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Opinion | Fighting for rural America

Bradley Byrne

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Bradley Byrne

By U.S Rep. Bradley Byrne

Approximately 46 million people call rural America home, according to information from the Department of Agriculture. These rural communities make up the backbone of our state and play a substantial role in the overall American economy.

Unfortunately, rural communities are facing some serious challenges. For the first time on record, the rural population in our country is shrinking. Job growth since 2011 has been below that of urban areas, and the economic recovery has been much slower for rural areas.

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There are several reasons for the challenges facing our rural communities, but I am committed to working with my colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump to make life better for those in rural America.

Just last week, President Trump became the first sitting U.S. president since 1992 to address the American Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau serves as a leading voice for our nation’s rural communities and farmers.

Agriculture is the top industry in rural America, and it remains the number one industry in Alabama. In his speech, President Trump declared that “our farmers deserve a government that serves their interest and empowers them to do the hard work that they love to do so much.”

This year, Congress will need to pass a new Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is critical because it sets the federal policies that govern our nation’s farmers. As a strong champion for agriculture, I have already started working with Alabama’s farmers to ensure the bill is good for them and our rural communities.

Farming is unlike most other industries and dependent on so many external factors, like weather, that are outside the control of the farmers. It is important farmers have the certainty they need to provide the American people with a safe and reliable food source.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the major tax reform legislation that passed in December, includes several provisions that will help farmers in rural America. In addition to lowering individual tax rates, the bill allows farmers to deduct 100 percent of the cost of new equipment in the year you make the investment. Farming is a very capital-intensive industry, so this is a real victory for farmers.

Another significant issue facing our rural communities is a lack of broadband access. According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of rural Americans lack sufficient broadband access. Without access to broadband and internet, individuals struggle to keep up in an economy that is increasingly dependent on technology.

In an effort to expand broadband access, President Trump recently signed two Presidential Orders to help get faster and better internet coverage to rural America. The goal is to cut back on some of the government regulations and processes that make it harder to expand broadband access while also increasing the overall investment from the Department of Agriculture.

One other key to boosting rural America is to focus more on career and technical education programs to ensure individuals have the skills that they need to excel in today’s economy. By putting more money toward these workforce training programs, I believe we can help revitalize rural America and increase access to high-paying jobs.

I firmly believe the investment in these programs is well worth it in the long run because it helps keep people off government welfare programs, improves the overall economy and makes the individual’s life better.

These are just a handful of ways we can help restore rural America and revitalize our rural communities. Our nation is strongest when rural America is strong, and I am committed to that fight.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Let’s get our facts straight on the bridge

Tony Kennon and Robert Craft

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It’s always amazing how some people can misinterpret the facts. A case in point is the recent controversy over the proposed coastal bridge in Baldwin County. It’s hard for us to comprehend the opposition because we live here.

Opponents have deemed it a “bridge to nowhere,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth, because the Gulf Coast is Alabama’s largest economic engine. There isn’t a place in Alabama that contributes more tourism revenue than the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Check our state budgets for the revenue we contribute. Check the studies performed to assess our economic impact to the state. This new bridge is headed to the future of our state.

The fact is, we are at capacity in our transportation system with the exception of a toll-paying option for a privately-owned, unregulated bridge many motorists aren’t willing to choose. Drivers will approach that toll bridge, but then cut across to Highway 59. That was fine when we had 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a day, but now those numbers are increasing at an overwhelming rate. Today, traffic is backing up through Foley toward Summerdale putting traffic at a standstill during peak seasons.

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This can have a damaging impact on state revenue because, not only does congested traffic make our visitors less likely to return, but we can’t grow our capacity when the transportation infrastructure won’t handle the load. Their “bridge to nowhere” is our bridge to the future.

Those few who oppose it say there haven’t been enough studies and that it hasn’t been proven to be in the public interest. We would invite anyone with any concern to take a ride to our beaches. They are welcome to study the parking lot called Highway 59. Approaching the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, they will witness the traffic bottleneck caused by a bridge which is woefully over capacity.

Building a bridge wasn’t our first option. There was an attempt to purchase the existing toll bridge. But, why would we want to pay more for a bridge than we could build a new one ourselves?

And speaking of the bridge owners, let’s get down to who’s really opposing this project. Outside of a handful of local residents, the real opposition comes from the toll bridge company. After previous liquidation and bond actions, their investors want to get their money back. They have launched an ambitious, but misleading, campaign to stop the project so they can sell their bridge for hundreds of millions in taxpayer money.

These bridge owners want to attack this project as not being in the public interest. Let’s be honest with ourselves, who really thinks the bridge owners have the public interest at heart? Furthermore, when the public drives on Highway 59 or the proposed new coastal bridge, that is without a doubt a public interest.

As elected mayors, we’ve both served our communities for over a decade. And as such, we know what is in the public interest. There is no need for additional studies. We’ve listened to the travelers and our residents who must navigate our congested roads. We realize there is a desperate need for infrastructure expansion to move the growing traffic to and from the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Doing so will improve the daily lives of our local citizens and entice our guests to return for years to come. And, it will create more and more revenue for the State of Alabama.

It’s time to put the wishes of the driving public first. And, it’s time to look after the interests and needs of those who live on the Gulf Coast and the millions who visit here every year.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Education is key to Alabama’s future

Rusty Glover

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As a former high school educator my time in the classroom gave me many valuable life lessons. Not a single year passed where I did not see the effects that cuts had on our students, their achievements, and even their parents.

While we are beginning to see an economic renaissance nationally, the figures from the latest hard data in 2016 show just how slow the recovery was for many people. In my own area of Southwest Alabama, the most recent figures show an underemployment rate of 23.7% – nearly 1 in 4 people are looking for better jobs and are willing to commute longer distances for those jobs.

Yet, of the five fastest growing occupations in the same area – four of the occupations can either be taught or outright require a community or technical college training.

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Education will be part of the next legislative session. In a time when it seems everything is in flux – education and its impact on our communities remains a constant.

In a 2017 article, it was reported that of 67 counties – 18 had either local school systems or colleges as the county’s largest employer. It should be noted, that of the top eight counties for population – the largest employer in six of them are education institutions or school systems.

However, what is our plan? I never taught without planning my own lessons. How then can we effectively seize our future without a plan?

What I propose is to get back to the basics. Greater localized control, while working with every school system in the state to reduce classroom sizes can help our children quickly.

For those in high schools, I pledge to work and develop more streamlined pathways to community and technical college training. Increasing access to broadband at the same time will allow students across the state to take advantage of our higher education resources in a quick, thorough, and efficient fashion.

This can deliver to Alabama both the higher personal incomes and long term tax base our state needs – without raising personal taxes.

As your Lieutenant Governor, I would bring the perspective of a teacher – one who understands what cuts to education looks like at the dinner table and who understands the importance of education to our local communities.

As a native of Mobile, Glover has served in the Alabama Legislature for 16 years as a member of Alabama House of Representatives (2002-2006) and Senate (2006-present). Glover is a graduate of B.C. Rain High School, Faulkner State Community College and the University of South Alabama. He retired after 25 years of teaching from Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, where he lives with his wife, Connie. Together they have two daughters, Kellie and Katie; a son-in-law, John McGraw; and a new grandson, Beau Monroe McGraw. He is a member of Wilmer Baptist Church in Wilmer, AL. Visit rustyglover.com to learn more. 

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Opinion | Strengthening our hand with Iran

Martha Roby

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President Trump recently announced he will withdraw the United States from the Iran Nuclear Agreement. From the very beginning, I said this was a flawed, weak deal that serves the interests of bad actors in Iran at the expense of our own. I support the Trump Administration’s efforts to ensure that we truly end Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

After all, wasn’t that the point of this agreement in the first place? Under the deal, the Iranian regime was to dismantle their nuclear weapons program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Needless to say, this didn’t work out, and that’s largely because the Obama Administration failed to uphold the basic tenets they laid out for this agreement from the start.

For example, when the previous Administration was negotiating this agreement more than three years ago, they originally said the United States would perform inspections on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities that could occur anywhere, at any time, to ensure that this rogue regime wouldn’t be able to quietly continue their efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. In reality, the Iranians ended up having up to 24 days’ notice in many cases before inspections were allowed to occur. Even then, Americans were prohibited from unilaterally performing them. This is just one example of the many ways the Iran deal fell far short of accomplishing what the Obama Administration promised Congress and the American people.

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Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism, and that hasn’t changed over the last three years. While actively supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, the nation has been part of horrific terrorism in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The regime has also been developing long-range ballistic missiles. Their ballistic missiles program threatens Israel, our allies in the region, and even U.S. forces.

It is no secret that Iran has not stopped its mission to obtain a nuclear weapon, and Israeli intelligence actually proved Iran deceived negotiators from the outset by covering up their nuclear weapons program prior to signing the agreement in 2015. So now, the regime has the best of both worlds: relief from economic sanctions and the freedom to continue their nuclear weapons program without consequence.

For starters, I believe it is imperative that we reinstate the economic sanctions against Iran that were in place prior to the Obama-era nuclear agreement. In the House, I have supported policies like this that strengthen our hand towards Iran, including the Iran Sanctions Extension Act, which Congress passed in 2016 to reauthorize for ten years the economic penalties used by the United States to deter Iran from furthering developing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorism.

Clearly, there is great room for improvement in our dealings with this rogue nation. As I have said many times before, the Obama Administration’s behavior towards Iran was truly baffling, and I am glad that we have now reversed course. I am hopeful that the Trump Administration can strengthen our hand with Iran after eight years of it being severely weakened. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that Iran’s nuclear weapons program, support for terrorist organizations, and development of ballistic missiles pose a direct threat to the United States and our allies. We must take this very seriously throughout future negotiations with this regime. To do otherwise compromises our own national security.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

 

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Opinion | Fighting for rural America

by Bradley Byrne Read Time: 3 min
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