MONTGOMERY — Democrats in the Alabama House tried last year to pass a $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase, but couldn’t get support from the Republican supermajority.
This year, they hope Republicans will let Alabamians vote on it.
Democrats said Wednesday they will push for a constitutional amendment that would create the tax increase, if voters approve it.
Revenue from the tax, which they estimate would generate up to $227 million a year, would go toward paying back the $437 million the state owes to the Alabama Trust Fund. After that, the tax would help fund state Medicaid.
State Democrats have said they want to repay the trust fund within six years. If the cigarette tax were approved by state voters, the trust fund would be repaid much quicker.
Before such a constitutional amendment can get to voters, it will still have to get past Republicans in the House and Senate, many of whom have stated they are against any tax increase.
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said Republicans need to look beyond their tax pledges to what is best for the state, such as more revenue. He offered them a way to keep any “no new taxes” promises.
“With the constitutional amendment, they can say, ‘I didn’t put the tax on it, the people did,’ ” Black said.
Other priorities outlined by House Democrats on Wednesday included 10 percent cost-of-living raises for teachers and state employees, which Republicans have said is not an option because of budget constraints, and putting school resource officers in every school, which would cost about $50 million a year. Democrats are suggesting a state lottery to pay for the added expense.
A written response from House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was less than supportive of the Democrats’ priorities.
“The Democrats’ legislative agenda is a checklist of tax-and-spend measures that would make Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid proud,” Hubbard said. “Rather than proposing real reforms, the House Democrats simply want to roll the dice on legalized gambling, throw more money into bloated entitlement programs and demand higher taxes from businesses at a time when we should be encouraging job creation, not discouraging it.”
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow’s bill to allow teachers to be trained as reserved sheriff’s deputies and carry firearms in classrooms was not one of his fellow Democrats’ stated priorities Wednesday. House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said they would support the Franklin County lawmaker’s bill, though.
Democrats in the Senate, including Tammy Irons of Florence, and Roger Bedford, of Russellville, are expected to announce their legislative agenda next week.
Mary Sell can be reached at mary.sell@TimesDaily.com.