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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.

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.

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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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Chris McCool sworn in early as Court of Criminal Appeals judge

Chip Brownlee

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District Attorney Chris McCool, who was elected Nov. 6 to serve as a judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, has been sworn in early to serve out the remainder of Judge Liles Burke’s term.

Burke was recently confirmed as a U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama, leaving his post on the Court of Criminal Appeals vacant. McCool was the Republican nominee for the Place 2 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. He faced no opponent last week, winning the election with more than 97 percent of the vote.

“As Judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, I want to borrow the words of scripture that my former opponent but now good friend Rich Anderson used on the campaign trail,” McCool said, quoting Leviticus 19:15, “‘Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shall not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.'”

“My pledge is to honor this command, as well as Micah 6:8, and seek only ever to do justice in each case,” McCool said. “I crave your prayers as I embark on this new adventure, and I thank you again from the bottom of my heart. May God bless this State and the United States of America.”

McCool was the longtime district attorney for three counties in West Alabama before being elected to the state’s second-highest criminal court. McCool served as the district attorney for the 24th Judicial Circuit, which includes Fayette, Lamar and Pickens counties, since July 2001.

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McCool was sworn in Friday at a ceremony in Montgomery.

McCool has sworn in in Andy Hamlin, his former assistant district attorney for 12 years, to take over the duties as district attorney.

 

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Bill Britt

Jefferson County indictments raise serious questions about Ethics Commission’s actions

Bill Britt

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When indictments were reported by Al.com against Scott Phillips and Onis “Trey” Glenn III for multiple violations of the Alabama Ethics Act, the pair had not been arrested or served with the indictments.

However, Alabama Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton spoke in glowing terms about the hard work his office and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office had done to bring a felony case against the men.

Albritton’s disclosure of the indictments before Phillips and Glenn were arrested and indicted may be a severe breach of state law.

Alabama Code Title 12. Courts § 12-16-210 reads: “Any judge, district attorney, clerk or other officer of court or grand juror who discloses the fact that an indictment has been found before the person indicted has been arrested or has given bail for his appearance to answer thereto shall, on conviction, be fined not less than $200.00, and may also be imprisoned in the county jail or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months.”

According to sources within Jefferson County, the Clerk’s office has raised the issue that the men were not arrested and served in accordance with the law. These actions have resulted in what one individual describes as a “Massive bureaucratic CYA in Jefferson County.”

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“Albritton and his people took the true bill from the grand jury and headed straight to the press,” said a person within the Jefferson County system.

Albritton’s conduct may have also violated the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct as stated in Rule 3.6.(6), which reads, “the fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime, unless there is included therein a statement explaining that the charge is merely an accusation and that the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.” Nowhere in Albritton’s statements to Al.com does he add this disclaimer.

According to multiple sources, Albritton’s people gave Al.com’s Kyle Whitmire the story over the weekend so the news would break after Veterans Day. Al.com reported the men were indicted on Friday, Nov. 9.

Attorneys for Phillips and Glenn learned about the indictments early Tuesday morning. They asked for copies of the charges before noon on Tuesday but were informed that they could not receive the indictments until the pair turned themselves in to authorities. Their attorneys were then notified that the men could not turn themselves in until Friday.

But this is just part of the story which, according to an APR source, “looks more like a grab for relevance by an irrelevant ethics commission using a DA who’s on the way out the door.” Anderton, a Republican political appointee, is leaving the DA’s office having lost his bid for election to Democrat Danny Carr.

In Al.com’s report, Albritton says Jefferson County District Attorney Mike Anderton had requested the Ethics Commission help in indicting the two men. But it was the Ethics Commission who approached Anderton, sources within his office have confirmed.

Multiple sources tell APR that it was the Ethics Commission who approached Anderton in a hurry-up play to grab headlines before the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division could investigate the pair properly.

Albritton told APR that he couldn’t comment publicly on any specific conversations between the Ethics Commission and the JeffCo DA’s office. But in general terms, he said, the Commission routinely engages in conversations with DAs and other agencies. Albritton also said that Anderton’s request came in the form of a letter, and he said Anderton asked if the Commission “would be willing to” open the investigation because Anderton’s office lacked the personnel to effectively pursue the case.

According to state and Jefferson County insiders not authorized to speak publicly, Anderton was not even aware of an investigation into Phillips and Glenn until two weeks ago, and he was not pursuing the issue until he was asked to take the matter before a regularly impaneled grand jury by Albritton’s office.

“It’s a lie,” said one of APR‘s sources who monitored the process and knows what took place, “They ask Anderton.”

Albritton’s move was prompted at least in part by a letter reportedly sent from the environmental group GASP allegedly detailing Phillips and Glenn’s questionable activities.

Founded in 2009, as a 501(c)(3) health advocacy organization called “Alabama First,” the group changed its name to GASP in 2010, according to its website.

GASP attorney David A. Ludder told APR that he felt it best not to comment on the matter. Gasp’s Executive Director Michael Hansen agreed with Ludder that it was best not to comment on a pending case.

The GASP letter also is believed to have shown that the statute of limitations for an indictment was drawing near. Albritton told APR that timing is what prompted his office to move quickly without consulting Special Prosecution Division Chief Matt Hart.  However, the statute doesn’t seem to expire until around December 21.

Another significant question is why Albritton’s office went behind the attorney general’s back to present the case to a Jefferson County Grand Jury when the Special Prosecution Division already has a Special Grand Jury impaneled in Jefferson County.

There is little doubt that attorneys for Phillips and Glenn will pick apart the Ethics Commission’s actions involving these indictments.

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Opinion | Sellouts are running Alabama’s environmental agencies. Why don’t you care?

Josh Moon

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There is contaminated tap water in north Alabama.

There are no oysters in the Gulf.

There is poison soil in Birmingham.

There are polluted lakes and rivers throughout the state.

There have been coal ash spills and a stalled poop train and imported toxic waste too dangerous for other states to allow.

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There’s a poison plume running under all of downtown Montgomery.

This is Alabama Outdoors.

In a state where at least 90 percent of the males hunt or fish with some regularity, and state law requires at least every third car have a “Salt Life” back window sticker, we don’t seem to give two good damns about the actual environment that make those things possible.

And we sure don’t seem to care much about the people who are supposed to be in charge of protecting those things.

If you did, you would know that two of those people were indicted this week on ethics charges. There are serious — and widely known and widely believed and widely supported with a mountain of evidence — allegations that Trey Glenn, the current head of the EPA’s southeastern region, and Scott Phillips, a former commissioner with the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, accepted bribes from polluters to actively work against cleaning up pollution and holding those polluters responsible.

Or to put that more simply: They sold out.

They sold out you.

They sold out the environment.

They sold out their oaths.

(Allegedly, of course.)

And these two aren’t the first ones. If you paid the least bit of attention to the recent trial involving a former Balch & Bingham attorney and a former Drummond Co. executive, you heard of all sorts of shady dealings flowing back and forth between companies highly suspected of polluting our soil, air and water and the agencies — Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), EPA and AEMC — that are supposed to stand in the gap between us regular folk and big business.

Instead, it seems, these guys have spent most of their time standing in big businesses’ pockets.

In addition to Phillips to Glenn, ADEM head Lance LeFleur was accused of having a cozy relationship with Drummond, and once wrote a letter opposing the EPA’s listing of a pollution area in north Birmingham as a superfund site. In court testimony, attorneys openly questioned if that letter was written at the encouragement of Drummond and its attorney.

A few weeks after the trial, 12 environmental groups sent a letter to AEMC demanding that LeFleur be removed and cited examples of his department’s failures and compromises. LeFleur denied the allegations, calling them “mean-spirited” and “untrue.”

But the problems don’t even end there.

Former Gov. Robert Bentley was actively writing — or signing his name to letters pre-written by Drummond’s attorneys — to stop the superfund site and cleanup.

Former attorney general Luther Strange signed off on pre-written letters from his office to the EPA demanding that the site not be listed on the superfund registry and proclaiming that the state would provide no funds for cleanup.

Think about that.

That’s the guy whose main job is consumer protection.

You’re the consumer. We’re all the consumers.

So, why, why, why do you not care?

I’m begging someone to explain this to me. Why do you not care that you can’t eat fish out of the Tennessee River? That you can’t swim in Wheeler Lake? That you can’t drink the tap water in Courtland? That there will literally be NO oysters harvested from the Gulf this year? That poor people in one of the poorest areas of this state have dealt with constant illnesses? That your “salt life” and your “lake life” and your hunting and your fishing and your kids swimming and your just everyday existing is being jeopardized by sellouts?

Why don’t you care?

And I know you don’t care, because you just voted 60-40 to put the same people back in charge who put all of these people in charge of protecting our environment and natural resources.

And those same people you put back in office are taking your indifference seriously. When I sent a question to the governor’s office today asking for a comment on the sad state of Alabama environmental management programs, they didn’t even bother to respond.

Because Kay Ivey knows you don’t care.

There wasn’t a peep from any state lawmakers, because they also know you don’t care.

You know, I hear people ask all the time how Alabama — in the middle of the Bible Belt and with a church on every corner — could have a government that’s so corrupt, so filled with people willing to take bribes and sell out their constituents.

This is how: You stop paying attention.

 

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Elections

New Alabama House Republican Caucus meets to select leadership

Brandon Moseley

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The 77 members of the House Republican Caucus were sworn in by Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) during the group’s organizational meeting in Montgomery on Tuesday. This is the largest Republican supermajority in Alabama history.

Following the swearing-in ceremony, the Caucus selected McCutcheon as its candidate for House Speaker for the next four years and state Representative Victor Gaston (R – Mobile) as its choice for Speaker Pro Tem. State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R – Rainsville) was elected as House Majority Leader, State Rep. Connie Rowe (R – Jasper) was chosen as the Caucus Vice Chair, and State Rep. Phillip Pettus (R – Killen) was elected to serve as secretary/treasurer.
The 77 members of the Caucus on Tuesday unanimously affirmed that McCutcheon will once again serve as the group’s nominee for Speaker of the House when lawmakers convene for the Legislature’s organizational session in January. Because Republicans currently hold such a commanding supermajority in the 105-member Alabama House, being selected as the GOP Caucus nominee means there is little likelihood of any other outcome when the full body meets in January.

“Serving as Speaker of the Alabama House has been the greatest professional honor of my life, and I’m humbled that my fellow Republicans have chosen me to continue serving in that role,” McCutcheon said. “If elected during the organizational session in January, I will continue presiding in a manner that gives all members of both parties a voice in the legislative process. Our state faces many challenges, and finding needed solutions will require all of us to work together.”

McCutcheon was first elected as House Speaker during an August 2016 special session after former Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was convicted of twelve counts of violating Alabama’s ethics law.

Prior to retiring after a 25-year career, McCutcheon was a law enforcement officer in the Huntsville Police Department and worked in areas like hostage negotiation, major crimes investigation, probation oversight and others. He has also worked as a farmer and as associate pastor at the College Park Church of God.

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This will be Victor Gaston’s third term as Speaker Pro Tem.

“My thanks go out to both the new and returning members of the House Republican Caucus for re-nominating me as the body’s second-in-command,” Gaston said. “I am excited for the opportunities that Alabama’s future holds and will continue working to make our state an even better place for all of its citizens.

Gaston was elected to the House in 1982 as one of only eight Republicans in the entire Alabama Legislature at the time. He served as Acting Speaker of the House for a period of months in 2016 following the Hubbard conviction.

State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R – Rainsville) will once again serve as House Majority Leader and State Rep. Connie Rowe (R – Jasper) as its vice chair. The two leaders will hold their positions throughout the 2018 – 2022 quadrennium.

“I am deeply grateful for the trust and confidence that my Republican colleagues have continued to place in me, and I look forward to continuing my service as their leader for the next four years,” Ledbetter said. “Republicans added to our already impressive supermajority in the general election cycle, and I will work to ensure that the bills, measures, and resolutions passed by the House reflect the same conservative beliefs and traditional values that Alabama’s voters share.”

Ledbetter is a former mayor and city council member in Rainsville, who was elected to the Alabama House in 2014. Ledbetter was elected as House Majority Leader in 2017. he was the first freshman member to serve in that post in modern times.

Ledbetter and his wife, Teresa, are the owners of a small business and have two children and four grandchildren.

Prior to her election to the Alabama House in 2014, Rowe served as the police chief in Jasper, Alabama and was previously employed as an investigator for the Walker County District Attorney’s Office for more than 20 years.

“I look forward to being a part of the Republican leadership team as we work to enact the conservative agenda that voters overwhelmingly endorsed at the polls,” Rowe said. “By sticking together and offering a unified front, House Republicans have a tremendous opportunity to move Alabama forward over the next four years.”

State Rep. Phillip Pettus (R – Killen) is a retired state trooper serving his second term in office. He was elected to serve as the secretary/treasurer for the Caucus.

Democrats will only have 28 seats in the Alabama House of Representatives, down from 33. Republicans will also have a 27 to 8 supermajority in the Alabama Senate.

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

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 4 min
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