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Survey: 78 percent say Alabama spends too little on public education

Chip Brownlee

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A new public opinion survey from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama found that 79 percent of Alabama citizens think the state spends too little on public education.

PARCA, in collaboration with Samford University, surveyed 421 Alabama citizens on a variety of policy issues from June 4 to July 18, 2018.

Those surveyed have increasingly said the state isn’t spending enough on education. Since 2013, the total percentage of those saying the state spends too little has increased more than 10 percentage points from 68 percent to 79 percent.

And, in a state that has historically been averse to raising taxes, respondents said they would be willing to pay more in taxes for various education priorities. Large majorities, ranging from 65 percent to 82 percent, said they would pay more for 13 different educational priorities. More than 70 percent said they would pay more taxes for classroom supplies, repair and construction of new buildings, hiring more teachers, technology infrastructure and school safety and security, among other proposals.


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But when PARCA asked voters which taxes respondents would support raising, no single method of taxation received majority support, though one — local property taxes — received a plurality. Forty-eight percent said they would pay more local property taxes, compared to 45 percent who opposed raising local property taxes. Forty-six percent said they would pay more local sales taxes, while 49 percent said they would oppose paying more sales taxes.

When PARCA broke down how many tax mechanism each respondent supported, though, they saw something different. While 18 percent opposed any tax mechanism, 82 percent supported one or more. The respondents just didn’t agree on which mechanism to use.

“Alabamians say education is underfunded and are willing to pay more in taxes for a variety of education priorities,” PARCA’s survey report states. “A majority support three or more tax mechanisms. Still, none of the revenue mechanisms enjoys majority support. This situation poses a dilemma for state policy makers. The public perceives a problem (education underfunding) and is willing to participate in a solution (increasing revenue), but is unable to identify or agree on a way to do it.”

Passing education budgets in Alabama has generally been easier than passing general fund budgets, but lawmakers still routinely face problems. Even when lawmakers passed the largest education budget in state history last year, many Democratic lawmakers said the raises included for teachers and other education workers weren’t large enough.

The divided budget, which was enacted to keep separate tax pools earmarked for education, still receives majority support among those who responded to PARCA’s survey, but the number supporting the division of the budgets has declined over the last year. The number declined from 76 percent in 2017 to 70 percent in 2018, though that number is still higher than in 2016, when only 69 percent said the budgets should be kept separate.

About three-fifths, 62.7 percent, of those surveyed said Alabama schools are funded at levels lower than most other states, and 55 percent said Alabama public schools are worse than schools in most other states.

The survey found more highly educated respondents are more likely to say Alabama schools do worse than most, as are respondents from central and south Alabama. That number has grown from 46 percent in 2015 to 55 percent in 2018.

“It appears that the percentage saying Alabama public schools perform worse than schools in most states has been steadily, if gradually, increasing,” the survey found.

Seventy-six percent said the new state school report cards are a good idea, and about 55 percent said the accuracy of those report card grades is “about right.”

“Alabamians value public education, but believe it is underfunded and underperforming,” the survey’s conclusion found. “They express a willingness to pay additional taxes to shore up important educational priorities, although they disagree about what revenue mechanisms they might support to achieve those ends.”

 

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Elections

Opinion | Walt Maddox has lost his mind

Josh Moon

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Walt Maddox is nuts.

That’s the only explanation I have for what the man’s doing — going around the state and trying to engage voters on the issues. Holding press conferences talking about health care and offering plans for increasing Medicaid coverage.

The guy’s got an infrastructure plan. He’s got an education plan.

He’s got details and costs and information on how we can do it all and actually pay for it.

And this nonsense is what he believes will get him elected governor.

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See? Nutty as a fruitcake, that Walt Maddox.

Because Alabama voters do not care about such trivial things as an improved quality of life, better education for their kids and increased job opportunities that actually pay you enough to live and eat.

They don’t care.

Trust me on this. I’ve been banging my head against this particular wall for all of my life.

I screamed and screamed and screamed some more over Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. I pointed out the benefits and the zero costs. And I pointed out the meticulous studies done that showed massive increases in jobs, revenue and health services if that expansion occurred.

You know what people cared about?

That it was named after the black president.

That’s right. This bunch of hillbillies would rather drive across two counties while suffering a heart attack than give the “libs” the pleasure of knowing that their health care plan wasn’t terrible.

Oh, but that’s not even the most mind-boggling conversation I’ve had with Alabama voters.

That honor goes to anyone opposing gambling.

This is inevitably the dumbest debate. Because it starts with a flawed premise — that any lottery or gambling bill passed in the state — like the one Maddox is proposing — would “bring gambling to Alabama.”

I was in one of the three legally operating casinos in this state a month ago. I’ve known people who place bets with bookies or on online gambling sites. I’ve attended cash bingo games where thousands of dollars changed hands. I’ve bet on both dogs and horses, legally. And I’ve stood in line just across the borders in Tennessee, Georgia and Florida to buy lottery tickets.

Gambling has been here for decades now. The only thing we don’t have are the tax revenues that are paying for other states’ kids to attend colleges, eliminating other states’ food taxes and helping fund thousands of classrooms in other states.

But the voters here, they don’t care.

That’s why they keep electing goobers who vote against even allowing Alabama citizens to vote on the issue. Because democracy is great unless the majority is going to agree on something you don’t like.

This is the reality facing Walt Maddox, as he travels around the state on a bus, trying to pretend that Alabama voters know that a governor can’t influence either abortion laws or gun laws, but can ensure their children get to see a doctor this year.

The voters in this state are so unconcerned with the issues that they don’t really care if Kay Ivey ever debates Maddox. Because, honestly, they’d rather not know that she has no ideas, can’t think on her feet and can’t lead in a crisis.

It’s much easier to not know. To just vote blindly for the GOP candidate, convinced that it’ll all work out eventually (even though it never, ever has).

Walt Maddox foolishly believes that he can reason with these people, that at some point their sense of self-preservation will kick in, that they’ll grow tired of remaining stuck living paycheck to paycheck, that the GOP corruption will finally chase them to at least consider another option.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that Walt Maddox is nuts.

 

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Fact check: Yes, Alabama pays Nebraska to manage an Alabama savings plan

Josh Moon

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Why is Alabama’s Treasury Department paying Nebraska’s Treasurer to manage a Medicaid-related savings plan in Alabama?

That question came to APR from a reader who had been told an outrageous tale of apparently misspent tax dollars: Alabama’s Treasurer, Young Boozer, was paying the Nebraska Treasurer an annual sum to manage the ABLE Savings Plan in Alabama.

Could this be true?

Turns out, yes.

That is 100 percent true. But it’s not clear yet why it’s true.

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First, let’s lay out what we know.

Each year, Alabama’s Treasury Department sends the State of Nebraska a check for $20,000. According to Brittany Matthews in the Alabama Treasury office, that money pays the Nebraska Treasurer who is the trustee of the Alabama ABLE Program.

That program, implemented in 2014, allows for disabled people in Alabama to open tax-free savings accounts that can be used to make disability-related purchases. The accounts don’t affect the person’s maximum threshold limits for receiving benefits through Medicaid and other programs.

Each state is required to offer an ABLE program through its treasury department. Alabama’s program, as odd as it might sound, is completely operated by Nebraska.

“(The $20,000 annual payments are) for the administration, operation and maintenance of the Achieving a Better Life Experience (Enable Alabama) program that the State of Alabama offers,” Matthews wrote in an email. “This includes marketing, investment management, site visits and other services. They manage the entire program for Alabama.”

Why this is the case isn’t clear.

A follow-up email from APR to Matthews, asking why Nebraska manages Alabama’s plan, was not answered on Monday afternoon.

However, it’s possible the decision is simple math. It might cost more than $20,000 annually for the state to manage its own ABLE program.

On the other hand, it could be yet another example of how the state’s failure to properly fund government offices has yet again cost taxpayers even more money.

But one thing is certain: The Nebraska Treasurer is being paid by Alabama’s government to manage a government program in Alabama.

 

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Elections

Alabama Hospital Association pushes for Medicaid expansion, backs candidates who do not

Bill Britt

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According to a recent AP report, the Alabama Hospital Association has launched a campaign to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. However, the organization is supporting Republican candidates who are either trying to kill the law altogether or refuse to expand its coverage in the state.

The association has so far this election cycle given nearly $20,000 each to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall and Gov. Kay Ivey. Marshall and Ivy, both Republicans, owe their current offices to disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley.

Marshall is actively using his office to abolish the law that provides health care for low-income Alabamians and is currently suing to overturn provisions that allow individuals with pre-existing conditions to not be denied health coverage.

Ivey for her part falls back on the standard line that the state can’t afford to expand Medicaid and has also signaled that she will not support the expansion sought by the Hospital Association.

Danne Howard, executive vice president and chief policy officer for the Alabama Hospital Association, told AP’s Kim Chandler, “One in every ten people who walk into a hospital doesn’t have insurance. At some point, those providers, those hospitals, are not going to be able to maintain operation. They are not going to be there, either closing their doors or cutting back services.”

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Howard expressed the need to expand Medicaid to AP but has failed to answer APR‘s question as to why the organization is supporting candidates who oppose expansion.

Democrat gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox has promised to expand Medicaid if elected governor, likewise, Democrat attorney general nominee Joseph Siegelman vows to protect Alabamians with pre-existing conditions should he win in November. The Hospital Association isn’t supporting either candidate even though their campaign platforms align with the association’s stated goals.

Since Howard refuses to answer APR‘s request for information, there is no way to understand why the Hospital Association would back Ivey, who has said she would not support expanding Medicaid and Marshall who is actively working to end guaranteed coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

According to The American Journal of Managed Care, “Medicaid expansion… was associated with increases in coverage, service use, quality of care, and Medicaid spending. Among those who benefitted the most are adults without a college degree, patients with cancer, and patients with diabetes.”

If Marshall prevails with his current lawsuit, Alabamians with cancer, diabetes and other pre-existing conditions would no longer have guaranteed access to health insurance.

Current law allows states to expand Medicaid eligibility to non-elderly adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Howard says that there is a real possibility that doctors and hospital care will not be available if Medicaid does not expand, yet, her association is financing candidates whose goals are to stop expansion and cut options for those who have persistent medical problems.

 

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Jeff Sessions addresses law enforcement symposium in Hoover

Brandon Moseley

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Monday, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) was in Hoover to address a Department of Justice National Public Safety Partnership Symposium. Sessions told the members of law enforcement gathered there, “We have your back and you have ours.”

U.S. Attorney Jay Town, Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale (R-Jefferson County), Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R), Birmingham Police Chief Patrick Smith, Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis, and the Department of Justice’s Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance John Adler were also present at the Symposium.

“It is good to be back in Alabama,” AG Sessions said. “I had a good weekend.”

Sessions said that U.S. Attorneys Jay Town and Louis V. Franklin, “Are already doing a great job fighting crime,” and that Richard Moore will do an excellent job in the Southern District.

“The people in this room represent the finest in American law enforcement,” Sessions said. American law enforcement is unsurpassed, but “When you have 800,000 law officers somebody is going to make a mistake every now and then.”

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“We have had some very confused thinking in recent years and we are working to put an end to that,” Sessions said. The U.S. Attorneys that President Donald J. Trump (R) has appointed, “Felt to me like 1981 when President Reagan put together his team of U.S. Attorneys. This is a good bunch. I am proud of them I think they will make a difference.”

“President Donald Trump is a law and order President,” Session stated. “During the last two years of the previous administration violent crime increased. Murder went up more than 20 percent in 2015 and 2016.”

Sessions said that from 1964 to 1980 crime tripled in America and then from 1991 to 2014 violent crime had dropped by half. Murder had dropped by half and rape by a third. Violent crime has dropped steadily for the last 30 years, then ticked up in 2015 and 2016.

“We are not going to let the progress that we worked so hard for be lost,” Sessions said. “We are going to work to reduce crime rates.”

“We are on your side,” the AG told law enforcement. “We are not confused. We are on law enforcement’s side not the criminals’ side. We have no intention to preside over rising crime rates in America.”

Sessions said that just yesterday we had three police officers shot in this country: in Boston, in Baltimore, and in Selma a police office was shot several times in his vehicle.

“Some people think the crime rates do up and down like the tide,” Sessions said. “That is not the President’s view and that is not this Attorney General’s view.”

Sessions praised Project Safe Neighborhoods, “I am confident that it works.”

“We send our diagnostic teams to find out where crimes are rising,” AG Sessions said. “We want to help you find the most violent criminals and help you put them behind bars.” Sessions said that their focus will be on what New York City calls alpha criminals.

Sessions praised the National Public Safety Partnership which he said, “Is already leading to successes in your cities.”
Session said that the DOJ has identified a crime hotspot in Memphis, thanks to the Public Safety Partnership (PSP) and here in Birmingham the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) arrested more than 20 violent crime members who are charged with more than 800 crimes and took 70 illegal weapons off the streets. The 800 crimes is just the ones we know about that they committed.

“Last month I announced that we are expanding PSP,” to other cities, Sessions said. “Our goal is not just how many people we can arrest, but making communities safer. We are going to keep supporting PSP because it is supporting you and your communities. The Department of Justice will provide funding for gun crime intelligence centers.

Sessions said that there will be grants announced to fund training for 230 school resource officers. “We are firming up some really good ideas to make our schools safer.”

“In 2017 the Department of Justice brought more cases against violent criminals than in the 25 years we have been keeping records,” Sessions said. “We have charged the most federal firearms crimes in a decade.”

Sessions said that the overall violent crime rate has dropped in the thirty biggest cities by five percent from this point last year and murder in our 30 biggest cities is down six percent.

Sessions said that you get more crime when you let the ACLU run the Justice Department. “If you want less crime let professional law enforcement run the program.”

“One thing each of you can be certain of is: We have you back you have ours,” Sessions concluded.

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Survey: 78 percent say Alabama spends too little on public education

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 3 min
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