At the beginning of 2019, the Alabama Legislature, with an aggressive push from Gov. Kay Ivey, passed the Rebuild Alabama Act.
The law increased gasoline taxes by 6 cents per gallon in 2019, by 2 cents in 2020 and by another 2 cents in 2021.
Beyond 2023, increases will be determined every other year based on the fluctuations of the National Highway Construction Cost Index, a price index out quarterly that measures changes in highway construction costs.
The authors of the legislation recognized it was best to time the increases with when gas stations stock a cheaper winter blend of gas, which evaporates at low temperatures to improve engine performance.
That way, when the increase takes place, the price shock is not immediately recognized by consumers, if recognized at all.
We are approaching the second anniversary of the passage of the Rebuild Alabama Act. It passed in the Alabama Senate by a 28-6 vote. State Sen. Vivian Figures, the lone Democrat to vote against the bill, was also the only member of the Southwest Alabama Senate delegation to oppose the bill.
It passed the Alabama House of Representatives by an 84-20 margin without any opposition, Democrat or Republican, on the Alabama coast.
With the exception of Figures, there was not a single lawmaker within 150 miles of Mobile who opposed legislation that, at the time, was expected to be a $300 million increase in tax revenues for the state of Alabama.
Ironically, Ivey later replaced Baldwin County’s State Sen. Chris Elliott with Figures on the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program-II (ATRIP-II) committee, which was created under the Rebuild Alabama Act to allocate funding for projects “of local interest” on Alabama’s highway system.
Gas prices have remained somewhat stable since the Rebuild Alabama Act’s passage. They nose-dived at the height of the pandemic as shutdowns were underway worldwide, causing demand to plummet.
However, on Election Day, the country voted for Joe Biden to be the next president.
Several times during the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden declared he wanted to “get rid of fossil fuels,” which one would assume included crude oil, the main ingredient in gasoline.
In the early stages of his presidency, Biden has halted the cross-border permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and enacted a “pause” on oil and gas leasing on public land and waters.
The outcome is unknown, but one would have to imagine there is a high probability of some increase in prices at the pump.
In the past, during times of global turmoil, the oil-producing nations have engaged in cartel-like behavior. Might those countries slow the production of crude, causing a decrease in supply and a spike in prices?
Who knows what the future will hold a year from now, as the 2022 election cycle is underway. However, if gas prices are significantly higher to the point where it affects Alabamians’ expendable income, this could be problematic.
There is a case to be made on the merits of the Rebuild Alabama Act. Alabama’s roads and bridges were in bad shape in 2019 and, in many places, they continue to be in bad condition. Many of the members of the Alabama Legislature will likely be able to make a convincing case the increase in the fuel tax at the time was necessary.
However, that case might have to be made during a Republican primary against a challenger who wants to make the very first vote of the last quadrennium an albatross around the neck of an incumbent.
In midterm election cycles, the party out of power tends to do well. In those cycles with a Democrat as president, the conservative wing of the GOP flexes its muscle.
Bill Clinton’s presidency gave us 1994 and the Newt Gingrich-led “Contract with America” revolution. That was also the beginning of the end for Democrats’ hold on state governments in the South.
Sixteen years later came the Tea Party movement, inspired in part by then-President Barack Obama’s policies. That also resulted in Republicans taking control of the Alabama Legislature for the first time in 136 years.
These are the election cycles in Alabama that encourage a lot of right-of-center civic engagement. While a well-funded incumbent would be poised to win reelection, it will not mean they won’t have to face a primary challenge.
Gasoline prices are an issue that hit close to home for everybody.
Locally, it could be even more problematic.
What is the most significant transportation issue along Coastal Alabama? (Hint: It is not the expansion of the Port of Mobile.)
If you said the Interstate 10 Mobile Bay Bridge stalemate, you’re right.
Incumbents may try to make the case the Port of Mobile expansion justified their vote, but they are going to have to prove it.
Did the Port of Mobile expansion make the average Coastal Alabamian better off in a tangible way?
Meanwhile, I-10 remains clogged daily, and there has been no movement beyond the toll bridge fiasco of 2019.
Someone might ask, why am I paying more in gasoline taxes while prices as pump prices are higher, but I am still sitting in traffic at the Virginia Street exit waiting to get into the Wallace Tunnel?
That is a possible script for a 2022 campaign commercial that might hit close to home for some.
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