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New Year Promises To Be Interesting

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Both Alabama and Auburn play in bowl games on Thursday to start the New Year off right…with football and more football.  That said, 2015 is already shaping up to be a huge year in Alabama politics and your Alabama Political Reporter is already hard at work covering the stories that shape your world.  With 2014 coming to a close, we are looking ahead to what we expect to be the highlights of the New Year.

The General Fund Budget Crisis – the housing bubble explosion that set off the Great Recession is long past; but the State’s employment situation has never fully recovered.  The percentage of Alabamians actually participating in this economy remains depressed as are wages for the average worker.  Poorer Alabamians require more services, like Alabama Medicaid, pay little State income taxes and have less to spend, thus generate more limited sales taxes.

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All this means that State revenues remain largely insufficient…..particularly in the General Fund where soaring Medicaid costs and a large prison populace are constant drains on an ever increasing portion of the General Fund.  The Bentley administration and the Republican Super Majority artificially propped up the General Fund in 2012 with a raid on the Alabama Trust Fund.  The temporary revenue spike from that raid, gave the State’s General Fund a brief respite now that money is gone and the legislature is facing a $250 million hole in the General Fund budget.

The Mike Hubbard Trial – the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives is expected to be easily re-elected for another four years as Speaker when the legislature meets in January for the organizational session for this quadrennium.  That will be the easy part for the State Representative from Auburn.  In March, Speaker Hubbard is expected to go on trial for 23 counts of public corruption.  The prospect of a sitting Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives standing trial on felony corruption charges and then leaving the court room to go preside over a session of the Alabama House of Representatives that evening promises to be a media circus that will likely draw national media attention.

The Lottery – the State needs revenue and some members of the legislature are willing to do anything to get it.  Polls show that most Alabamians are receptive to some sort of a State lottery.  Of course polls back in the 1990s showed that the lottery was popular back when Governor Don Seigelman (D) staked his governorship on a lottery vote….and lost.  That lottery promised to send kids to college, fund pre-kindergarten and computers for classrooms…it went down in flames when it went to the voters.  A lottery that funds primarily Alabama Medicaid and Alabama’s prisons that puts little or no money in the pockets of upper and middle class voters seems like a much harder sell.

Scholarship Granting Organizations – the Alabama Education Association (AEA) came hard after its Republican Super Majority foes in 2014 elections on the issue of the Alabama Accountability Act and lost.  Every AEA backed GOP challenger in state Senate races lost and then the super majority took three seats from undermanned Democrats.  The AEA knocked off about 6 or 7 Super Majority House seats in the Republican Primary; but then saw more Democrats get knocked off in the General Election blunting whatever gains the once powerful teachers union gained in the primary.  That Republican Super Majority is angry at the AEA and is promising to take it out on the public schools.  The big winner in this is expected to be the Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs).  Currently, the Alabama Accountability Act allows only $20 million to be diverted from public education to the SGOs.  The Alabama Political Reporter is hearing chatter that that number is expected to climb to $100 million and the number of students eligible for the scholarships to substantially increase.

More Corruption Indictments – In 2014 state Representative Greg Wren (R-Montgomery) plead guilty to using his office for personal gain.  State Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) and Speaker Hubbard were both indicted in the Lee County Public Corruption investigation (Moore later was found not guilty by a jury).  The Alabama Political Reporter believes there will be more indictments and likely another investigative Grand Jury in 2015.

New ALGOP Leadership – the Alabama Republican Party is the de facto ruling party in the state of Alabama.  Democrats were not competitive in any of the last three elections.  They might return; but not for at least four years.  This means that all things Republican have an over-sized influence as GOP incumbents worry more about GOP Primary voters than they do general elections in districts where Republicans routinely win with commanding majorities.  Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead had put his stamp heavily on GOP politics and philosophy during his tenure as Chair.  A new Chair and a new party leadership will be elected in February.  How will the new Chair affect issues across the state moving forward?

Presidential Politics – Democratic Presidential politics look like it will be very similar to 2008 where the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party rallies around Hillary Clinton while the more hardcore left looks for a Hillary alternative, like possibly Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  Republican Presidential politics meanwhile looks like utter chaos at this point.  Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich even Mitt Romney and Alabama’s own Jeff Sessions are just some of the numerous names being seriously bandied about in GOP circles in what looks like an unusually wide open field.  Your Alabama Political Reporter will be there as the aspirants to America’s highest office come in and out of our State.

Marijuana – this issue gets more complicated every year.  In 2014, the State legislation was passed that would allow oil derived from marijuana to be administered to persons with severe epilepsy (Carly’s Law).  Whether or not this treatment is effective or if federal law is being violated are still issues that will come up in 2015, as in the recent unexpected announcement by the Obama administration that recognized Indian tribes would be allowed to sell medicinal marijuana potentially in defiance of State laws.  Alabama’s Poarch band of Creek Indians (PCI) are studying this controversial proposal.  If PCI were to move towards cashing in on this lucrative monopoly, would that spur the State legislature to decriminalize medical marijuana?  Could taxing medicinal marijuana be a potential new State income source?

Medicaid – the State has passed legislation to switch Alabama’s troubled Medicaid program from a direct provider payment system administered by the State of Alabama to a managed care model run by regional care organizations (RCOs).  This model is designed to limit the escalating costs of the program.  The RCOs and the potential expansion of Medicaid are issues which we will follow closely in 2015.

Prison Reform – the State has to find a way to decrease its prison population and find ways to modernize its aging correctional facilities in 2015 or potentially face a Federal takeover of the troubled prison system.  Sentencing reforms and prison privatization are subjects being widely discussed.

Tax Increases – this is the first year of the quadrennium.  Voters have three years to forget about anything that legislators do to them this year, thus 2015 is the year where legislators are most likely to do something unpopular.  Governor Robert Bentley (R), who will not have to ever face voters again, has proposed ending a number of state tax deduction which would cost Alabama taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year.  Some members of the Bentley administration claim this is not a tax increase because it does not raise tax rates.  That assertion has been dismissed by many as being ludicrous.  The Alabama Political Reporter believes that additional income tax dollars would go to the education trust fund by law and cannot be diverted to the general fund.  Many have suggested budget reform so that Alabama will have just one budget, this idea however would have to go to the voters.  Could there be a special election in September?

Charter Schools – there are a lot of rumblings from super majority sources that a charter school bill is coming.  Education reform advocates have been busy promoting school choice to legislators and moving more children out of the heavily unionized Alabama public schools is being talked about as another way to strike back at AEA.

Common Core – conservative opponents of Alabama’s controversial College and Career Ready Standards are organizing for the next legislative session.  They are determined to see legislation passed that would see the unpopular curriculum replaced during this legislative session.  Most Common Core backers in the legislature however saw reelection in 2014 so this is likely to be an uphill fight.

Casino Gambling – PCI operates three “electronic bingo” halls in Atmore, Wetumpka, and Montgomery.  None of these establishments are licensed by the state of Alabama and the state collects no tax revenues from the Indian gaming.  Will Alabama compromise with the Indians and set up a Compact acknowledging that the Indians have a de facto monopoly under federal law on gaming in exchange for a share of the revenue?  Could a wider expansion of bingo bill pass a Republican controlled state legislature and go to the voters in 2015?

Constitution Reform – Alabama’s 1901 Constitution is the oldest and longest State Constitution.  In 2014 an article by article rewrite of the constitution in a secret committee came to a screeching halt when Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) ruled that Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and the State legislature had exceeded their authority.  Legislators are expected to bring back this controversial issue in 2015.

Partisanship in Washington – for the last four years legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives and died a slow death in the U.S. Senate where hundreds of bill were never brought to the floor of the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).  That changes next week when new GOP Senators are sworn in.  Voters across the country rejected Team Obama and elected Republican candidates to numerous offices, including the Senate. 

Your Alabama Political Reporter will continue to provide unmatched coverage of your Alabama Congressional Delegation and their views on the issues affecting Alabama and the world.

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Elections

Phil Williams says GOP will defend Senate District 10

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday Etowah County Republican Party Chairman Phil Williams told the Etowah County Republicans that the Republican Party would make sure that Cherokee County cattle farmer Andrew Jones will have the resources needed to defend the Senate District ten seat that Williams is vacating.

On June 5, Jones defeated state Representative Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City. Most political observers expected Butler to win the Republican primary; but the general election against state Representative Craig Ford (I from Gadsden) was considered to be a challenge. Jones defeated Butler 53.43 percent to 46.57 percent 12,516 to 10,907. The Alabama Democratic Party is not fielding a candidate in District 10.

“It is painful not to see Mack Butler in an elected position,” Chairman Butler said. “I have had plenty of discussions with Andrew Jones and with upper level and state leaders to make sure that he has all the resources he needs to make sure that a Republican holds that seat.”

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Williams said that he is impressed with how hard Jones worked and how popular he was in Cherokee County and the inroads that he had made even in Etowah County.

“I feel comfortable that Andrew will have the resources,” Williams said. “This race will be high profile. It is one of the few deeply contested senate seats in the state I have talked with Del Marsh and Andrew has talked with Marsh.”

Williams said that Marsh has assured them that there will be resources to help Jones.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, is heading the efforts to re-elect a Republican senate majority.

Following the primary win Jones said in a statement:

“I’M EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE MY VICTORY in the State Senate 10 Republican Primary. I’d like to thank my family for their support, and I’d also like to thank Mack Butler for running a spirited campaign. I humbly ask all of Mr. Butler’s supporters for their help in the General Election on November 6. All of the credit for our victory goes to our volunteers and supporters, without whom our victory today would not have been possible. Many of you may not realize that we were outspent somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 1 in this campaign. We just continued to focus on taking our message directly to the voters. With our victory today, I hope we have shown that hard work and a clear message still has the power to resonate with Alabama voters.”

While Ford is running for the Senate as an independent, he was formerly the House Minority Leader for the Democrats.

State Representative Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, told the group, “I have started putting up signs after the primary. We are in it to win it and help push the liberals back.”

Gil Isabel is running for the House seat that Craig Ford is vacating to run for the senate.

“This seat has been held by a Democrat for many many years,” Isabel said. “I don’t want to overpromise and under deliver.”

Isabel said that it takes a team effort to represent Etowah County and that he is a team player.

“It is time for a change,” Isabel said.

Both Isabel and Nordgren face Democrats in the general election on November 6.

Democrats had held Senate District ten for many years until Williams upset longtime incumbent Larry Means, D-Attalla, in the 2010 election and then defeated a challenge from Means again in 2014.  In 2014 Williams beat Means 17,967 (52 percent) to 16,530 (43.9 percent),

Senate District Ten was redrawn in 2017 after the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus sued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to have some districts redrawn to be more competitive for Democrats and provide more influence for minorities. A portion of staunchly Republican St. Clair County had been in the district. They no longer are and SD10 now includes more of Dekalb and Cherokee County in addition to Etowah County.

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The number of Alabamians working is at an 11-year high

Brandon Moseley

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Friday Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced that Alabama’s wage and salary employment measured 2,042,400 in June, a ten-year high. The last time it measured at or above this level was in December 2007, when it measured 2,045,800. This is the largest number of Alabamians working since before the Great Recession.

“Wage and salary employment in Alabama continues to increase significantly month after month,” said Washington. “This month’s count is the second largest we’ve ever recorded, yielding only to pre-recessionary numbers. It represents the most jobs our economy has supported in more than a decade. Employers are hiring in Alabama, jobs are available in Alabama, and people are working in Alabama.”
Over the year, wage and salary employment has increased 21,600, with gains in the manufacturing sector (+4,600), the leisure and hospitality sector (+4,400), and the professional and business services sector (+4,000), among others.

Wage and salary employment increased in May by 7,000. Monthly gains were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (+2,300), the manufacturing sector (+1,800), and the education and health services sector (+1,300), among others.

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“We know that our economy is supporting record numbers of jobs, and we also know that Alabamians are working in record numbers – the most in more than 11 years,” Washington added. “Twenty-one thousand more people are working now than they were last year. That means more Alabamians are supporting their families, and spending money in their communities.”

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Saks) said, “Great news for the State of #Alabama under Donald J. Trump leadership! Wage and Salary Employment in our state at a TEN YEAR HIGH!

Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted May unemployment rate is 3.9 percent, a slight increase from April’s record low rate of 3.8 percent, and well below May 2017’s rate of 4.6 percent.

Shelby County has the lowest employment rate at just 2.7 percent. Cullman has just 3.1 percent. Marshall has just 3.2 percent. Washington County has the highest unemployment at 8.95 percent. Greene County has 7.2 percent and Clarke County had 6.9 percent.

Nationally the news has been good almost across the economy. The U.S. unemployment rate is just 3.8 percent.

For the first time since such record-keeping began in 2000, the number of available positions exceeded the number of job seekers, the Labor Department said earlier this month.

The U S. Labor Department reports that the total number of workers receiving unemployment benefits has dropped to just 1.75 million: the lowest number since December 1973 when the population and the workforce were much smaller than they are now.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) has been touting the incredible job numbers as she campaigns across the state for her own term as Governor. Republicans are hopeful that Americans will take not of the rising economic tides and will reward GOP candidates at the ballot box in November.

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Ivey says Trump Administration import tariffs would harm Alabama economy

Brandon Moseley

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(ADAM BRASHER/THE AUBURN PLAINSMAN)

Monday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) warned the Trump Administration that import tariffs could harm the Alabama economy.

“Import tariffs and any retaliatory tariffs on American made goods, will harm Alabama.” Ivey said in a statement critical of proposed new tariffs on foreign imports by the Trump Administration.

Donald J. Trump (R) was elected President of the United States vowing to fight what he called one sided trade deals.

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“Alabama has a rich history as a leader in manufacturing, a legacy which continues in large part, through our five automotive original equipment manufacturers and our over 200 supporting suppliers that have helped establish “Made in Alabama” as an internationally-respected brand,” Ivey said. “Last year proved to be a banner year for auto industry growth in Alabama, with nearly $3 billion in automotive-related investments. Before the recent announcement of a new Mazda-Toyota plant, and other automotive-related growth, more than 57,000 Alabamians were already employed by our auto manufacturing sector, a number which is expected to increase. However, this growth could be stymied if tariffs are imposed on the goods we export around the world.”

“In 2017, Alabama reached a record high of $21.7 billion in exports, with our auto industry accounting for $10.9 billion of those exports,” Ivey continued. “The largest importers of Alabama made goods and services were Canada, China, Germany, Mexico and Japan – all countries which may be forced to reciprocate in response to any new import tariffs.”

“Import tariffs, and any retaliatory tariffs on American made goods, will harm Alabama, the companies that have invested billions of dollars in our state, and the thousands of households which are dependent upon those companies for a good-paying job,” Ivey wrote in her statement. “I strongly oppose any efforts that may harm those companies that employ thousands of Alabamians and contribute billions to our economy. I am committed to protecting Alabama jobs and consumers, the world over, who are proud to purchase products made in Alabama.”

Gov. Ivey was at the White House on Monday for a meeting of the National Space Council. President Donald J. Trump (R) addressed the group and announced the creation of his new Space Force.

Trump said on the Whitehouse web site: “From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal.”

President Trump has imposed a number of tariffs on countries that the administration says do not have a fair trade relationship with the United States.  These nations include historic allies like France, Canada, and Mexico.  They also include China which the administration is threatening with strong trade penalties by the end of June.

The Trump Administration recently announced that the United States will implement specific investment restrictions and enhanced export controls for Chinese persons and entities related to the acquisition of industrially significant technology. The list of restrictions and controls will be announced by June 30, 2018.

The Administration wrote that: “China has consistently taken advantage of the American economy with practices that undermine fair and reciprocal trade. For many years, China has pursued industrial policies and unfair trade practices—including dumping, discriminatory non-tariff barriers, forced technology transfer, over capacity, and industrial subsidies—that champion Chinese firms and make it impossible for many United States firms to compete on a level playing field.”

“China’s industrial policies, such as its “Made in China 2025” plan, harm companies in the United States and around the world,” the Administration stated. “China imposes much higher tariffs on United States exports than the United States imposes on China. China’s average tariff rate is nearly three times higher than the average United States rate. Certain products are even more imbalanced, for instance the United States charges a 2.5 percent tariff on Chinese cars, while China currently maintains a 25 percent tariff on cars from the United States.”

“China has banned imports of United States agricultural products such as poultry, cutting off America’s ranchers and farmers from a major market for their goods.” the Trump Administration continued. “China has dumped and unfairly subsidized a range of goods for the United States market, undermining America’s domestic industry. In 2018 alone, the Trump Administration has found dumping or unfair subsidies on 13 different products, including steel wheels, cold-drawn mechanical tubing, tool chests and cabinets, forged steel fittings, aluminum foil, rubber bands, cast iron soil pipe and fittings, and large diameter welded pipe.

In January 2018, the Trump Administration ruled that China’s overproduction of steel and aluminum.
The head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, Lawrence Kudlow recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post and released on the Whitehouse website.

“Our friends and foes alike should recognize that President Trump has been remarkably faithful in keeping his campaign promises,” Kudlow stated. “From massive tax cuts to historic regulatory reduction to forcefully challenging one-sided international agreements, he has done exactly what he said he would do. There’s a simple lesson in President Trump’s record of achievement: Believe him.”

“Nowhere is this lesson clearer than when it comes to President Trump’s passion as a trade reformer,” Kudlow continued. “President Trump supports a vision of free trade that is fair and reciprocal. As a pro-growth reformer, the president understands that fair and reciprocal trade can knock down barriers, open up export markets and increase investment, which is the path to lasting economic growth. But this vision has been thwarted in recent decades by a lack of reciprocity, along with unfair and often illegal trading practices, including massive intellectual property theft. Country after country has been putting our global trading system at risk by raising tariffs and non-tariff barriers, protecting sectors from automobiles to agriculture. So do not blame President Trump for taking decisive actions that protect our American workers.”

“Past U.S. administrations — both Republican and Democrat — have paid only lip service to dealing with this breakdown,” Kudlow stated. “Not President Trump. He has shown courage and decisiveness to prevent harm to the American economy and its workforce.”

Some economists have expressed fears that Trump’s proposed tariffs could lead to retaliation and a trade war that could result in a global economic down turn.

The unemployment rate in Alabama is just 3.9 percent.

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New Year Promises To Be Interesting

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 9 min
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