state are de facto mental health professionals who have no training in the field other than a badge and a gun and a good heart,” said Anniston resident Tim Brunson.
The final speaker in the two-hour meeting introduced himself as William Threatt of Calvert. A tearful Threatt said he’d been racially profiled in an arrest last year.
“They’ve got it in the newspaper that I’m sitting in my car naked,” Threatt said. “And they can’t prove that one time because I wasn’t.”
William Deon Threatt, then 26, was arrested in in October after allegedly leading Heflin and Oxford police on a car chase. Heflin police said they approached Threatt’s 2016 Mustang at a convenience store off Interstate 20 after getting a call of a suspicion person, and found Threatt in the car with no clothes on.
Oxford police say two of their officers suffered minor injuries after Threatt later allegedly tried to run them over in the parking lot of an Oxford Waffle House. Threatt initially faced multiple charges including assault. Prosecutors are also seeking an attempted murder charge against Threatt in the incident. That charge is awaiting a decision from a grand jury.
Boyd initially expressed sympathy for Threatt’s racial profiling claim. As Threat continued to speak, the lawmaker encouraged him to avoid talking in public about his case.
“You need a good lawyer,” she said.