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State Senate votes down term limits for state lawmakers

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama State Senate on Wednesday voted down a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have imposed term limits on Alabama state legislators.

Senate Bill 127 was sponsored by Senator Bill Hightower, R-Mobile.

Under SB127 legislators would have been limited to just three 4 year terms in both the Alabama House of Representatives and Alabama Senate.

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Polls indicate that most Americans support term limits; however, most incumbents win their party primaries even after decades in office.

Hightower has been a vocal proponent of term limits in his time in the Alabama Senate. Hightower is a 2018 Republican candidate for governor and he has made term limits part of his campaign.

Most statewide constitutional offices are already term-limited but the Legislature is not.  Congressional term limits are very popular polls, but have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Efforts to advance a congressional term limits measure in the Congress have been unsuccessful.  A 2013 Gallup poll showed 75 percent of Americans supportive of congressional term limits with only 21 percent opposed.

“We will not stop until we end the old boys’ network that is stopping real change!” Hightower said. “We will never change Montgomery if we continue to elect the same insiders, and that is why I am running for Governor, to shake up the establishment and bring positive change to Alabama.  As Governor, we will continue to push for term limits and many other reforms that the career politicians know will end their grip on power.”

The average tenure of those who opposed Hightower’s legislation was 12.3 years, more than the 12-year limit included in SB 127. Five of the Senators who opposed SB 127 have served over 20 years in the Alabama State Senate.

The longest-serving legislator is Rules Committee Chairman Senator James Waggoner, R-Vestavia. Waggoner served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1966 to 1983, and then ran for Congress unsuccessfully. Waggoner has served in the State Senate since 1990 and is seeking another term this year. State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, was first elected in 1974. Rep. Holmes is also seeking another term in office.

SB127 was rejected on a 9-15 vote.  While this issue has been introduced several times, this was the first time that it actually received a vote on the floor by the Legislature.

If actually passed, SB127 would still have had to be on the ballot to be voted on by the people.

Critics of term limits suggest that Legislatures will be adversely affected without members have the institutional knowledge that a member gets by being in the same legislative body for decades.

The 2018 major party primaries are on June 5.

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Annual reminder: Alabama is last in state, local tax collection

Chip Brownlee

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Here’s an annual reminder for you as you decompress from filing your tax returns: Alabama’s state and local governments are collecting less in state and local taxes than any other state in the United States.

Good right? Maybe. Maybe not.

As Tax Day — and an extended deadline caused by web portal outages — pass, 2018 may mark another year when Alabama pulls in less money per capita to operate its state services than any other place in America.

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Even less than Mississippi.

Alabama has been behind in tax collection since the early 1990s, according to the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, which has produced an analysis of Alabama’s tax revenues since 1988.

The low taxes are often the largest catalyst for perpetual budget crises in Montgomery and the biggest bump in the road as lawmakers try to balance the two state budgets, a constitutionally mandated requirement.

Budgeting over the last two years in Alabama has been a lot smoother because the state has had billions on hand from a settlement with BP Oil over the 2011 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but as we head into 2019, Alabama is expected to face another dramatic budget shortfall.

The last major shortfall in 2015 led to an increase of some taxes, including the cigarette tax and taxes on nursing home beds — but property and income taxes haven’t moved much in years.

While Alabamians are some of the most averse to taxes, the meager tax collections provide a strained pool of money not just for the finance of often unpopular government programs but also popular public services like schools, roads, courts, health care and public safety.

PARCA conducted the analysis of Alabama’s tax revenues by relying on the U.S. Census Bureau and its annual survey of state and local governments across the country.

State and local spending are considered together because vary in how they decide to divide up the taxation and collection responsibilities for funding public services and government.

Alabama has the lowest property taxes, both state and local, in the country, ranking 50th of the states. Alabama’s property taxes fund education, state and county general funds and county road and bridge funds.

Alabama and its local governments have developed a reliance on the sales tax and already has some of the highest sales tax rates in the country. And unlike other states, our sales tax applies to groceries and medications.

Sales taxes are often considered regressive because they more heavily affect low-income individuals than high-income individuals.

Despite those high sales tax rates and their effect on the cost of groceries and medication, Alabama’s per capita state and local sales tax collections rank 30th among the 50 states because Alabama’s sales taxes are not as productive.

That, according to PARCA, is because of the smaller tax base of economic activity and because Alabama’s sales tax is narrow compared to most states.

Alabama sales tax applies to almost all sales of goods, but it does not apply the tax to most kinds of business, professional, computer, personal or repair services. And in recent years, the economy has moved more toward the consumption of those services, lessening the effectiveness of Alabama’s sales tax.

In 2015, the last year PARCA performed its analysis, state and local governments collected a total of $15 billion in taxes or $3,144 per resident. Across the U.S., the media per capita value for state and local taxes was more than $1,230 higher at $4,379.

If Alabama collected taxes at a per capita rate equivalent to the national median, the state would have $6 billion more to spend on public services like building and maintaining roads, providing police and fire protection and operating civil and criminal courts — not to mention schools, colleges, libraries and parks, according to PARCA.

Even if national comparisons aren’t inviting, Alabama even stands out among other states in the South when it comes to revenue.

South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana all collected significantly more, per capita, than Alabama. If Alabama collected taxes at the same rate as Georgia, for example, the state would have about $1.8 billion more in tax revenue. If it collected the same amount of revenue as Louisiana, it would have $3.9 billion more.

(via Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama)

Alabama has lower tax revenue than other states primarily because of lower tax rates, but a lower-than-average base of wealth also puts the state behind, PARCA said.

(via Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama)

Tennessee and Florida collected less taxes as a percent of personal income — largely because those states don’t collect income taxes — than Alabama. But their higher base of wealth puts them at an advantage, and the states pursue other funding sources — like higher property taxes — to make up for lower income tax revenues.

Alabama’s collections amount to about 8.2 percent of total personal income of state residents. In Mississippi, total personal income is lower than Alabama, but that state’s collections amounted to 10.6 percent of total personal income.

(via Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama)

Because of their greater effort at tax collection, the states have more money to spend per capita than Alabama.

A full analysis of Alabama’s tax system can be found here.

 

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GOP gubernatorial candidates hold debate in Birmingham

Brandon Moseley

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From Left to Right: Scott Dawson, Tommy Battle and Sen. Bill Hightower.

Wednesday, Scott Dawson, Bill Hightower and Tommy Battle were on stage at the historic Lyric Theatre in Birmingham for the Republican candidates debate sponsored by AL.com’s Reckon and ABC33/40. Gov. Kay Ivey declined to participate in the media event. An empty podium with Ivey’s name was placed on stage for her anyway.

Roy Johnson served as moderate while Lauren Walsh, Cameron Smith, and John Archibald served as the journalist panel asking the questions.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said of himself, “I am a family man and a businessman.” Battle said that he became Mayor ten years ago and education, roads and bridges, and recruiting good paying jobs were the issues, Now Huntsville is the seventh best city to live in America. I want to do the same for the state,

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Birmingham-area evangelist Scott Dawson said that he grew up in Ensley, started working at 14, got a job at 16 and went into ministry.

“We love our state, but we have lost faith in our leaders in Montgomery,” Dawson said. “You can live days without food but you can’t carry on without hope and we have lost hope in our leaders.”

State Senator Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, said that he is involved in a number of small businesses in the Mobile area.

ABC 33/40’s top political correspondent Lauren Walsh asked: Alabama passed legislation making it illegal for high school teachers to have sex with students but that law’s constitutionality is being challenged in the courts arguing that is too broad and violates teachers’ rights. Since the age of consent in Alabama is 16, teachers should have the same rights to have sex with a 16 year or older student as any other adult in the state has. If the court overturns the law, would you support legislation raising the age of consent?

Battle said that we have to look at it in context.

“There is a breakdown in morality across our country,” Dawson said. Dawson said that there were a lot of hypotheticals in the question but that he would support raising the age of consent if the court strikes the law down banning teacher-student sex.

Hightower said that he opposed any lowering of the age of consent.

“You don’t allow it in a company,” Hightower said. “I have not studied the ramifications of that. I have talked to many people across Alabama who told me that they were sexually abused by the teachers and nothing is done. They should not be allowed to come back and teach.”

“This is such a serious issue,” Dawson said.

Many of the questions asked were about former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Hightower was asked about a bill he sponsored that would have changed the law on how judges are removed to make Alabama like the federal government and for non-judicial constitutional offices where impeachment is done by the Senate and not by the Supreme Court.

“The judicial inquiry commission is not working right,” Hightower said. “It was not a fair trial. Let’s have impeachment of the judicial offices just like all the other constitutional offices. I don’t think the process was right. I did not like how the process was handled. It was a very one-sided argument. Judge Moore is not the only person who has a problem with the JIC.”

Battle disagreed. “I don’t want the legislature making political decisions about a judicial candidate.”

Dawson said, “I think he (Judge Moore) was right. I think he was railroaded.”

The panel demanded to know who the candidates voted for in the Senate election.

Battle said, “I supported the Republican candidate.”

“I did vote for Roy Moore,” Dawson said.

“I couldn’t vote for the other candidate,” Hightower said.

They were asked if they believed the women who alleged that Moore had underage relationships with them. (Actually, only Leigh Corfman alleges that she was below the age of consent when she dated Moore, but the panel just used “underage” for all of the accusers).

Dawson said that the allegations were troubling but that he talked with Moore’s pastor for the last forty years and he lived an upstanding life.

Hightower said that he was confident that the U.S. Senate could have determined what happened had it come to them.

The candidates were asked if they had ever challenged authority in their lives.

Dawson said that in his ministry he has had to sit down with other minister and lay the facts in front of them that they have fallen.

Battle said, “We have got to have ethics. We have got to have integrity and got to have honesty.” Three times as Mayor I have sent in ethics reports on other officials and each time I called the person and told them what I was doing and why.

The candidates were asked about HB317, which exempts economic developers from the ethics law.

Hightower defended his vote in favor of the bill in the senate.

“Fake news condemned this bill,” Hightower said. “When the Secretary of Commerce comes to me and says that we will lose projects without this bill passing, what do you expect me to do?”

Hightowers said that if site selectors had to register like lobbyists, “Toyota wouldn’t have come. Mercedes wouldn’t have come. I did not like the bill as it came to the Senate; but in ten months we will write a more robust ethics bill.”

Battle said, “I did not need HB317 to lure 24,000 jobs,” to Huntsville.

Battle said that he supports protecting site selectors, but he was opposed to the section in HB317 allowing economic developers to work for contingency fees

“Ethics bills are not written to protect lobbyists but to protect the people of Alabama,” Dawson said. “Why not wait and get it right, especially in the wake of yet another indictment.”

“I was disappointed that we adjourned without addressing ethics reform,” Hightower said.

The candidates were asked about school security.

Battle said that in Huntsville, “We hardened the site,” where there is only one place to come in or out have to be buzzed in and buzzed out and put a police officer in every school.

“You have to protect the kids,” Dawson said. “I am not opposed to arming our teacher, but I don’t want it to be the wild wild west.” “We need to pay a stipend to those teachers who are protecting our students on the front lines.”

Hightower said, “We know who the problem kids are. In Mobile 1,700 families generate about 78 percent of the crime.”

Walsh asked the candidates about entering into an agreement with the Poarch Creek Indians to allow casino style gambling at their facilities in exchange for taxes on the revenues.

Battle said, “That is not a financial tool I would jump into quickly.”

Dawson said if you legislate stuff just to raise money all you will do is keep legalizing more stuff to raise more money. “It is not a good economic decision for Alabama.”

The candidates were asked if they support raising the gas taxes to fund more infrastructure.

Battle said that we need to have more revenue to make infrastructure improvements and could be in favor of that but said that was just one option.

“Roads and bridges have to be addressed,” Hightower said. “We also have to address waterways and broad band. The bridge in Mobile is going to be a toll road. We already have money.”

Hightower said that we need to remove earmarks and re-prioritize money and should consider privatizing the Alabama Department of Transportation.

“Right now we are transferring $65 million out of ALDOT,” Hightower said.

Dawson said that there is a rumor that Kay Ivey would call a special session after the Republican primary to raise fuel taxes for infrastructure.

Hightower said, “I have heard that. It is no rumor that if certain people are elected they will raise taxes.”

Dawson said that Kay Ivey said that she would end task forces but has since created a school safety task force and is about to form an opioid task force. “You have to wonder if we have a flip flop governor.”

Battle said, “There is probably a consortium running the government. She is on jets going here and there passing out more checks than the publishers clearing house folks. When do you have time to govern?”

Dawson said, “She is coach because we fired our previous head coach and we have an interim coach while we look for a head coach that can win a national championship.”

Hightower said, “She is no Nick Saban,”

The candidates were asked about protecting Confederate monuments.

Dawson said, “I am going to protect the monuments.”

Hightower said that nobody is talking about taking down Auschwitz..

Battle said that when he was in Maine he saw memorials to Civil War veterans like we have, except they were to Union veterans.

The candidates were asked about legalizing marijuana.

Hightower said that we are already fighting opioids.

Dawson said, “I don’t care if it did bring money into this state, I am not going to support it.”

The Republican primary is on June 5.

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Alabama’s First Class Pre-K named America’s highest quality program 12th year in a row

Brandon Moseley

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Stock Photo

Wednesday, April 18 Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey celebrated the announcement that for the 12th year in a row, Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program has been named as one of the nation’s highest quality state-funded pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds.

This report was released by the National Institute for Early Education Research in its 2017 State of Preschool Yearbook.

“The most important part of a child’s learning journey is a solid educational foundation,” Ivey said. “Providing a high-quality education for all Alabamians, at every stage of life, is my goal. For the 12th consecutive year, Alabama is a national leader in this arena. I am proud of the work of our Pre-K programs and I am thankful for the dedication of Secretary Ross in leading this program.”

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Secretary of Early Childhood Education Jeanna Ross has overseen the largest expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program while maintaining the program’s nationally recognized quality standards.

“As Alabama continues to expand access to high-quality, voluntary Pre-K for four-year-olds, the Department is committed to ensuring the highest quality early learning experiences – without compromise,” Sec. Ross said.

In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Federal Head Start program. A few years after the program began a study by Daniel Patrick Moynihan (before he became a Democratic Senator) found that while the program got children ready for school than they were before the program, whatever advantage the kids in the program had in the first grade diminished entirely by the end of fourth grade and there was little to any longterm benefit from the program at all.

The federal government funded it anyway because no elected official wanted to be seen as mean to poor children. Despite $billions spent on Headstart the academic performance gap between affluent and poor children has not diminished noticeably in the decades since then.

Pre-K proponents argue that is not the case with their program. They point to a recent study by PARCA and UAB found that measured third graders who had participated in the program. They found that there were measurable benefits for poor children that had gone through the program.

According to the researchers, the First Class Pre-K program narrowed the gap in reading proficiency by 28 percent for all children in poverty, 32 percent for White children in poverty, 31 percent for Hispanic children in poverty, and 26 percent for Black children in poverty. The researchers claimed that the program narrowed the gap in math proficiency by 57 percent for all children in poverty, 71 percent for Hispanic children in poverty, and 37 percent for Black children in poverty.

Specifically, the researchers claimed that the program increased reading proficiency for children in poverty by 12 percent overall, 25 percent for Hispanic children in poverty, 23 percent for Black children in poverty and 3 percent for White children in poverty.

The Researchers claimed that there was increased math proficiency for children in poverty by 13 percent overall, 17 percent for Hispanic children in poverty, 16 percent for Black children in poverty, and 10 percent for White children in poverty.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance welcomed the good news.

“NIEER’s endorsement of the state’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program is another sign that the investments state leaders have made in early childhood education will have a strong return,” said Allison Muhlendorf, the executive director of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance. “However, being number one in the nation for quality should be only half of the state’s goal. State leaders should also strive to also be number one in access for four-year-olds.”

In the 2016-2017 school year, approximately 14,688 4-year-olds were enrolled in a First Class Pre-K classroom. State leaders have since grown the program to nearly 17,000 4-year-olds.

Ivey has recently signed into law an additional $18.5 million expansion for next year that, combined with Alabama’s four-year federal Preschool Development Grant, will further increase the size of the program.

This year, NIEER introduced major revisions to its research-based quality benchmarks, including requirements for early learning and development standards that are culturally sensitive, supported, and aligned with other state standards and child assessments, supports for curriculum implementation, professional development and coaching for lead and assistant teachers, and a continuous quality improvement system.

The state will spend $96 million on the program this year. That will fund an additional 100 classrooms, increasing the percentage of children served to more than 32 percent. This funding will also allow the Department of Early Childhood Education to ensure teacher pay parity with K-12 public school educators.

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State Senate votes down term limits for state lawmakers

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 2 min
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