Governor proposes balanced budget with promise of no new taxes
The legislative session began with Gov. Bob Riley presenting balanced budgets, no new taxes, and a 4 percent pay raise for teachers. With all the forecasters predicting steep cuts in the General Fund budget, the governor surprised almost everyone.
During the past two regular sessions, legislators voted in favor of massive tax increases. The first, in 2003, was Amendment 1 which voters defeated by 68 percent. The second, was passed by legislators in 2004 without a vote of the people and was the largest tax increase in Alabama history. During the campaign for Amendment 1, proponents of the package predicted massive teacher layoffs and school closings. However, in 2004 the state’s education fund ended the year with more than $181 million in surplus.
The 2005 Education Budget contains $270 million carry over funds from the previous year, plus an expected $280 million in revenue growth, generating the largest education budget in the state’s history at $4.78 billion.
During this session, Gov. Riley has proposed to move costs associated with some state agencies totaling $140 million from the General Fund to the Education Fund. Those costs are now incurred by those agencies as a result of services performed for education, such as prisoner education which to date has been funded in part by the General Fund, as well as the Department of Archives and History and the Examiners of Public Accounts.
Gov. Riley has negotiated federal help on $60 million of the $127 million shortfall in Medicaid. In addition, $80 million will be moved from the Capital Improvement Trust Fund to pay debt service, and the funds currently set aside for debt service will then be used to fund areas in the General Fund such as Mental Health and Corrections.
There will be $1 million budgeted to hire 100 new state troopers with the remainder coming from a federal grant. The governor's budget does not include funding of Confined Animal Feeding Operation permitting fees. The Federation will work to restore the $350,000 funding for CAFO regulation.
The Education Budget fully funds K-12 and post-secondary based upon requests and gives teachers and support personnel a 4 percent salary increase. Actually, the 4 percent translates into a 4.16 percent when future retirement funds are required. In all, $108 million of the $283 million in new dollars will be placed in the depleted Rainy Day Account.
Of interest to agriculture is $6 million allocated to the Alabama Agriculture Land Grant Alliance (AALGA), a joint research venture being conducted by Auburn University, Tuskegee University, and Alabama A&M University. This will allow each university to receive its full federal match in funding.
Family Farm Preservation Act to be introduced
The Family Farm Preservation Act will be a top priority for the Alabama Farmers Federation in this session. Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has said he will introduce the FFPA again this session.
Speaking to farmers at the Commodity Producers Organizational Conference in Birmingham on Wednesday, Little pledged to keep current use for farmers and to keep sales tax exclusions for farm input items such as feed, seed and fertilizer.
If adopted, the FFPA will keep a farming operation, abiding by the current rules and regulations, from being declared a public nuisance. It also would stipulate that any person or group that sues a farmer abiding by current rules and regulations for nuisance and loses, must pay the farmer's attorney's fees and expenses associated with the case.
Other bills expected to be introduced include proposed legislation that would establish electronic weighing of catfish, increase penalties for criminal trespass, and redefine regulations for the movement of agriculture equipment on public roads. The ag “lemon law” also is expected to be introduced. That legislation would require dealers to replace new farm equipment that has proven to be defective.
A proposed change will allow an automatic recount when the vote margin is within one-half of one percent on a constitutional amendment. Currently, Alabama law only provides for a recount when a person on the losing side of a constitutional amendment issue requests it.
Language stricken from the November 2004 Amendment 2 has been reintroduced and is being held-up by the sponsor, Rep. James Buskey, pending a request for an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court as to whether stricken language would allow judges to order tax increases.
There was some debate on whether the court would render an advisory opinion on an issue it may see before it or if it would render an advisory opinion at all.
BILLS IN BRIEF
Failure to Pay for Ag Goods - SB 147
Sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, would establish as a crime the failure to pay for agricultural products or chattels. The bill provides for penalties if the purchaser fails or refuses to pay for the products or chattels within 20 days. If the amount of purchase is less than $1,000 it will be a Class A misdemeanor and if more than $1,000 the purchaser would be charged with a Class C felony. Under existing law, there is no specific crime of failure to pay for agricultural products or chattels. AFF Supports.
Fish Country of Origin Labeling
SB 217 and HB 251
Sponsored by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, and Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington, would require that farm-raised fish and wild fish used for human consumption be labeled as imported or domestic. The Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture would be authorized to conduct the inspections and levy fines for non-compliance. AFF Supports.
Prior Zoning of Property to be Annexed - SB 80
Sponsored by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, would authorize municipalities to pre-zone territory proposed for annexation into the municipal corporate limits by following the provisions. The zoning would be effective only if the territory is annexed into the municipality. Under existing law, a municipality may zone territory only within the corporate limits of the municipality. There is no provision for zoning territory that is proposed to be annexed into the municipality. This bill would give agriculture landowners specific assurances of the type of zoning if they wanted their property annexed. AFF Supports.
Current Use Notification - SB 42
Sponsored by Sen. Phil Poole, D-Tuscaloosa, would require the tax assessor or revenue commissioner, as the case may be, to timely notify the new owner of current use property that he or she needs to make application for current use valuation. Unless you have purchased property and failed to apply you may not realize that under existing law, when taxable property based on current use value is sold or otherwise changes ownership, the new owner is required to make application for current use valuation of the property. The bill was assigned to the committee on Governmental Affairs. AFF Supports.
County Sales Tax - SB 60
Sponsored by Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, would provide that the proceeds from the county excise or privilege tax for public schools levied for this purpose by the county governing body un-earmarked. Under this bill the county commission, at its discretion, could distribute 25 percent to the county general fund for county purposes with a portion distributed to the municipal general fund of any municipality within the county which endorses this additional tax. The other 75 percent would still be for education only. AFF Opposes.
Four-Year Reappraisal of Property
Sponsored by Sen. Bradley Bryne, R-Fairhope, would provide that property in Alabama would not be subject to reappraisal less than every four years. The Alabama Department of Revenue supervises and regulates the periodic reappraisal of all property in the state and Gov. Riley by an executive order has required annual reappraisals. AFF Supports.
Eminent Domain - SB 18 and HB 27
Sponsored by Sen. Curt Lee, R-Jasper and Rep. Steve Hurst, D-Munford, would increase the time when the probate court is required to conduct a hearing in an eminent domain proceeding from 30 days to 45 days after a complaint has been filed. Under existing law, in an eminent domain proceeding in the probate court, the probate court is required to conduct a hearing within 30 days after the filing of a complaint, and the AFF supports providing the land owner more time to prepare for the hearing. The House bill passed committee and is awaiting action by the full house. AFF Supports.
Home Rule - SB 129 and HB 40
Sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe; and Rep. Jack Venable, D-Tallassee, would authorize the several counties of this state to exercise additional powers if the exercise of the power is not prohibited or provided for by general law or the state constitution. The effectiveness of this bill in a county would be contingent on approval at a referendum in the county. AFF Monitoring.
Mandatory Insurance Grace Period
Sponsored by Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, would provide that a person would not be liable for court costs if the person who is charged with failing to have liability insurance on his motor vehicle produces in court satisfactory evidence that at the time of citation the motor vehicle was covered by such insurance. Under the existing mandatory liability insurance law, a person who is charged with failing to have liability insurance on his or her motor vehicle may not be convicted if the person produces in court satisfactory evidence that at the time of citation the motor vehicle was in fact covered by such insurance. However, the person must pay all court costs involved in the court appearance. AFF Supports.
Prohibition of Same Sex Marriages - SB 4, SB 5, SB 33, SB65, SB109, and
HB 1, HB59
Several bills have been introduced by Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, and Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, to prohibit same sex marriages, and the language is the same with one exception. The difference is when the people would get a chance to vote on banning same sex marriages. This seems to be controversial among the political parties. HB 59, sponsored by Rep. Yusuf Salaam, D-Selma, passed out of committee on Wednesday and could be debated on the House floor as early as next Tuesday. The public would vote on this constitutional amendment during the next special, primary or general election. The other bills designate the 2006 Primary Election as Election Day. AFF supports the prohibition and would prefer the vote at the next general election.
For more information about legislative issues, contact Governmental Affairs Director Freddie Patterson by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Agriculture Legislative Director Paul Pinyan at email@example.com