It appears that Montgomery is preparing to consider a plan to raise taxes on gas and diesel fuel.
Road-building and road-improving are on the minds of those who are endorsing an increase in the gas tax to help pay back a $1.2 billion loan. That borrowed money would be funneled to local governments in Alabama for transportation projects, meaning mostly repaving of roads and streets.
Alabama’s gas tax — currently 18 cents per gallon — hasn’t changed in 20 years. You’re likely to hear that fact quite a bit when legislators debate adding somewhere between 3 cents and 6 cents to it. You’ll also hear that a potential wave of federal infrastructure-improvement dollars — something promoted by President Donald Trump — will require that states have matching funds at the ready. An increase in state gas taxes will make sure Alabama is ready for anything that comes out of Washington.
The $1.2 billion plan promoted by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama even specifies how much each county could expect from the $1.2 billion loan. Calhoun County: $23.8 million; Cleburne: $10.1 million; Talladega: $19.1 million.
What you won’t hear very often, but what will be likely whispered among legislators, is that the window for a boost in the gas tax is rapidly closing. Next year is an election year in Alabama, and nobody will want to get anywhere near the dreaded T-word, taxes. Pass it in 2017 or be prepared to stop thinking about it for a few years. “If we’re going to act, we have to act this year,” state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, told The Star’s Tim Lockette.
Embedded in this discussion are some realities many Alabama lawmakers are often reluctant to admit:
--You can’t get something for nothing. Alabama’s roads were built with tax money, not magic fairy dust. Those thoroughfares will eventually need repairs, and when they do, it going to require money. To put this off is to invite a compounding of problems.
--Timing matters. Goat Hill is probably better known for what it doesn’t get done rather than what it does. It only takes a handful of lawmakers to tap the brakes on important legislation, something special interests understand and fully exploit in Montgomery. Yet, when large incentives present themselves, the Legislature appears to grasp the urgency to act fast.
--The voters still don’t trust lawmakers. Alabama’s state spending is defined by how much of it is earmarked — almost 90 cents of every $1. That explains why the Association of County Commissions of Alabama’s proposal gets specific on how much money each county would receive. “Legislators wanted to be able to go to their constituents and say, ‘This is what you’re getting out of this,’” Sonny Brasfield, director of ACCA, told The Star. Don’t expect that to change until the public trusts the Legislature to spend money wisely.