With the state legislature recently passing its first gas tax increase since 1992, the breakdown of how that additional revenue will be distributed across the state has been a topic of concern, but a budget amendment added to the bill could actually be a boon for faster growing counties like Baldwin.
Baldwin County State Senator Chris Elliott said he and other legislators got their first look at the gas tax bill just before the special session started, and that he was not pleased by how the distribution percentages were going to be calculated.
“The distribution was based on population solely using U.S. Census data in the original version,” Elliott said. “Since distribution was based on that decennial census, that put fast growing counties like us here in Baldwin in a bad position. We’re growing with almost 4,500 new residents every year, so that would be a growth of 45,000 over the ten years between each census. That wasn’t tenable to miss out on that revenue.”
Elliott said he looked at ways to try to address the issue from the Senate, but found there were hurdles to making changes there.
“The challenge was that this bill was clearly moving fast and the ability to amend it in the Senate was going to be problematic because leadership was trying to get it through with as few amendments as possible,” Elliott said.
Elliott said he reached out to other legislators to see how the problem could be addressed.
“Through conversations with Rep. Poole and Sen. Marsh, as well as discussion with our Baldwin County delegation leader Rep. Steve McMillan in the House, we were able to get an amendment to the bill that would use population projections to divide the gas tax revenue rather than just the last census data,” Elliott said. “Projections for the first year revenue split will be based on population estimates that take into account the current population for Baldwin County.”
According to the amended text of the bill, the distribution of county and municipal funds will be based on the “population of the state according to population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau Population and Housing Estimates Program or any special federal census heretofore held in any County. Beginning with the 2020 Census, the ratio of the population of each county to the total population of the state shall be updated every five years.”
Elliott called the move to population projections rather than census data a big win for Baldwin and other faster growing counties.
“This is huge for us and for other fast growing counties,” Elliott said. “It means hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional revenue for the county and municipalities throughout Baldwin County over the next several years. And, we’re making sure that we’re looking at those population estimates every five years to ensure we’re sending money to the faster growing counties.”
Elliott said reporting from other news organizations that fast growing counties like Baldwin would actually lose money on the new gas tax couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We anticipate an additional $800,000 or so for the county and an additional $800,000 for the municipalities over a five year period due to this language change,” Elliott said. “And, initially, with this period between now and the next census data available, we’re looking at another several hundred thousands dollars coming in. This is very good for Baldwin County and follows through on the promise I made when I ran for office to make sure Baldwin County is getting our fair share.”