Estes only lawmaker to vote against sending $103 million from schools to prisons
While lawmakers will never end a legislative session believing every need was addressed and each subject was fully undertaken, I am turning the page from the 2023, session with the satisfaction in knowing a number of important accomplishments were made.
Possibly the most significant involved financial savings for Alabamians who pay the bills to operate our state and provide the services and infrastructure needed to maintain our collective quality of life.
The action grabbing the most headlines in the closing days of the session was the fact the legislature has begun the process of removing the state’s portion of sales taxes on groceries. Be mindful, this does not impact sales tax collection at the county or municipal level. But the steps necessary to eventually remove all four cents of the state’s portion is underway.
In fairness, the legislature has agreed to remove the first two cents over the next three years, but my prayer is all four cents will eventually be dismissed. But in the meantime, the people in our state will begin saving a few dollars each month at the grocery store.
The first cent will be removed beginning on Sept. 1 with the second penny scheduled for removal in 2025, assuming there is at least a 3.5 percent growth rate in the state’s education budget. Since all sales taxes are directed to the education trust fund, the legislature wants to make certain the budget can withstand the removal of the second cent. If not, the second penny should be removed in 2026.
In short, estimates have shown this process will save the average Alabama household up to $300 annually. The vote resulted in the largest tax cut in state history at more than $300 million.
Another action taken by the legislature was the termination of state income tax on money a person earns for working overtime. Beginning later this year, a person working more than 40 hours per week will no longer be cut the five percent sales tax typically retained by the state.
Another action taken by the legislature will result in each taxpayer receiving a refund check in the amount of $150 prior to the Christmas holiday with a married couple filing jointing receiving $300. While I am disappointed these amounts are not the original $300 and $600 figures approved by members of the House of Representatives, this action will still result in more money staying in the home of those who earned the money in the first place. Please be mindful, even the rebates provided will cost the state an estimated $387 million.
Lawmakers also approved a plan to set aside $500 in rainy day accounts to cover any future budgetary shortcomings, if and when the American economy begins to slow down. Like each of you must do at home, the legislature is attempting to put some money in the bank for those potential “rainy days.’’
We also voted to fully refund the final $40 million owed to previous rainy day accounts. These funds had been removed to help the state recover from the Great Recession 2008 - 2009. These withdrawals had accumulated to more than $1 billion. These funds have now been fully repaid.
Other financial decisions will have more of an indirect impact on those who call Alabama home.
The legislature approved the largest general fund and education budgets in history while also managing to set aside the $500 million in savings, as previously referenced.
The general fund budget grew to $3 billion while the education trust fund expanded to $8.8 billion with the supplemental education budget reaching $2.8 billion. The supplemental budget represents any funds which come in above and beyond the actual education budget.
While I voted in favor of the general fund budget and the education budget, I was the lone no vote on the education supplemental budget. In fact, I have never been so outnumbered, being outvoted 103-1 in the House of Representatives.
My reason in voting against the supplemental budget is the fact $103 million in education funding was being directed toward prisons. And while there was an educational component to the request, I could not vote to take such a substantial amount in education funding from our schools only to have the funding shifted to prisons, regardless of the reasoning. Needless to say, standing alone proves to be tough in Montgomery.
Within the same legislative week, I also voted against the expansion of the Alabama Accountability Act. Again, I was outvoted. But my opposition came as the result of my concerns of more education money being directed toward families to be used for “scholarships’’ to pay for private or charter schools tuition.
Under the plan, the income limit for the families qualifying for the scholarships almost doubled with the scholarship amount increasing from $6,000 to $10,000 per year for each participating child.
In quick summary, other legislative action included a two percent pay raise for teachers and faculty at the K-12 level as well as the two-year college level.
Grant funding for K-12 schools was also created with a $179 million deposit. School systems will apply through Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office to seek financial assistance for capital improvements or school construction projects and the like.
Actions were taken to streamline the adoption process for couples seeking to adopt a child while also creating a safe haven for mothers to anonymously drop off an unwanted child at a local fire station within 45 days of birth.
The Chinese government will no longer be able to purchase agricultural land in our state nor any property within 10 miles of a military base or critical infrastructure.
Needless to say, I could write much more about other bills of interest from the session, but I chose to write about those designed to save taxpayers money while leaving more money in their pockets to provide for their own households.
Now that the legislative session is over, I can now fill my days with what I enjoy the most: attending local school board, county commission and city council meetings, receiving phone calls and meeting with local residents in their home or in public places or just dropping in a local business or school to visit with a business owner, my teachers, principals or any other individual who calls our district home.
Allow me to end by saying how humbled and honored I am to serve House District 17. I represent the most honest and hard-working constituents a lawmaker could desire. I am proud to be your public servant and will continue to work diligently to earn your trust.
See complete story in the Journal Record.