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An answer to API

Larry Lee

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Education Matters
Larry Lee

According to its website, The Alabama Policy Institute “is a non-profit, non-partisan research and education organization dedicated to influencing public policy…We do this by providing fact-based, objective analysis of key issues.”

However, when you dissect the following op-ed written by Taylor Dawson about the recent defeat of an amendment to the Alabama Accountability Act, it is hard to figure out where the facts are:

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“Parents with children trapped in failing schools did not have a real school-choice option in Alabama prior to 2013. With the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), families zoned for Alabama’s worst-performing schools finally had better opportunities through scholarships and tax credits.”

Really?  The writer should look at the Alabama Department of Revenue website that shows in the first quarter of 2017 only three scholarship granting organizations were active.  There are 3,897 students on AAA vouchers.  But only 1,302 (33.4 percent) “zoned” to attend a “failing” school.  And this is mis-leading since it does not show how many students were ACTUALLY attending a “failing school.”

As to “better opportunities,” API should point out that of the 201 private schools now participating in the AAA, 80 of them (39.8 percent) are not accredited.

“After a drop of $5.9 million in scholarship donations through the AAA last year, some lawmakers came to this year’s session prepared to remedy the funding problem. Amendments would have improved the law by raising the limit on tax credits that could be claimed for donating to student scholarships, adding a tax credit for utility tax, allowing estates and trusts to donate, and reserving half of the cumulative cap–which would remain unchanged–on donations for individual donors.”

AAA has never reached its cap in any year.  Could it be the general public realizes this is not the panacea some politicians claimed it was and have grown reluctant to contribute?  Since 90 percent of all students in Alabama attend public schools, maybe some folks have decided we should put our money where it can help the most students.  There are 730,000 in public schools and only 3,897 on vouchers.

And nowhere does API mention that we have now diverted $86 million from the education trust fund to provide vouchers.  Nor do they mention that the scholarship granting organizations can keep five percent of all donations.  That’s $4.3 million through the end of 2016.

“In February, these amendments passed by a close margin in the Senate. It wasn’t until the last forty-eight hours of the legislative session that SB 123 hit the floor of the House.”

Senator Marsh’s amendment only passed the Senate by a 17-15 margin as seven Republicans voted against it.  Many of these “no” vote Republicans are senators who have grown weary of asking questions about the effectiveness of AAA and not getting answers.

Getting the bill to the House floor wasn’t an easy task, but education reforms rarely are. Enough Legislators were swayed by the voices of public-education superintendents and the Alabama Education Association (AEA) to kill the bill.

This bill was not just killed, it was stomped flat and left to die.  While only 28 Republicans voted for it, 29 Republicans voted against it.  The final tally was 59-28.  And why would a Legislator not be swayed by their local school superintendents?  After all, who knows better, the Alabama Policy Institute or a local educator, where money should be spent?

This op-ed does not mention what happened after Senator Marsh bill’s died on the last day.  At that point there was a $41 million supplemental appropriation for education waiting for Senate action.  But Senator Marsh killed it.  Apparently he decided that if the Legislature was not going to provide additional tax breaks for big business, then he wasn’t going to provide additional monies for school kids.

Larry Lee is a public school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. [email protected]

 

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Opinion | A tax code that works

Bradley Byrne

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Each April, Americans across the country face great frustration and inconvenience in filing their taxes.

Fortunately, this Tax Day marked the last time Americans would file their taxes under the old tax code.  Thanks to passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Americans will now have a simpler and fairer tax code. I was proud to work with President Trump to reform our tax code and make the process easier for taxpayers.

Starting next year, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will bring Americans relief when filing their taxes under a more streamlined, straightforward tax code.  However, making the overall filing process simpler and more convenient was just one of the many ways we worked to create a tax code that benefits and works for the American people.

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One of the most important reforms under the new tax code is the doubling of the standard deduction.  This provision increases the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples.  Combined with new lower tax rates, almost every Alabamian should see a tax decrease.

Also important, the new tax code prioritizes American families by doubling the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child.  It is no secret that raising a family is not cheap; so, this increase provides additional support for families struggling to pay for childcare and other necessary expenses associated with parenting.

To provide even more support for families, the bill preserves the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, as well as the Adoption Tax Credit.  Even more, the bill makes improvements to saving options for education by allowing parents to use 529 accounts to save for elementary, secondary, and higher education.

Most people will not have to wait until the next tax season to see the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  Already, many hardworking Alabamians are seeing more money in their paychecks each month.  That means your hard-earned money is ending up back in your pockets, rather than the coffers of the federal government.

Tax reform has also helped spur overall economic growth. Our bill helps to level the playing field for American businesses, creating new job opportunities and finally causing wages to rise after years of stagnation.

Many businesses have also handed out bonuses and improved benefits to their workforce. Since passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, I have had the pleasure of personally handing out bonus checks at multiple businesses in Southwest Alabama. Trust me, these workers were thrilled with the extra money.

 We aren’t stopping now either. The House passed a package of bills last week to help cut down on identity theft and to hold criminals accountable for IRS scams. It is important that these crooks be punished for trying to defraud hardworking Americans, including our nation’s senior citizens.

Equally important, the House also passed bills to make the IRS more efficient, effective, and accountable. The IRS should be a customer-friendly organization that responds to the questions and concerns of the American people.

In the past four months, we have seen tremendous growth right here in Southwest Alabama because of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.  From our small business owners handing out bonus checks to our single-income families taking home extra money in their paychecks, evidence shows that allowing Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money is a huge boom for our economy.

As we bid farewell to an old, outdated tax code, Americans can rest easy knowing they have a simpler, fairer tax code to work with in the future.

 

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Opinion | Preserving our history to protect our future

Gerald Allen

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Doing the right thing isn’t always politically expedient, but a strong leader does what’s necessary regardless of her critics. Governor Kay Ivey exemplifies this kind of no-nonsense leadership.

Last year, our state faced a difficult decision: should we listen to the politically-correct, out-of-state pundits or do what’s best for the future of Alabama?

All across Alabama, we have monuments and statues that tell our storied past. Many of these moments have affected our entire nation and shaped us to be who we are today. History doesn’t just tell us where we’ve been, it often provides signals and warnings for how to avoid repeating past errors. As George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Nearly one year ago, I sponsored the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a law that protects historic monuments and memorials in Alabama from thoughtless destruction.

More specifically, the Memorial Preservation Act prohibits the destruction or alteration of public monuments older than forty years, and established a standing committee to hear waiver requests from cities and counties, while historic artifacts under the control of museums, archives, libraries, and universities were specifically exempted from the prohibition against removal or alteration.

This law is the result of countless discussions with other legislators, historians, and interested citizens, and the intent is to preserve memorials to all of Alabama’s history – including the Civil War, the World Wars, and the Civil Rights movement – for generations to come.

We’ve seen a wave of political correctness sweep the nation, and too often, these attempts have resulted in re-writing of the American story. This politically-correct movement to strike whole periods of the past from our collective memory is divisive and unnecessary. In order to understand our complete history and where we are today, we have to tell it as it happened.

As a lawmaker, I believe it is incumbent upon us to preserve our state’s history, and I am grateful that Governor Ivey, in the face of criticism, stood up for the thoughtful preservation of Alabama’s history – the good and the bad. As father and grandfather, I am especially grateful she understood the importance of our children and grandchildren learning from the past, so they can create a better future.

Sen. Gerald Allen serves Senate District 21 which includes: Lamar County, Pickens County,and Tuscaloosa County.

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Opinion | The push for a balanced budget

Bradley Byrne

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When the 115th Congress kicked off last January, I immediately introduced a bill that I believe is fundamental to the future of our country: a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The premise of a Balanced Budget Amendment is pretty straightforward. The federal government should not be allowed to spend more than we take in, except in extraordinary circumstances like a time of war.

This isn’t some sort of far flung idea. When I served in the Alabama State Legislature, we were required to pass a balanced budget each year. It was not always easy, but it was the law. The vast majority of states have the same requirement.

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Balancing a budget is also a common occurrence for families in Alabama and across the United States. Every month, people sit around their kitchen table to figure out how to make ends meet and live within their means. Small businesses must do the same.

The federal government should have to play by the same rules.

To truly enact a Balanced Budget Amendment, we would need to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a reminder, in order to amend the Constitution, the Balanced Budget Amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states, which is 38 out of the 50 states. The only other way to amend the Constitution would be through a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the states.

Recently, the House voted on House Joint Resolution 2, proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Despite receiving the support of a majority of us in the House, the bill did not receive the two-thirds majority necessary under the Constitution.

I was deeply disappointed that most Democrats in the House opposed the Balanced Budget Amendment. Despite talking a lot about our debt, they rejected one of the best opportunities to actually restore fiscal sanity in Washington.

Throughout the course of the debate, two important topics were raised, and I wanted to briefly address each of them.

First, despite what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe, the answer to our debt issues is not to tax the American people more. We do not have a tax problem; we have a spending problem.

To be clear, the recently passed tax cuts are not to blame for our nation’s debt issues. As the Heritage Foundation recently pointed out, “tax revenue is expected to fall by only 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and spending is expected to climb by 3 percent of GDP.” Again, we have a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

Second, the most serious drivers of the national debt are on autopilot. For example, if you eliminated every penny Congress appropriated for defense spending next year, the federal government would still be projected to operate in a deficit.   So-called mandatory spending programs must be reined in, and a balanced budget amendment would finally require Congress to tackle those programs head on.

Now, I know passing a balanced budget would be hard, but I did not run for Congress because I thought the job would be easy. We were elected by our neighbors to make difficult choices and decisions.

So, while our recent effort to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment came up short, I will not let it stop me from continuing to push for a balanced budget that requires the federal government to live within our means, just like the American people.

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An answer to API

by Larry Lee Read Time: 3 min
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