MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Robert Bentley's opposition to new state taxes during his first term could change in a second term.
"We are looking at all possibilities right now for the next four years because we have to. That's my job," Bentley said in an interview.
Bentley opposed new taxes following his election in 2010. That included a proposed increase in the state cigarette tax that appeared to be gaining momentum until he came out against it. Instead, he has worked with the Legislature to control costs by reducing the number of state employees, restructuring pension benefits, consolidating state agencies, and refinancing state bond issues to save on interest payments.
Bentley also persuaded voters to approve a constitutional amendment in 2012 that let him take $437 million out of a state trust fund to shore up the state General Fund budget for three years.
The governor who takes office in January 2015 will have to begin work on the state budgets for 2016, and none of that trust fund money will be left. The new governor will also have to look for solutions to an overcrowded prison system that is under review by the U.S. Justice Department.
Bentley estimates revenues for the General Fund budget will be down $200 million for fiscal 2016.
"It's always my desire not to raise taxes, but I also know we have to have revenue," Bentley said Thursday.
His Democratic opponent in the general election Nov. 4, former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, said Bentley could bring in more revenue by expanding Alabama's Medicaid program under the federal health care act. Bentley, a dermatologist from Tuscaloosa, opposes the expansion, but Griffith, a retired cancer doctor from Huntsville, said the expansion would create 25,000 to 30,000 good-paying jobs.
"I think there will probably be other things needed, but it will go a long way toward jump starting this economy and allowing us to do the things we need to do," he said.
Griffith, a former state senator, said he would sign a cigarette tax increase if the Legislature approved one because it could discourage smoking.
"We lose 3,200 Alabamians a year to cigarette-related cancers. It's a huge, huge expense," he said in a phone interview Friday.
But like Bentley, he said he doesn't like the idea of adding broad-based taxes on Alabama families.
"I think a tax increase would be difficult to sell for any reason," he said.