Moderated by Representative Bill Poole, a member of the Tuscaloosa Legislative Delegation, the event featured Senator Del Marsh, President Pro Tempore & Presiding Officer of the Alabama Senate, and Representative Mac McCutcheon, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
State Lawmakers in Tuscaloosa to Discuss Infrastructure, Education
Nearly 250 Chamber members attended the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce's State of the State luncheon, held on July 6 at Embassy Suites in downtown Tuscaloosa, to get an update from Alabama's leaders.
Held in an informal style format, the event allowed the speakers to hold a conversation with attendees and take questions at the end. The topics Marsh and McCutcheon most wanted to discuss included budget reform, education reform, and infrastructure investment.
Speaker McCutcheon, while discussing budget reform, told listeners that the tax issue in the state of Alabama needed to be addressed, as the tax burden had become heavier on the shoulders of fewer people while demands are now higher. "The taxpayer is not being treated fairly," McCutcheon said. "They're making an investment in the state of Alabama, and we need to make sure their investment is spent wisely."
Senator Marsh spoke on the importance of investing in education and infrastructure and the correlation both had with respect to economic growth in Alabama.
"There are 400 bridges in Alabama in need of repair or replacement," Marsh said. "If you're really wanting to compete with our neighbors, you've got to update our infrastructure."
Marsh said Alabama has already fallen behind neighboring states Georgia, Tennessee and Florida in infrastructure updates.
Both legislators mentioned an increase in the gasoline tax as a possible solution, but agreed that passing an increase on a tax that had not been raised since 1992 is a challenge. "You could raise it by 12 cents and it still wouldn't be out of line with neighboring states," Marsh said. "And a percentage automatically comes back to the counties. This would bring Alabama in parity with other states."
McCutcheon agreed a gasoline tax increase was unpopular moving into an election year. "We've been working on this for almost three years, but if we do not do something, we will not grow economically," he said. "We have got to educate Alabamians, and we have made progress."
With respect to education reform, Marsh said he felt the issue had far reaching consequences. "Sixty percent of our prison population doesn't have a high school education," he said. "We're doing a disservice to our young people if we don't solve the problem."