Fri04182014

Last updateFri, 18 Apr 2014 7am

Senators Republican and Democrat Question General Fund Budget

 

By Bill Britt 
Alabama Political Reporter 

Montgomery--UPDATE/Correction--The General Fund Budget has been a thorn in the flesh to many in state government. 

But Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) has been especially vocal in what he sees as a wrong-headed solution to the state fiscal problems. He has even questioned the constitutionality of the bill’s passage.

Not far behind Brewbaker is his senate colleague from across the aisle Roger Bedford (D-Florence). 

Brewbaker along with Senators Bussman, Beason, McGill and Sanford vote against the eleventh hour budget. “I voted against the General Fund Budget because it's unconstitutional,” said Brewbaker. “The only thing the legislature must do in a session is pass a balanced budget.”

Brewbaker says because the budget requires a constitutional amendment to make it whole and balanced that it does not fit the definition of being balanced. 

The constitutional amendment will go before the voters in a special election in September. If approved the money from the Alabama Trust Fund (ATF) would go to fully fund Medicaid and the Department of Correction. 

Brewnaker says that there are even bigger issues with the budget than it constitutionality. He says that raiding of the ATF to fund the general budget is a terrible mistake and poor leadership. 

“To balance this budget, all we did was kick the can down the road for 3 years by taking $450 million out of the principle of the ATF,” said Brewbaker.

In even more critical terms for a republican Brewbaker says that, “Governor [Don] Siegleman criticized the daylights out of the Democrats for 'raiding the Trust Fund' but they never went into the principle like we are doing.”

Governor Bentley signed the budget with the constitutional amendment with little commentary. 

As a matter of fact the Governor's office has not issued a Press Release since May 18. 

Brewbaker points out that $450 million that goes to make the General Fund Budget whole has no provision for paying back the funds taken from the ATF. “People don't need to confuse that with the Rainy Day Fund that does get paid back,” said Brewbaker.

Fellow senator Bedford says, “The smart thing to have done would have been to fully-fund Medicaid and let the cuts fall in the prison system and then have a straight up-or-down vote on funding that. Instead what the Republican Supermajority has done is they have put all agencies, including Medicaid, in danger.”

Bedford along with House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) offered a budget that would have fully funded Medicaid but it was rejected by the GOP majority. 

“Our budget would have worked. It would have been entirely funded and then paid back with the postponing the payment back into the Canfield Account,” said Bedford.  “It was fiscally sound and worked without raising taxes or fees.”

In what might be called bi partisan thinking, Brewbaker and Bedford agree that the budget is a disaster waiting to happen.

Both are concerned that Alabama voters will not have an appetite to raid the Alabama Trust Fund to support Medicaid and prisons.

“The voters may [vote for this] because the story line is going to be 'If you don't vote for this we are kicking your grandmother out of her nursing home and we are going to let 18,000 ax murderers loose in your neighborhood,” said Brewbaker. 

“It is not a good budget practice, what they did. It's more smoke and mirrors,” said Bedford.

Bedford said one of the biggest obstacles to finding a sound budget solution was the lack of bipartisan debate within the senate. 

Bedford said, “It is a disservice to the taxpayers not to allow accountability and broad ranging debate but the Supermajority has them [Senators] quacking like 22 ducks in a row.”

It seems Brewbaker did not get his marching orders.

 

Drake Reflects on 2012 Session

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter 

Late last year Dickie Drake (R) from Leeds was elected to the Alabama State House of Representatives seat that was once held by his brother, Owen Drake (R) from Leeds.  Governor Bentley called a special election to fill Owen’s seat after Owen lost his battle with cancer over the summer.  Dickie Drake defeated three opponents on his way to winning the election.

Rep. Dickie Drake said that he has gained a lot of respect for members of the state legislature once he got to Montgomery and saw just how much work was involved in being an Alabama state representative.  Rep. Drake said, “It was like getting a four year education in 30 days.”  “I learned a lot.”

On his work as a state Representative, Drake said, “All you can do is vote for the concerns of the people in the district.”

On the Jefferson County Occupation tax situation, Rep. Drake said that some people misunderstand his position on the issue.  Rep. Drake said that he did vote for the Jefferson County Occupation Tax to be put on the calendar the last day of the session; but he never would have actually voted for the massive tax increase.  “My plan was to enter a substitute bill when it came on the floor for debate.”  Despite Rep. Drake’s vote, the motion by Rep. John Rogers (D) from Birmingham to strike the bill from the calendar on the last day of the session passed, so Rep. Drake never had his chance to introduce his substitute bill.  

Rep. Drake assured voters, “I will never vote for a perpetual Occupation tax.”  Rep. Drake said however that he did support giving the Jefferson County Commission an Occupation tax that would have expired in a certain number of months.  The tax would have sunset, but it would have given Jefferson County time to deal with the Cooper Green situation, which Rep. Drake called a “real money pit”, and time to transition to the lower revenues.

Rep. Drake said that he could not support either of the bills that were introduced by Jefferson County supporters.  The first bill would have given $20 million a year of the Jeffco occupation tax money to UAB.  “UAB did not need the money.”  The second was a perpetual occupation tax which he could not support.  Rep. Drake said that there were hidden user taxes and a gas tax in one version of that bill. 

Surprisingly Rep. Drake said that the Jefferson County occupation tax was not the issue that got the biggest response from voters.  The two bills where he was the most inundated with the most emails included the bill to allow larger bottles of beer to be sold in Alabama.  Rep. Drake said, “Those beer people are really well organized.” The second the bill which would have allowed nonprofit organizations to operate spay and neuter clinics in Alabama.  That measure was defeated in the legislature although Rep. Drake voted for it.

Rep. Drake introduced two bills in the legislative session.  The first would have prevented counties from charging non-sewer users environmental impact fees for a sewer system they do not use.  Rep. Drake tried hard to get that passed, but the Democrats threatened to filibuster the session to prevent the bill from coming to a vote. 

The other piece of legislation Rep. Drake sponsored was the Savannah Hardin Bill.  The bill was named for a Cullman County girl who was run to death by her grandmother and stepmother as punishment for lying about eating a cookie.  The bill would have required persons with knowledge of child abuse to report it.  Rep. Drake said that the bill had no opposition; but it ran out of time on two different House daily calendars so the legislature was never able to bring it to a vote.  Rep. Drake said that he had already pre-filed the bill and was confident that it would pass in the next legislative session. 

Rep. Drake did have some legislative success in his first legislative session.  SB 278 authorized the Governor to command the Alabama State Defense Force.  The Alabama Defense Force is an all-volunteer group (many of them ex-military) who assist the Alabama National Guard in emergencies and when the National Guard is deployed overseas.  The state defense force is not armed and is not paid.  They serve in a support role to the National Guard.  The bill was originally sponsored by Alabama State Senator Phil Williams (R) from Rainbow City.  Rep. Drake sponsored the bill in the House and managed to pass it in the House on the last day of the 2012 regular session.  Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed the bill into law on Tuesday.  This was the first legislation sponsored by Rep. Dickie Drake.

 

Sewell, Roby, and Bachus Honor Vets and Observe Memorial Day

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter 

In Observance of Memorial Day Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D) from Selma released the following statement in recognition of Memorial Day, which was celebrated on Monday.

Rep. Sewell said, “On Monday, we pay tribute and honor the commitment of our brave servicemen and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend this great nation. We owe our country’s freedom and safety to the willingness and courage of our troops who answered the call of duty.”

Congressman Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia also released a statement: “Memorial Day reminds us that there is a cost to keeping America free. It is a day to honor the memory of the men and women in uniform who have answered the call of duty and made the ultimate sacrifice so that we can continue to live in freedom. It is also a time for us to offer our gratitude to the troops who are stationed across the globe today defending America and our ideals.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery released a statement after her return from Afghanistan.  While there Rep. Roby distributed thank you cards from children in Alabama to our troops serving in harm’s way.  Rep. Roby said, “It was an honor carrying these patriotic notes with me and handing them to our brave warriors stationed in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Roby. “I personally read through the cards before leaving for my trip. Each thoughtful note contained a message of support for our soldiers and thanked them for their service and dedication. Our students should be proud of their patriotic efforts recognizing these military men and women who sacrifice so much. It was a memorable experience handing over these notes of encouragement.”

Rep. Sewell has also been in Afghanistan this month.  The congresswoman said: “Earlier this month, I had the privilege to travel with a bi-partisan congressional delegation to visit with our troops serving in Afghanistan to see firsthand the important issues they are facing.  We were honored to celebrate Mother’s Day at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand province with our troops who serve on the frontlines every day. This experience has truly deepened my appreciation for all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who defend and protect our freedom.”

Rep. Sewell concluded, “As we gather with our families and loved ones this Memorial Day weekend, let us take a moment to reflect and remember that the rights and freedoms we enjoy every day come at a great cost and sacrifice by our armed services, veterans, and families. We must also pause to thank and honor the families of our fallen heroes. We are eternally grateful for their service and their legacy will forever remain in our hearts and memories.”

Congresswoman Terri Sewell represents Alabama’s Seventh Congressional District.  Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.  Congressman Spencer Bachus represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District.

To read Rep. Sewell’s statement in its entirety:

http://sewell.house.gov/press-release/statement-congresswoman-terri-sewell-observance-memorial-day-0

To read Rep. Roby’s comments in their entirety:

http://roby.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=296994

 

 

Blount County Contractor Arrested for Defrauding Riverchase Church

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter 

MONTGOMERY--Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced that Chad Evan Huffstutler has been arrested for crimes associated with work for the Riverchase United Methodist Church.  Chad Evans Huffstutler, age 36 from Blountsville, does business as Huffstutler Contracting, LLC.

Based on evidence presented by Attorney General Strange’s Office, a Shelby County grand jury handed down several indictments against Huffstutler on May 9.  The grand jury found that there was enough evidence to indict Huffstutler on the charges that Huffstutler committed one count of first-degree theft of property valued at more than $2,500 from the Riverchase United Methodist Church.  The state also alleges that Mr. Huffstutler committed one count of first-degree theft by deception of property valued at more than $2,500 from the Riverchase United Methodist Church.  The Blount County man was also indicted on two counts of second-degree possession of a forged instrument.  One of those was a performance bond and the other one was a payment bond.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of two to 20 years for each count first-degree theft, which is a class B felony, and one to ten years for each count of second-degree possession of a forged instrument, which is a class C felony.

Attorney General Strange commended Assistant Attorney General Stephanie Billingslea and all those involved in the investigation and prosecution of the case including Special Agents with the AG’s Investigations Division.  Assistant AG Billingslea is with the Criminal Trials Division of the Alabama Attorney General’s office.

Mr. Huffstutler surrendered today at the Shelby County Jail.  No other information about the investigation or about Huffstutler’s alleged crimes were released.  An indictment simply means that a grand jury believes that sufficient evidence has been presented to indicate that a crime may have been committed.  Mr. Huffstutler has not been found guilty of anything yet.  The trial date has not been announced.

 

 

Chapman Announces Staff Promotions

From the Office of Secretary of State Beth Chapman

MONTGOMERY - Secretary of State Beth Chapman announced two promotions in her office today.  Emily Thompson has been promoted to Deputy Secretary of State and Adam Thompson (no relation) as her Deputy Chief of Staff, a role which both have assisted in for many years.

"Both of these employees have worked closely by my side for eight years on state and national issues in the Secretary of State's and State Auditor's Offices," Chapman said.

"I am confident they will continue to serve with the honesty and integrity for which they are known and display the same style of leadership that has made my offices the great successes they been over the past eight years," Chapman concluded.

 

 © Copyright 2014 Alabama Political Reporter LLC