State lawmakers share update on priorities | News

Five North Alabama lawmakers covered a set of expectations and priorities for the 2023 session, which begins March 7, at an annual Alabama Legislative Update last week.

State Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chairman of the Education Committee on Finance and Taxes, expects lawmakers to make decisions about what to do with a $2.7 billion surplus in the state education budget.

“We’re going to see more tax cuts and we’re going to see rebates, too,” Orr said. “People, especially in the blogosphere, are wondering why we don’t need to consider much bigger tax cuts. That’s because this is a one-time phenomenon that we foresee, this one-time windfall of over $2 billion that the state is going to have, so it’s appropriate to pay some of that one-time money back to the people.

“This money comes from the education budget,” not the general fund budget, he explained.

Approximately 300 people attended the Jan. 23 event at the Jackson Center, sponsored by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

“In Alabama, we fund education primarily through sales and income taxes,” Orr said. “So what happens when we have a recession? They drop off steeply. They go down and they go down fast. In 2008, ’09, ’10 we had some serious problems in the state.

“So we’re going to dump a good chunk (of the excess) for more rainy day fund money, more reserve funds to access, and then we look at a sizeable discount — $500 million, $600 million, maybe.” more, maybe less.”

Orr said that could mean “$200 per person, $250 somewhere in there,” depending on the number of eligible recipients, and double that amount for married couples filing joint statements.

“And then there will be some tax cuts,” he said.

Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, who was elected Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives in January, said he believes a top priority for lawmakers in this session must be “addressing the fentanyl crisis in our state.

“It’s killing our children,” he said. “One of the first bills that’s going to come out of the House of Representatives will ensure that if you bring fentanyl into the state of Alabama, we’ll put you in jail.”

Rep. Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, has introduced a bill that would introduce mandatory minimum penalties for criminal trafficking, distribution or knowing possession of more than 1 gram of fentanyl.

Ledbetter replaced Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, who retired after the 2022 legislature.

Ledbetter also wants lawmakers to reauthorize the Alabama Jobs Act and the Growing Alabama Act, which provide stimulus for economic development, and both “go under” in July if lawmakers don’t act, at the start of the session.

“I think[those two actions]helped us move Mazda Toyota into this space,” Ledbetter said.

In recent years, Alabama has seen more than $45 billion in investment and more than 65,000 jobs, Ledbetter said, adding that he’s never seen economic growth like this in his life.

“Of course that includes Madison County and Huntsville,” Ledbetter said. “Over 10% of the state’s GDP comes from Redstone Arsenal, right here in Huntsville, Alabama.”

Ledbetter said, “The state of Alabama is certainly on the side of Huntsville and Madison County in securing Space Command for Redstone Arsenal. What a big deal that would be. We’re not getting it for a political favor, we’re getting it because we’re the best location in the state of Alabama, the best location in the United States of America.”

Anthony Daniels, Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, D-Huntsville, is calling for the state income tax on overtime pay to be eliminated.

“I’m toying with the idea that for paying overtime, a person who works 40 hours, whatever the requirements, we detax everything after 40 hours to increase productivity for both workers and businesses “, he said.

Daniels also worked to expand Medicaid.

“Right now you have people working for two or three small businesses that don’t offer health insurance,” Daniels said. “Expansion of Medicaid will provide an opportunity to expand into populations of individuals living at or slightly above the poverty line.”

Daniels said expanding Medicaid would also benefit small businesses that face high healthcare costs. “So this will bring some relief to small businesses and also create a healthier Alabama,” he said.

Rep. Rex Reynolds, chairman of the Ways & Means General Fund Committee, said: “We have a surplus of revenue and earnings in the general fund, about $300 million in FY22 versus FY21.

“We continue to see increasing revenue today,” Reynolds said. “Federal dollars are mixed in with that. I see some confidence in spending in Alabama.

“We’re heading into 2023 strong,” he said, calling himself the “rookie budget chairman.” Reynolds paid tribute to former MP Howard Sanderford, who retired after more than 30 years in Parliament, calling him a mentor and friend.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, spoke about improvements in broadband access in the state since Alabama’s broadband program began in 2018.

According to Scofield, since 2018 the state has invested approximately $63.9 million in state funds, which are supplemented by provider partners. When all of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund projects are completed, he said, “61,741 (unserved) homes and businesses will have access to broadband. This is a game changer.”