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All I want for Christmas is… for every child to have a good education

Craig Ford

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By Rep. Craig Ford

When my kids were growing up, I don’t know who was more excited on Christmas morning: the kids opening their presents or me and Gwen watching them!

Ever since God gave us the original and best Christmas gift, our lord and savior Jesus Christ, giving gifts has been a part of celebrating Christmas. But as I thought about what I wanted most this Christmas, it wasn’t anything material or even something for myself.

What I want most for Christmas is to finally see every child in Alabama be given a chance at the quality education they deserve. And believe it or not, that is a gift that we could actually make happen.

Despite all the divisiveness in politics, most voters and elected officials actually agree on the problems and even agree on many of the solutions. For example, we all agree that more resources need to be given to the state’s outstanding pre-K program, as well as reading, computer and technology programs.

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And people on both sides of the aisle also agree that we need to invest more in teaching and classroom resources.

Last week, the news broke that Alabama’s cuts to K-12 education are among the slowest in the nation to catch back up to the pre-recession levels of 2008 (specifically, we are the third worst in the country, with only Arizona and Florida lagging behind us).

Most of the cuts to education have come from the classroom. There are nearly 5,500 fewer employees in our public schools today than there were in 2008. And of those, 3,000 of them are teachers – that’s a 6 percent drop!

Fewer teachers means larger class sizes, and that means less one-on-one time between students and their teachers. Larger class sizes also make it harder for teachers to control the classroom, making discipline problems (which then become distractions for the other students) more common and more difficult for teachers to prevent.

The lack of funding has also impacted our ability to provide educational programs for students who are less interested in college and more interested in getting a professional certificate or Associate’s Degree – and this has especially impacted our economy.

There is a serious gap of skilled workers in this state. Some of those skilled jobs are computer based, and I’m glad to see Gov. Ivey address those needs in her education plan. But there is also a need for men and women with certifications in the various trades, and those jobs can pay very well.

I would like to see every public school system have pre-apprenticeship programs, or at least some sort of introductory classes, into trades like brick masonry, building construction technology, carpentry, welding, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning, and plumbing, among others.

While it is important for us to always be improving our college prep classes and looking for options (such as a lottery) that can help fund scholarships to two-year and four-year colleges and universities, we also have to remember that 75 percent of people in Alabama do not have a college degree, and 50 percent never attended college at all.

Any educational goals we set have to keep that reality in mind and make sure that every child who graduates from an Alabama public school is ready for the next step, whether that step is a college degree or a professional certification.

What we don’t need to do is take more money out of the already underfunded school system and use it to pay for charter schools and scholarships to private schools. We have seen in other states that charter schools have typically performed no better than traditional public schools, and they have been hotbeds for fraud, waste, abuse and corruption.

Likewise, the Alabama Accountability Act, which was sold to the public as a way to help “kids trapped in failing schools because of their zip code,” in reality has mostly gone to kids who were not in failing schools, and many who were already attending private schools (And nearly 40% of the private schools receiving scholarship students are not even accredited!).

But even if the Accountability Act worked exactly as it was originally meant to, and every kid who received one of these scholarships ended up getting a better education, it would still only be helping some of the kids who need help. The majority would still be left in the failing schools.

Though there are disagreements about charter schools and the Accountability Act, there is still plenty that everyone agrees on. If we work together on those things, then we can make my Christmas wish come true.

Rep. Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

 

Rep. Craig Ford is an Independent who represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | What is Tax Reform 2.0?

Bradley Byrne

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Since Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last year, the American economy is booming, and Alabama families have more money in their pockets. By lowering taxes and simplifying the tax code, we have unlocked our economic potential and made life better for hardworking Americans.

The economic numbers speak for themselves: higher wages, lower unemployment, more jobs, bigger paychecks, employee bonuses, and much more. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the average family in Southwest Alabama will see their tax bill decrease by $2,187 a year.

The good news is that we aren’t stopping here. This week, the House is expected to vote on additional changes and improvements to the tax code, something we are calling Tax Reform 2.0. Working with President Trump, we will continue to make the tax code even fairer and more competitive.

Tax Reform 2.0 includes three major pieces. Here’s a quick overview.

First, we want to make the tax cuts for small businesses and middle-class families permanent. Due to Democrat obstruction and arcane rules in the Senate, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was only able to lower taxes for ten years. Under Tax Reform 2.0, we will make the tax cuts permanent.

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The non-partisan Tax Foundation found that making the middle-class and small business tax cuts permanent will create 1.5 million new jobs and increase gross domestic product (GDP) by 2.2%. This further expands our economy and makes life even better for families and small businesses.

Making these changes permanent, will also lock-in the simpler tax filing process. As you may remember, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act simplified the tax code to the point where many Americans are now able to complete their taxes on a postcard-style form. A Tax Foundation study shows that this will save Americans between $3.1 to $5.4 billion in compliance costs.

Instead of needing an accountant to navigate the complicated code, most Americans will be able to file on their own.

Second, Tax Reform 2.0 promotes family savings and helps more Americans plan for retirement. Currently, too many Americans have been unable to save for retirement or put money aside to cover unforeseen emergencies.

We want to help small businesses provide retirement plans to their workers by allowing small businesses to join together to create a 401(k) plan more affordably and by giving employers more time to put new retirement plans in place. Just as important, we will help more workers participate in retirement plans by exempting small retirement accounts from mandatory payouts and by eliminating the age limit on IRA contributions.

We don’t stop there. Tax Reform 2.0 will create and expand additional programs to help Americans save. For example, our plan creates a new savings account to offer a fully flexible savings tool that families can use at any time right for them, expands 529 education savings accounts, and creates a new baby savings program to help with the birth of a new child or an adoption.

Finally, Tax Reform 2.0 will help grow the economy by promoting start-up businesses and spurring innovation. We do this by allowing new businesses to write off more of their initial start-up costs and by making it easier for start-ups to bring in new investors. America must lead the way on innovation.

As you can tell, Tax Reform 2.0 builds upon our efforts in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to ensure the American economy remains strong. We do that by allowing Americans to keep more of their hard-earned money in their pockets. I fundamentally believe our country is the strongest when money is with the people instead of the government.

 

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Opinion | Alabama Black Belt Adventures celebrates long, successful relationship with Raycom Media

Pam Swanner

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For almost a decade, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA) has worked to share the good news about outdoor tourism – the most profitable and attractive industry in a historically economically challenged region of our state.

ALBBAA was formed in 2009 to promote outdoor recreation like hunting and fishing, as well as its rich history and many culinary experiences. The mission: to bring tourists into the Black Belt from all over the country – and world – to visit, spend money and enjoy the many opportunities this region has to offer. A rising tide lifts all ships.   

Our constant partner in this effort has been Raycom Media under the leadership of Dr. David Bronner. Raycom has provided more than $8 million in advertising through its network of television stations in 65 markets and more than 100 CNHI newspapers across the nation.

Thanks to television advertisements aired on stations in 20 states – plus display ads in many local newspapers – Alabama’s Black Belt businesses have received thousands of inquiries about hunting, fishing and other outdoor adventure services. That interest piqued by Raycom and CNHI has paid off in tourism dollars.

According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s 2017 report, outdoor recreation accounted for $14 billion in consumer spending in Alabama. Of that, at least $4.87 billion was spent in Black Belt counties. Our state reaped the benefits of outdoor recreation spending in the collection of $857 million in state and local tax revenue. Outdoor recreation generates 135,000 direct jobs in Alabama and $3.9 billion in wages and salaries.

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Alabama’s Black Belt region, as defined by ALBBAA, is made up of 23 counties that span the south-central section of the state from Mississippi to Georgia. The region makes up parts of four of Alabama’s seven congressional districts. As of the 2010 census, just over 500,000 residents – of a total Alabama population of 4.78 million – live in the Black Belt.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association promotes these counties as part of the Black Belt: Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lee, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Russell, Sumter, Tuscaloosa and Wilcox.

For decades, Alabama’s Black Belt has lagged economically because of many factors, including a small population base and often struggling public school systems. For the most part, Black Belt counties have not attracted many large industries or they have abandoned the region during times of national economic distress.

The partnership between ALBBAA and Raycom has been successful, in part, because the leaders of both organizations recognized the promise of outdoors tourism for boosting the economy of the Black Belt. Chilly winter mornings with bird dogs flushing quail and warm spring days on a riverbank in the Black Belt inspired Thomas A. Harris to start the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association. With few traditional industries in the area, Harris decided promoting outdoor adventures in his home region could “be” an industry. Discussions with Dr. Bronner, whose expertise with recreational tourism was already well known because of the wildly successful Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail spanning the state, resulted in support from Raycom and CNHI.

The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association uses a multifaceted approach to draw tourists to the area. The organization’s website (alabamablackbeltadventures.org) offers a one-stop source for hunters, anglers and other outdoor adventure-seekers looking for places to fulfill their dreams of a weekend in a deer stand with big bucks on the prowl or a week working to draw a big gobbler into range. We also visit outdoors trade shows throughout the country promoting the region and making friends from Houston to the Carolinas and all points in between, including the recent Buckmasters Expo in Montgomery.

Our website currently promotes 54 lodges and outfitters in the Black Belt. The site also provides information and links to public land available for hunting and fishing. Golfers can find information on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses in the Black Belt. Civic-minded vacationers can plan their tour of historic Civil Rights sites and find fun activities to do outdoors all across the state.

We also share the Black Belt’s stories with professional outdoors writers, travel bloggers and television producers on a national level who visit to experience the great hunting, fishing and heritage sites for themselves. Alabama writers and producers are also involved in telling the story. We have worked with journalists from outlets all over the state and country publishing items that are sure to spark interest in visiting the Black Belt.

In 2019, the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association celebrates its 10th anniversary. Thanks to the advice and cooperation of many friends, such as Dr. Bronner, our association has made sure that this region of our state is not a secret unknown to the thousands of outdoorsmen and women who now enjoy spending their time – and money – in the Black Belt. The Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association has succeeded in giving a shot in the arm to our economy.

Pam Swanner is the director of the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association, a not-for-profit organization committed to promoting and enhancing outdoor recreation and tourism opportunities in the 23 counties that make up the Black Belt in a manner that provides economic and ecological benefits to the region and its citizens. Visit www.alabamablackbeltadventures.org for more information.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | National Hunting and Fishing Day: Celebrating Alabama’s sportsmen and women

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh

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Saturday, September 22, is our nation’s 46th annual National Hunting and Fishing Day. As Co-Chair of the Alabama Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus and as a member of the 48-state National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, I am proud to take time to celebrate the time-honored traditions of hunting and angling. I am also pleased to recognize the historical and ongoing contributions of our state’s original conservationists — sportsmen and sportswomen.

Alabama hunters and anglers are the primary source of conservation funding for the Yellowhammer State. Through the purchase of licenses, tags, and by paying self-imposed excise taxes on firearms, ammunition, archery equipment, fishing tackle, motorboat fuel, and other equipment, hunters and anglers drive conservation funding in Alabama and the United States, through the American System of Conservation Funding, a “user pays public benefits” System. Last year alone, this System, combined with hunting and fishing license sales, contributed over $47 million to fund state conservation efforts administered through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). All Alabamians benefit from these funds through improved access to public lands, public shooting ranges, improved soil and water quality, habitat restoration, fish and wildlife research, private and public habitat management, hunter education, boat access area construction and many other DCNR projects funded through this System.

Hunting and angling are also a significant economic driver for our state. Alabama sportsmen and women spend roughly $2 billion per year on their outdoor pursuits, supporting nearly 40,000 jobs in the state and contributing over $165 million in state and local taxes.

Hunting produces countless benefits for our state’s conservation funding and economy, therefore it is important that Alabama sportsmen and women invest time and effort to encourage future participation by the next generation in these time-honored traditions. This effort to increase hunter participation is called recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) and over 450 individual R3 programs nationwide have had regional success. R3 programs, as well as many others, need your support and it’s going to take the involvement of every Alabama hunter, regardless of age, to ensure the future of the outdoor pursuits we celebrate on National Hunting and Fishing Day. Our hunting and angling heritage should not be taken for granted, and getting the next generation of Alabama’s sportsmen and women involved in the outdoors will help ensure the conservation of our abundant natural resources for the future.

More information on National Hunting and Fishing Day is available at www.NHFDay.org or on the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation website at www.congressionalsportsmen.org/policies/state/national-hunting-and-fishing-day

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Del Marsh, a Republican from Anniston, is the President Pro Tem of the Alabama State Senate.

 

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Opinion | Setting our funding priorities

Bradley Byrne

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I know this may be hard for you to believe, but there was a major, bipartisan victory in Congress last week that failed to gain any of the attention it deserved. I want to highlight some of the progress we made last week and explain why it should matter to those of us back in Alabama.

Last week, both the House and the Senate passed a funding bill that covered three very important parts of our government: military construction and veterans services, energy and water development, and Legislative Branch operations.

I am pleased to see us passing targeted funding bills instead of waiting until the last minute to pass a massive omnibus funding bill. Over the last few years, the House has been able to pass funding bills only to see the process stall out in the Senate.

Thankfully, since Alabama Senator Richard Shelby became Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the process has actually been moving again in the Senate. This has allowed us to focus on passing the smaller funding packages that are targeted toward our priorities.

So why is this funding bill important? Obviously funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is important for our state given the large number of veterans that call Alabama home. The bill includes the largest dollar amount in funding for the VA in our nation’s history. This means the VA will have the resources necessary to take care of our veterans, hire high-quality employees, and cut back on the claims backlog.

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There have been serious issues at the VA over the last few years, so I am pleased the funding bill dedicates more for the VA inspector general. This money will allow for stronger accountability at the VA as we work to make sure no veteran is left behind.

The bill also includes funding for military construction programs in Alabama and across the country. As we work to rebuild our nation’s military, we must not forget about our military infrastructure. This funding includes money set aside for military housing programs. If we are to retain the best and brightest in our military, we need to ensure they have first class facilities.

Next, the funding bill sets aside funding for the Army Corps of Engineers. Those of us in Southwest Alabama know the important work the Corps does on a daily basis to keep our waterways open and navigable. This is important to those of us who like to spend time on the water for recreational purposes, but it is especially important for our economy since so much of our commerce is conducted on waterways.

Just consider the Port of Mobile and the important commerce that goes in and out of that Port each day. Under this funding bill, the Corps will receive $7 billion for navigation projects, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, and to help with flood prevention and restoration projects. This money is very important for our country, but especially important for our state.

Finally, the bill funds our nation’s nuclear security strategy by dedicating money to support our nation’s nuclear weapons and the Navy’s nuclear reactors. The bill sets aside money to ensure nuclear weapons do not fall into the wrong hands and funding to prevent against cyberattacks. Our national security must always be the top priority.

As you can see, this commonsense government funding bill is good for our country and Alabama.  I was pleased to see it pass the House on a strong vote of 377 to 20, and I hope we can keep up the positive momentum to continue getting the job done for the American people.

 

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All I want for Christmas is… for every child to have a good education

by Craig Ford Read Time: 4 min
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