Raising His Voice to Raise Taxes
Bentley promotes tax hikes; denounces gambling proposal
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley showed his frustration and anger in his continuing battle with the state Legislature over plugging what he called a $541 million budget deficit.
The Republican governor, animated throughout his nearly 20-minute speech, threatened lawmakers with a Special Session starting the Fourth of July. He was sort of joking. He ridiculed, teased, cajoled and issued one stern warning after another if the Legislature moved forward with its gambling proposals, which the Senate did. He said he would veto the legislation.
He said he would not accept any amount less than $541 million from the Legislature, which has Republican super majorities in both the House and Senate. “Either we’re going to solve it or we’re going to try to put more Band-Aids on it and we’ve actually run out of Band-Aids.”
Bentley dismissed those proposals, which include a state lottery and casino-style gambling at sites that currently have dog racing tracks. “Really, there is only one proposal and that’s my proposal,” he said at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Alabama Update at Embassy Suites Montgomery – Hotel & Conference Center. His proposals are raising taxes on cigarettes, automobiles and rental cars as well as closing tax loopholes and transferring money from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund. That money would be paid back as part of a $700 million package proposed by Bentley.
In fiery tones and using all his allotted time – he did not take questions after his remarks – Bentley lambasted lawmakers for using gambling to fund government. He said that there is a bill “being floated around the Senate that makes Alabama look like Las Vegas. I’m telling you, it is one of the worst pieces of legislation I think I have ever seen.”
He did say that he does not oppose a statewide vote on a lottery, which according to an economic impact report from Auburn University at Montgomery, would generate more than $300 million a year. The same AUM analysis concluded that introducing casino-style gambling to the four existing greyhound tracks would generate about $70 million annually and create 11,000 jobs.
“That is not the answer,” Bentley said about a lottery solving the General Fund budget deficit. “The reason it’s not the answer is we will get nothing out of that Oct. 1 and I have to have $541 million by Oct. 1.” That’s the beginning of the fiscal year.
A lottery and casino-style gaming would have to be approved by voters so any revenue would likely begin next year.
“I have a solution,” Bentley told his audience of business executive and elected leaders. “I’m the only one who has presented a solution. Gambling is not a solution …” He said that “Alabama is better than to depend on gambling to fund its government. We are better people than that. We’re better than to take this gambling money and think that will solve our problem. To think that we have to depend on some of the most dependent people in our population to fund our government when corporations won’t even pay their fair share – now, we’re better than that.”
Bentley, who likened the fiscal crisis to the deadly tornado outbreak in 2011 that killed 254 people and caused more than $1.5 billion in damage, said that 58 percent of 3,000 corporations in Alabama pay no state income tax. “You can’t tell me that’s fair,” he said “I don’t care if you are the most conservative Republican in the state of Alabama. All I’m asking for is fairness.”
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians has offered the state $250 million to have exclusive gaming rights in Alabama. The governor said that only he can make a compact with the tribe and that could take years. The Legislature did support the governor entering into a compact with the tribe.
He twice implored the attendees to contact their representatives and senators to support his tax increases. Bentley said he understands that it is difficult for a conservative Republican to support a tax increase. “There is nothing more conservative than paying your debts and getting your fiscal house and budgets in order,” said Bentley, who was re-elected in 2014.
“There is nothing more conservative than that. So let’s be conservative and let’s get this state running the way it should run so it won’t be the same 70 years from now that it’s been the last 70 years. You cannot provide goods and services if you don’t have enough money to provide those goods and services.”