As state senators and representatives approached the half-way point of this year’s legislative session, neither of the state budgets had been settled, and debates continued over meaningful spending reform by the state.Even with the lopsided defeat of Amendment One by voters last fall and the upturn in tax collections for the Education Trust Fund this year, some legislators are still set on raising taxes. According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, tax collections for the Education Trust Fund for October through February increased 5.5 percent, or $92.7 million over the same time last year. Those figures translated into optimism for many legislators who said they would be able to pass an education budget for the 2005 fiscal year without raising taxes.Tax collections in the state that are earmarked for education grew by $17.5 million, or 4.8 percent, compared to February of 2003. The primary sources of those taxes include sales taxes and personal and corporate income taxes. Despite a downturn in collections for January, overall sales tax collections for October 2003 through February were up 8.9 percent, and income taxes increased by 4.3 percent.However, news for the state’s General Fund was not so encouraging. Collections there dropped by $41.7 million, or 8.1 percent, during the same time. Much of the downturn is blamed on one-time money the state received from lawsuit settlements that were used to prop up the General Fund.”There’s no growth, and the growth in expenditures in just a couple of areas is such that we’re not going to have enough funds to fully fund all the operations outside education without additional revenue,” Alabama Speaker of the House of Representatives Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, told The Associated Press.The Alabama Farmers Federation and other members of the Business Associations’ Tax Coalition (BATC) met with members of the House and Senate bipartisan negotiating committee in early March to encourage meaningful spending reform. The BATC delegation expressed a commitment to work with the legislative committee to find areas to reform state government and rebuild public trust. BATC representatives pointed out several areas of reform that would result in long-term stabilization of the state’s budgets. “It is BATC’s firm position that budget stabilization and spending reform must take place before tax hikes are considered,” said BATC chairman Russell Davis. “I applaud the leaders of the House and Senate who are working in a tough atmosphere to find solutions.” Several agricultural bills have been introduced during the session, including the Family Farm Preservation Act, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman. The bill was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.The Federation’s State Wildlife Committee endorsed a wildlife feeding bill sponsored by Sen. Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, (SB 49). The bill requires that supplemental feeding be a part of an overall deer management plan and places restrictions on where the feeders can be located.The Federation is monitoring a bill to standardize Alabama’s catfish weighing practices (SB 382 & HB 541) with those of other states. It requires processors to use a weighing device that would electronically print data that includes processor and producer information. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and is supported by the Federation. A bill that would allow larger trucks to purchase vanity tags such as the Farming Feeds Alabama tag also has been introduced and is supported by the Federation.
Legislators Debate Tax, Accountability Measures