GOP under fire for new taxes

Published 1:48 am Saturday, September 12, 2015

Local business owners support decisions

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, like many of his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives, came under fire this week after voting in favor of new taxes.

But two local business owners who’ll be directly affected by the taxes if they are approved by the Senate said Jones and others who voted for the taxes did the right thing.

On Thursday, the House approved bills that would tax prescriptions and nursing homes.

Local pharmacist David Darby, who also serves on the Alabama Pharmacy Board, said the 15-cent per prescription tax will actually mean more money for some pharmacies.

At present, pharmacies (not consumers) pay a 10-cent tax on every prescription filled. The measure passed Thursday by the House would increase that tax to 25 cents. The tax proceeds go to Medicaid, he explained, to provide matching funds needed to secure federal funding for the program.

“Pharmacies will receive dispensing fees paid by Medicaid to offset it,” Darby said. “If you own a store in Mountain Brook, you might lose. Stores in Covington County win on it. The important thing is to help keep Medicaid solvent.”

If the measure gains Senate approval, it is expected to generate $8 million annually.

A measure that taxes nursing homes $400 per bed also would generate approximately $8 million if it is approved by the Senate.

“To get the funding (from Medicaid), we had to do something,” SalLee Sasser-Williams, whose family owns Andalusia Manor, said. Sasser-Williams also is on the Alabama Nursing Home Association’s board of directors.

The measure would add $61,000 to the company’s tax bill for Andalusia Manor, she said.

“But that’s better than the alternative,” she said. “It’s better than having to lay people off.”

In Covington County, 70 percent of the residents in the county’s three nursing home facilities depend on Medicaid funding.

“If the General Fund is not funded, we won’t have Medicaid,” Sasser-Williams said. “We’re stepping up to the plate to keep services.”

Medicaid funds distributed for health care in the state are a combination of state and federal funding. The state is required to match federal dollars; if the state’s contribution is cut, federal funding will be lost, as well.

The measure passed this week only goes into effect if Medicaid is funded at $745 million.

Both Sasser-Williams and Darby said most people think of Medicaid as a program for the poor, but don’t think of the trickle-down effects it has.

“This impacts all the citizens in Alabama,” Darby said. “If Medicaid goes away, you lose all kinds of services. Rural hospital can’t provide services without Medicaid. We all lose when that happens.”

If Medicaid goes away, physicians will leave, too, Darby said.

“Those doctors don’t just take Medicaid patients, the take all kinds of patients,” he said.

Jones said he sought input from locals who would be impacted by the taxes before voting for the measures.

“David and SalLee both had factual data,” he said. “They are up to date and knowledgeable on the issues. “

The House also approved a 25-cent increase on cigarette taxes. Jones abstained from that vote.

“My family’s business involves a large of amount of sales of cigarettes and tobacco,” he said. “I perceive it as a conflict.”

He said he filed a formal, written form detailing the possible conflict prior to the House’s vote on the measure.

The House also voted to raise the auto title fee from $16.50 to $29.50, and increase in the car rental tax from 1.5 percent to 2 percent.

All of the measures would have to be cleared in the Senate.