22 Jul 2014
By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY – After a back and forth flurry of "hypotheticals" between the State's Executive and Legislative leadership last week, the leading GOP proposal on how to deal with flat revenues and an increased need for State spending has become clear: cut Alabama's public sector workforce....again.
The plan, propagated by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, came in reaction to comments made by Governor Bentley that seemed to indicate he was open to tax increases as a method of closing the gaps between the State's spending and revenues.
“It's always my desire not to raise taxes, but I also know we have to have revenues,” Bentley told the Associated Press, a comment which left the Governor open to wide criticisms from legislative leadership, who immediately released statements gawking at even the possibility.
“Given the fact that a large percentage of our Republican legislative candidates have taken pledges against new taxes, any broad-based levies would likely be difficult to pass,” Rachel Adams, a spokesperson for Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said in a statement responding to the Governor's comments.
Sen. Marsh, though, went even further:
“I'm not going to support any tax increase,” he said. Instead, Marsh elaborated on what he thinks should be done – cutting more state jobs to improve budget numbers.
In December of last year, Governor Bentley, Lt. Gov Kay Ivey, Sen. Marsh, and Speaker Hubbard jointly announced that the state had “saved” $1.1 billion last fiscal year in a push called “Right Size Alabama,” a feat which included cutting nearly 5,000 State government jobs – 11 percent of the total AL public sector work force – including teachers, school support staff, and mental health workers.
Now, Sen. Marsh says even more state job cuts are needed to patch together the budgets. “In fact,” Marsh said after commenting on his opposition to increasing taxes, “I look at this as a further opportunity to right-size government.”
Marsh told Alabama Media Group that on top of the eleven percent cuts made last year, an additional nine percent of the workforce should be on the chopping block – a move that would affect about 3,000 Alabamians, permanently terminating their salaried positions, and leaving Alabama's public sector workforce at a total of about 32,000, eight thousand middle class jobs less than just two years prior.
As for the Governor's reaction to Marsh's plan, while it may not be written in stone, it seems Bentley is reluctant to do anything but agree with the Senator, a quality that may reflect the current (in)balance between the executive and legislative branches in Alabama government. Bentley, as one example, recently announced that a special session asking legislators – again – to pass his recommended teacher pay raise is increasingly unlikely. Similarly, on this issue, Bentley seems to have deferred to the legislature, with his press secretary all but taking back the Governor's comments on taxes.
“The governor's goal is not to raise taxes, period,” she said. “We know there is a revenue issue in the next budget year. But it's very early and the governor is looking at all options to make up the revenue shortfall.”
In addition, the Governor's press secretary said Bentley, like Marsh, will be “looking at further efforts to streamline government,” a phrase that could mean that a nine percent “right-sizing” of Alabama's public work force is all but inevitable.
22 Jul 2014
By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Tourism Department and the Alabama Department of Transportation have announced that the public welcome signs that can be seen upon entering the Yellowhammer State will be getting a facelift – to the tune of $136,000 over just the next five years.
The welcome signs on our interstate entryways, erected in 2003, currently don the phrase “Alabama the Beautiful,” though now the slogan will change to “Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama,” a move that will cost state taxpayers significant funding for the foreseeable future.
One one hand, temporary rights for the phrase “Sweet Home Alabama” have been negotiated with Universal Records, who owns the trademark, for a five year period at a cost of $75,000, after which the state would either renew the financial agreement with the studio or forfeit use of the motto.
Additionally, the Alabama Department of Transportation has said that it will phase out the old fifteen by eighteen interstate signs as well as several three by four signs located in welcome areas and the like at a total expense of about $61,000.
All in all, then, the cost of the new welcome signs paired with the cost of the rights necessary to use them will cost Alabamians six figures in a time when both the Education Trust Fund and General Fund Budgets are cash-strapped.
Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell emphasized the impact of state slogans since the advent of 'Virginia is for Lovers,' saying that “'Sweet Home Alabama' works for our state because it is a very popular song, and it is a very popular phrase.”
Sentell also pointed out that the tourism department is negotiating further agreements with Universal Records that would allow for the sale of t-shirts and other memorabilia in the state using the phrase.
Until this year, Alabama's license plates included the phrase, though the design was abandoned due to concerns that the plate's state of origin was not readily identifiable at the top of the tag.
According to ALDOT Director John Cooper, the first of the new signs – of which a majority will be placed over the next few months – will be placed on Interstate 85 in east Alabama.
21 Jul 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Speaker Mike Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the House race in District 12, only to come up embarrassed and empty-handed.
Hubbard even employed a large force of current legislators to descend on Cullman County, in a vain attempt to recuse his handpicked man from disaster.
However, Good Hope Mayor, Republican Corey Harbison, soundly defeated incumbent Rep. Mac Buttram, R-Cullman, by an overwhelming 10 percentage points. But, the biggest loser of the day was Hubbard, who no longer has a fool-proof closure vote in the House.
By contrast, the biggest winner was Dr. Henry Mabry and the Alabama Education Association (AEA), who added another pro-education republican to the State House.
While talking heads and others in the media have routinely pronounced educator’s influence dead, the fact that Harbison and 6 other insurgent republicans fought back against the Hubbard/Riley machine and won, should change the narrative.
This would be the equivalent of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner, losing almost 40 seats to republicans, who did not back his leadership or agenda.
In any world outside of Alabama Hubbard’s failure would be front page news. But to date, the media has neglected to tell of Hubbard’s stunning reversal of fortune. There will still be a Republican Supermajority in the House but not a Hubbard controlled one.
For the last four years, Hubbard, Riley, along with the BCA chief Billy Canary, have worked tirelessly to break the back of the once powerful teacher’s organization. Over the last four years, Hubbard and company have launched a relentless barrage against Mabry, personally and professionally. Mabry has responded with a methodical plan to win in special elections and now in the Republican primary.
With the backing of educators and pro-education conservatives, Harbison’s victory was a major step toward balancing power between the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and the AEA.
To the surprise of many, the AEA’s wins have not come by backing democrats, but by encouraging pro-education, conservative republicans to run for office. Many social conservatives, as well as Tea Party activists, have back the same candidates as the AEA, because they fear the out of control “pro-business” agenda that is giving public education funds to private organizations. The social conservatives also recent the fact that candidates like Buttram have backed a flurry of bills that have expanded alcohol sales throughout the State.
Not only was Tuesday’s election a rebuke of Hubbard and Riley, it was also testimony to the dwindling influence of ALGOP Chairman Bill Armistead, who was on the ground in Cullman County supporting Buttram’s reelection. More than a few stalwart republicans are miffed by Armistead’s interference in primary elections. It is traditional for the Chairman to take a neutral position during the primaries, a tradition that Armistead has blatantly disregarded during this election cycle.
Buttram’s defeat is yet another example of voters exercising their power over Montgomery’s elite machine.
Hubbard has lost another loyal lieutenant, while Mabry and pro-education conservatives have gained another ally.
22 Jul 2014
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama’s Democratic Party has taken a beating during the presidency of Barack H. Obama. In 2008 when the controversial Senator from Illinois was first elected, Alabama Democrats won: three of Alabama’s Seven Congressional Districts, President of the Alabama Public Service Commission, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Democrats controlled both Houses of the Alabama state legislature, the Lieutenant Governorship, and the Commissioner of Alabama Agriculture and Industries. These last four years have seen crushing defeat after crushing defeat as Republicans have turned elections since 2010 into referendums on President Obama and his signature legislation, Obamacare.
Governor Robert Bentley (R) was widely praised by conservative groups for his decisions to refuse to set up a state run health insurance exchange and to refuse the massive Obamacare mandated expansion of the costly Medicaid program to include poor, non-disabled, underage 65 adults. Some Democrats believe that a case can be made for expanding Medicaid and that that case can help return them to power in November.
On Thursday a forum will be held in Talladega about the PPACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, better known as Obamacare), the Medicaid Expansion, and the associated economic impact of expanding Medicaid in Alabama.
The speakers at Thursday’s event include: Dr. David Becker; Mr. Joel Taylor, President of Citizens' Baptist Medical Center in Talladega; Rep. and Dr. Parker Griffith (D), gubernatorial candidate; Mr. Jesse Smith, Democratic candidate in Alabama’s Third Congressional District, and Ron Crumpton, the Democratic candidate in State Senate District 11.
Former Congressman Parker Griffith (D) said of Medicaid expansion, “Economically, this is a homerun. It’s a bigger, better deal than we could ever hope to achieve recruiting new businesses one at a time. Right now, a failure of leadership in the governor’s office is driving up unemployment in our state, and this plan can and will put Alabama families back to work.”
Former U.S. Rep. Griffith said, “With our state ranked 49th in the nation for job creation, we can’t afford to cast aside nearly 31,000 new jobs and $2.1 billion in economic growth every year because the governor is hiding in fear of political extremists in his own party. For the economic benefits alone, my plan to reform, retool and expand Medicaid is the best path forward for Alabama.”
State Senate District 11 candidate Ron Crumpton wrote in a recent column, “Due to the governor’s failure to implement Medicaid Expansion, 191,000 people in Alabama do not qualify for health coverage under Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. According to a study released by the Kaiser Foundation, Alabama ranks second in the nation for the number of people falling into this “coverage gap.” When you consider that Alabama is at the bottom of the list in terms of diabetes incidence and obesity; infant mortality and premature death rate; and cardiovascular health, it is easy to see that turning down healthcare for 191,000 Alabamians is just not practical.”
In recent weeks, reportedly there has been some intra-Democratic Party strife between Crumpton and Talladega Democratic Party Chairman Stephanie Engle. Crumpton said on his website of Engle, “She knew that I had already circulated a press release and her press release had a name other than the name that had been discussed, and billed the event as an event sponsored by the Talladega County Democratic Party. When I complained to Stephanie, she told me that it would not be changed and asked, “Would you like me to remove your name from the Daily Home notice?” The ensuing debate has resulted in her removing me from the event, then adding me back, then removing me, then adding me back, and I am currently removed. She used her status as a county party chair as her reasoning for having the authority to remove me from my own event. County chairs do not have the right to take over a candidate’s event.”
Crumpton says he is planning more of these forums across the 11th District. The 11th Senate District is currently held by Sen. Jerry Fielding (R) from Sylacauga. Fielding was defeated in the Republican Primary by Representative Jim McClendon (R) from Springville.
Jesse J.T. Smith is running for Alabama’s Third Congressional District against Rep. Mike Rogers (R). Smith is a lifelong Democrat and a military veteran who is passionate about veterans and their receiving the benefits they were promised.
Parker Griffith is a successful doctor and former Democratic State Senator. He was elected to Congress in 2008 as a Democrat, then switched to the Republican Party in early 2010 after a public rift with then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D) from California. Griffith was then defeated in the Republican Primary by then county commissioner and current Fifth District Congressman Morris “Mo” Brooks (R) from Huntsville. Congressman Brooks defeated Rep. Griffith again in the 2012 Republican Primary. Griffith then left the Republican Party and was allowed readmission to the Alabama Democratic Party in 2013.
While Democrats are billing Medicaid expansion as some sort of job creating panacea, Republicans complain that the general fund is struggling to handle paying for the existing Medicaid program and could not possibly afford expanding the program. A recent study by Troy State supports the Republican view.
The forum will be held on Thursday July 24 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the historic Ritz Theater in Talladega.
21 Jul 2014
By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A nationwide breakdown of job growth released last week by the US Department of Labor confirms that states which have increased their minimum wages this year have seen a greater hike in new jobs since January.
On average, states who lifted their minimum wage effective this year – thirteen in total – had about a fifth of a percent higher increase in the number of new jobs created in the last six months. States with an increased wage saw job numbers improve about .81 percent, as opposed to just .61 in states with no such legislation. Twelve of the thirteen higher minimum wage states saw positive job growth, with the other seeing no change in employment.
This report may come as a bit of a surprise to some in Alabama, where GOP legislators and political pundits have long attacked policies like an increase in the minimum wage as job killers – a fact that John Schmitt, an economist as the Center for Economic and Policy Research pointed out in light of the new Labor Department numbers:
“[The data] raises serious questions about the claims that a raise in the minimum wage is a jobs disaster,” he explained.
Other economists like Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute, have said there may not be enough information to make any conclusions just yet.
“It's too early to tell,” Veuger said of the statistics. “These states are very different along all kinds of dimensions.”
Schmitt, who supports state level minimum wage laws said, however, that while it “isn't definitive” due to only six months worth of data, the new report is “probably a reasonable first cut at what's going on.”
Alabama State Representative Darrio Melton, D-Selma, sponsored a bill in this year's legislative session that would have increased the Yellowhammer State's minimum wage from the federal minimum in annual increments, ultimately reaching $9.80 over three years.
While the legislation did not gain any traction with the Republican Supermajority this year, it garnered National attention in light of an effort led by President Obama to raise the wage federally, and, according to Rep. Melton, it started a conversation that is crucial to the fiscal future of Alabama. Now Rep. Melton is pointing to the new Labor Department report, saying it is “real evidence” showing the importance of a living wage.
"We are in an economic crisis in Alabama,” the Selma Democrat told APR yesterday evening. “We are one of only give states to suffer from a shrinking economy last year and we are gaining jobs at a rate slower than every state except Alaska. During such a critical time, we can't afford to play politics with our state's economy or with the well being of our working men and women. There is real evidence that a minimum wage will help our state recover. We can't afford to let the Republican supermajority and the business council of Alabama rule out any real options for recovery. It is my hope that Alabama isn't last on increasing our minimum wage.”
Of the 13 states who increased their minimum wages this year, nine did so automatically to reflect inflation: AZ, CO, FL, MO, MT, OH, OR, VT, and WA. Only four – CT, NJ, NY, and RI – do so through independent minimum wage legislation.
The current federal minimum wage is $7.20, an hourly figure which Alabama adopts by legal default.
Despite that, and the fact that twenty seven other states default to the federal standard, Rep. Melton seems to have been right about one thing – the conversation has started: 38 states considered minimum wage hikes this year, the most ever according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And, in addition, at least 16 states will increase their wage beginning next year.