By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, October 29, an overflow crowd packed the Lurleen Wallace School of Nursing auditorium at Jacksonville State University to hear the Senate District 11 debate between incumbent Senator Del Marsh (R from Anniston) and his opponent, attorney Taylor Stewart (D from Anniston). The event was a heavy weight slug fest between two gifted politicians who are both supremely confident in their command of a stage.
Taylor Stewart called the situation in Montgomery a, “Disgusting mess.” Stewart said that if one of his colleagues were accused of unethical behavior of using his office to gaining money for his business, “I wouldn’t stand behind that person. I wouldn’t perjure myself before the grand jury. I would be doing whatever I could to clean up that mess in Montgomery.”
Senate President Marsh said that Montgomery is not like that. The first thing that the Republican Supermajority did was to pass sweeping ethics reform legislation.
Marsh said that Mike Hubbard has been accused of a crime, “And he will have his day in court.” “Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) is my friend.” “I pray for him and for his family every night as I would for any of my friends if they were in the same situation. I pray for (former Governor) Don Seigelman.”
Marsh said, “I was called as a witness to testify before the Grand Jury twice.” Marsh said that you will not find Del Marsh guilty, indicted or charged with anything. Marsh guaranteed that he won’t be convicted of anything.
Stewart accused Marsh of a lack of sincere concern for our students, teachers, and schools. Mr. Stewart said that the district needed a leader who cares about our schools. The people in the district want a leader who properly funds our schools. They want a leader who does not divert funds from the educational trust fund to scholarship funds for their friends who used to be in office.
Senator Marsh said that in 2008 we had a housing bubble to bust. That was not the fault of the Republicans. That was not even the fault of the Democrats who were in charge in Montgomery at the time. State revenues dropped. Over a $ billion a year in revenue were gone. We didn’t cut anything, we couldn’t spend more than we had. Sen. Marsh said it would have been fiscally irresponsible to raise taxes on the people of Alabama in an economic crisis.
Sen. Del Marsh said that the GOP Supermajority in the legislature did everything we could to streamline state government. Despite the hard times teachers still received one pay raise. If you take 2008 out of that equation and it was just a 3% drop from the 2007 budget.
Taylor Stewart said if elected he would appeal the accountability act. “It diverts millions into a scholarship fund.” “That is the kind of money that we need in education.” Stewart promised that teachers and state employees would get cost of living wages every year if he were the state Senator.
Mr. Taylor Stewart said that repealing the Accountability Act would be $25 million more for the Education Trust Fund. That could be $50 million. Who knows that could be $100 million a year diverted from education next year? “That is funding we need for the educational trust fund.”
Mr. Stewart said, “We also need to get new industry to this community. He has been negligent in this regard.” If elected he would talk to local leaders and ask them what industry do we need here? And then develop a plan for economic development in the district.
Del Marsh said that only 1/3 of the funding for Jacksonville State comes from the state of Alabama. Jacksonville State and the other colleges and universities were hurt by changes in Pell grants by the Federal government.
Marsh said that in the last budget that the legislature added $400,000 to Jacksonville State more than the governor asked for. Marsh said, “We have got to raise revenue. I am a businessman. I personally created 160 jobs. As a businessman I know how to create jobs because I have done it and I will continue to do it if I am sent back to Montgomery.”
Sen. Marsh said that the unemployment rate in Calhoun County is 6.7%. The state average is 6.6%. That is just .1 percent higher than the state average after we lost Ford McClellan, had to deal with the pollution problem at Monsanto, and had an incinerator burning chemical weapons. Under the circumstances I think that is pretty good.
Sen. Marsh said that the district needs more Aerospace, automotive, and high tech jobs. Those are the kind of jobs that we need. We want people who graduate from this great University to be able to stay here. We need to create jobs.
Stewart said that if you go to each community and talk to public officials they want to get manufacturing jobs, soft industry jobs, technology jobs, and construction jobs. That is what we need to do. “Actions speak louder than words.” When the state recruits industries it doesn’t come to this district it goes elsewhere.
Stewart said, “I do support raising the minimum wage to help those people out.” There is no rule that says we (the state of Alabama) can’t raise the minimum wage.
Senator Del Marsh said that most minimum wage jobs are starter jobs. Students need those jobs. According to one study over 500,000 people would lose their jobs if the minimum wage were raised.
Businesses will reduce their sales force and people will lose their jobs. The starter jobs are traditionally held by high school and college kids. “It is what they pay for their college education with.” The last thing we need to do is decrease jobs. Instead we need to concentrate on creating those higher paying jobs. “That is what I am going to do.”
Senate President Del Marsh said, “I have no issue with a lottery.” “As Pro Tem I can stop that from coming to the floor at any time,” but said that he will not do that.
Sen. Marsh did object to the idea of earmarking that money for scholarships. Marsh said, “87 percent of the money we have is earmarked.” Marsh said that lottery income should be put in a safety valve fund and then used where that pit of money is needed; whether that is for education, prisons, Medicaid, whatever is the biggest need that year. “Don’t tie your hands.”
Sen. Marsh said, “We have worked for the last several years working on long term problems,” and a safety valve fund would be s solution for a long term budget problem.
Stewart said that he support an educational lottery. Stewart said that voters want lottery money, “Earmarked not put in the general fund where folks can grab it and use that money for whatever they wish.” Stewart said that Georgia has Hope scholarships. “I do disagree with him (Marsh) about not earmarking that money.” Stewart said that he favors a bill to let the people vote on an education lottery.
Sen. Marsh said that Medicaid System cost the state $365 million when he got in office it costs over $700 million today and consumes a third of the state’s general fund. Medicaid is a broken system in Alabama. In the last session the legislature passed a plan that will reform Medicaid. If that plan to save us millions of dollars works then we can look at adding more people. Putting 300,000 more people on our Medicaid rolls would break the general fund budget after the first three years when those federal dollars run out and the burden is on the state.
Del Marsh pledged, “I will work to fix the problem and when we do we will address those of us in need as well as we can.”
Stewart said that the UAB study showed that expanding Medicaid would create 30,000 to 40,000 jobs and will produce income tax that we need. Our tax dollars are going to expand people’s Medicaid in other states.
Stewart said that he supports expanding Medicaid, because it is the moral thing to do.
Stewart said that he support plan 2020 and higher standards. He said that Common Core has opponents because the teachers are not yet all properly trained and parents are confused.
Marsh said that the state trusts curriculum and standards to the Alabama State School Board. If you don’t let them make those decisions, why have a school board?
255 people attended the event at Jacksonville State University which filled the auditorium and the overflow lounge outside.
Voters go to the polls on November 4.