By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
If the President and the Congress can not come into agreement on fiscal policy the nation will fall off the fiscal cliff on January 1. The fiscal cliff crisis will affect almost every American and has the potential to plunge the country back into Recession. U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery says that she will work through Christmas to protect her constituents from higher taxes and devastating spending cuts to America’s defenses.
Representative Roby said, “This is a critical period for negotiations in Washington. The ‘fiscal cliff’ has real-world consequences for this country and for families in Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. I’m committed to working through the Christmas holiday if that’s what it takes to find a solution, and I encourage the House leadership to continue its ongoing dialogue with the White House and the Senate. I believe there is a way to find common ground without compromising our principles, and I am hopeful that a good agreement can be reached.”
Rep. Roby said, “The federal government’s huge annual deficits are fueled by spending that is too high, not by taxes that are too low. I believe the House leadership understands that new taxes will hurt the economy and do little to bring down the deficit. I have also personally communicated to my colleagues the importance of avoiding deep automatic cuts to the military. There are other areas of the government more deserving of further cuts, and certainly reforming entitlement spending is the key to constraining future spending. I look forward to reviewing the product of these negotiations, but I will withhold judgment until my staff and I have the opportunity to carefully review the specifics of a written legislative proposal.”
Without some sort of a compromise, in 2013, the six income tax brackets of 2012 will be replaced with five tax brackets and more Americans will pay income taxes. The new tax rates will begin at 15 percent and rise to as high as 39.6 percent. This year the tax rates began at 10 percent and rose to just 35 percent. Most Americans (not just the wealthy) will see higher taxes.
Even lower income Americans pay the employee payroll tax rate. On Jan. 1, 2013, the current 4.2 percent employee payroll tax rate will revert back to 6.2 percent. The higher tax rate contribution to social security will be borne by lower and middle class Americans. Be prepared for smaller net pay when you get your paycheck in January.
Rep. Roby said that the average American household would pay $3,500 more to the federal government in 2013 than they did in 2012.
Long term Capital Gains taxes will also increase and not just for Warren Buffet. Currently if you are in the 10% or 15% income tax brackets you pay no capital gains taxes. Starting in 2013 that will increase from 0 to 10%. Taxpayers who are in the current 25% and 35% income tax brackets currently pay 15 percent on the sale of an asset held for more than a year. In 2013 that is scheduled to increase to 20 percent. If you are planning the sale of stocks, real estate or another long term asset, there will be a tax benefit to taking that income in December as opposed to putting it off to January.
Currently, qualified dividends are treated by the current tax code as long-term capital gains and pay the appropriate capital gains rate. In 2013 they will be taxed as ordinary income. Lower income taxpayers pay nothing on qualified dividends now. In 2013 that will jump to their current income tax rate. For upper income taxpayers this will result in an increase from 15 percent to a tax rate as high as 39.6 percent.
The fiscal cliff will also affect your itemized deductions. In 2012, the itemized deduction for uninsured medical expenses paid equals the excess of qualified expenses over 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI). In2013, the threshold rises to 10% of AGI. Seniors (taxpayers 65 year old and older) get an exemption and they will not be subject to the 10% threshold until Jan. 1, 2017. If you will be impacted by the threshold change you should accelerate medical expenses into 2012. A surgery performed in December will likely mean a bigger tax benefit than one which is postponed until January.
In 2013, high income taxpayers’ itemized reductions will be reduced by 3 percent of the amount that their AGI exceeds an annual threshold amount. In 2012, there was no threshold amount and expenses claimed on Schedule A are not subject to any limitation regardless of income. This will also affect state returns for residents of Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey and Virginia where a majority of residents utilize itemized deductions instead of a standard deduction.
Families will also be impacted. In 2013, the Child Tax Credit will decreases from $1,000 to $500 for each qualifying dependent child, although the cost of feeding, clothing, and educating children has not decreased.
Similarly, the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit will be reduced in 2013 to a maximum of $2,400 (down from $3,000) for one child and $4,800 (down from $6,000) for two or more dependents. The credit remains at between 20 percent and 30 percent of those amounts, based on taxpayer income.
The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides families a tax credit of up to $2,500 per year for 4 years of college education, will expire on December 31, 2012. In 2013, the tax credit will be decreased to a maximum of just $1,900 per year for two years.
The marriage penalty will return with a vengeance. In 2012, the standard deduction for a married couple was twice the standard deduction of an unmarried individual filing a single return. In 2013, the standard deduction for a married couple will be decreased to 167 percent of the single filer’s deduction.
Also the President’s reelection means that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) will become the law of the land and a tax provision in that legislation will impose an additional 3.8% tax on the unearned income of high income taxpayers. This will apply to interest, dividends, capital gains, royalties and rents. This change will result in a maximum long-term capital gains tax rate of 23.8 percent and a 43.4 percent tax rate on dividends.
Also be prepared to be hit with higher estate taxes. The Federal Estate Tax Exemption will drop to just $1 million (down from $5.12 million in 2012) and will be taxed at 55 percent (up from 35 percent now). For example, under current law if you owned a farm or business worth $6 million and died today you would exempt the first $5.12 million and your loved ones would pay taxes on the remaining $880,000, thus would owe the federal government $308,000. The owner of the same farm or business who died in 2013 would owe much more.
After exempting the first $million, the rest of the estate would be taxed at 55%. In this example, the family would owe the IRS $2,750,000 and would likely have to liquidate that family farm or business to pay the tax burden. That tax rate will also applies to gift taxes, so be prepared to schedule time with your estate planner.
Meanwhile the interest rates on student loans are about to increase because the Congressional extension of the 3.4 percent fixed rate on the subsidized Stafford loan will expire. If not extended, it will revert back to 6.8 percent.
Sequestration cuts will also lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs many of them in the military and the defense sector.
Rep. Roby said, “Everybody likes to be home for the holidays, but I’m ready to work through Christmas to avert the “fiscal cliff” if that’s what is necessary. This is a critical time in Washington for negotiations that will have real-world consequences for this country and for families in Alabama.”
Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.
Inmate assault injures two St. Clair prison correctional officers
The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries.
Two correctional officers at St. Clair Correctional Facility were injured in an inmate-on-officer assault on Monday, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed to APR.
Among the two officers who sustained non-life-threatening injuries was a basic correctional officer (BCO), a position created in May 2019, who are not Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (APOST) certified and who have some limitations on working directly with inmates without correctional officers present.
The other officer injured was a full correctional officer, Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose told APR in a message Friday. The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries and subsequently released, according to Rose.
“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the actions taken by the inmate against ADOC staff are being thoroughly investigated,” Rose said. “As the investigation into this incident is ongoing, we cannot provide additional detail at this time. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation.”
The ADOC created the new basic correctional officer position to bolster the state’s woefully understaffed prisons. The creation of the position was also at the suggestion of experts ordered by a federal court to study the department’s staffing problems, ADOC attorneys wrote to the court in a filing in 2019.
The ongoing lawsuit is over the state’s handling of mental health in prisons.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program filed the 2014 suit arguing the state was indifferent to the health of inmates dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in June argued that ADOC was far behind on the court-ordered hiring new additional officers. It has been more than two years since U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in a previous opinion wrote that prison understaffing “has been a persistent, systemic problem that leaves many ADOC facilities incredibly dangerous and out of control.”
“Taken together, ADOC’s low correctional-staffing level, in the context of its severely overcrowded prisons, creates a substantial risk of serious harm to mentally ill prisoners, including continued pain and suffering, decompensation, self-injury, and suicide,” Thompson’s previous opinion continued.
The SPLC in court filings late last year expressed concern over the use of basic correctional officers in Alabama’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons. ADOC attorneys have argued to the court, however, that BCO’s are adequately trained to do their jobs and are needed for the department to hire the necessary number of officers per the court’s timeline.
In a court filing on Thursday, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the court not to again delay site visits to Alabama prisons by two experts who are tasked by the court to determine which positions should be filled by correctional officers and which by BCO’s and which by another new position, called cubical correctional officers, who are to have no direct interaction with inmates.
Those visits were to begin in May, but both parties in the suit agree to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat it posed to the experts, who are particularly vulnerable to the disease due to “age and other factors,” according to court records.
Both parties again agreed to postpone those visits in June for those same reasons, those records show. ADOC seeks a third extension but attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that the experts can visit the prisons while keeping themselves, prison staff and inmates safe from harm of COVID-19 and that thousands of employees and contractors enter Alabama prisons daily.
The plaintiff’s attorneys argue in the court filing that the expert guidance is needed because ADOC wishes to use BCO’s and cubical correctional officers to comply with the court-ordered hiring of additional staff by Feb. 20, 2022.
“Ensuring adequate staffing is of upmost importance to address the constitutional violations underlying mental health care within ADOC,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote to the court Thursday.
ADOC in May was employing 494 BCO’s, a 57 percent increase in the number of BCO’s employed in Oct. 2019, according to ADOC’s staffing numbers. The number of correctional officers working in Alabama prisons fell by two percent during that time, dropping from 1,319 to 1,287.
Slow absentee voting in Tuscaloosa sparks outrage, possible legal action
Among the issues were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Long lines and slow absentee ballot processing in Tuscaloosa County have left voters outraged and incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’s campaign threatening legal action.
On Wednesday, Jones’s campaign attorney, Adam Plant, sent a letter to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Clerk Magaria Bobo, outlining a number of issues with ongoing absentee voting and promising to take legal action if Bobo doesn’t improve the process on the final day, Friday. Among the issues documented by Plant were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours.
Additionally, Plant noted that Bobo has hired her family members to help process absentee ballots and at least one family member had made disparaging remarks on social media about voters.
“You and those acting on your behalf are suppressing the vote of qualified Alabama voters,” Plant wrote in the letter. “If you are unable or unwilling to execute your duties competently, and allow Tuscaloosa voters to exercise their voting rights without undue burdens, we will take further action.”
In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday, Bobo noted that her office had received more than 13,000 requests for absentee ballots — a remarkable uptick from the 3,000 or so her office usually receives — and there had been problems in managing that number of ballots while also adhering to social distancing guidelines within the office.
However, as Plant’s letter notes, the massive increase in absentee ballots for this election shouldn’t have been a surprise. Also, Secretary of State John Merrill had made additional funds available to absentee managers to facilitate hiring extra staff, purchasing additional computers and staying open for longer hours to accommodate the anticipated increase.
In a press release on Wednesday, the Alabama Democratic Party criticized Bobo and her family members, and the release included screenshots of Facebook posts from Bobo’s daughter lashing out at voters who complained about the long wait times.
“No voter should have to wait in line for hours to exercise their rights,” said ADP executive director Wade Perry. “We should leverage every tool we have to make voting easier, not harder. Also, it should go without saying that election workers should not insult the very people they are employed to serve. If Ms. Bobo is incapable of processing voters quickly, someone else needs to do the job.”
Jones campaign calls Tuberville a “coward” after no-show at Auburn forum
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” Jones’s campaign said.
There are only four days left before election day, and incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign is slamming Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville, accusing him of “hiding” and calling him a “coward.”
On Wednesday, Jones addressed an Auburn University forum. Tuberville did not attend.
“Tonight, the College Democrats and College Republicans at Auburn University co-hosted a debate between Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville, offering students a chance to ask the candidates about the issues that matter most to Alabama,” the Jones campaign said in an email to supporters. “But Tuberville never showed up – he’s too scared to face Doug… even on his own home turf. Tuberville has repeatedly refused to debate Doug Jones. He’s consistently refused to be interviewed by the press. He’s refused to tell Alabama the truth about who and what they’re voting for – and it’s clear why.”
“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” the campaign continued. “If he won’t tell the truth, we will. Tuberville expects to win this race off of his blind allegiance to the President and his party affiliation. But Alabamians know better.”
“People deserve to know who they’re really voting for if they vote for Tuberville: someone who … won’t protect our health care, doesn’t believe in science, has no idea what the Voting Rights Act is, and doesn’t care about the lives and livelihoods of Alabamians,” the Jones campaign concluded. “Alabama will never elect a coward. Pitch in now and help us spread the truth about the man hiding behind the ballot.”
“I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here,” Jones said. “I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”
Tuberville meanwhile is canvassing the state, speaking to rallies and Republican groups to turn out the Republican vote for himself and President Donald Trump. Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest in Madison County on Thursday and at the Trump Truck Parade rally in Phenix City.
“It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who represents our conservative beliefs and traditional values,” Tuberville said in Phenix City. “It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who supports the Second Amendment, the right to life, and putting God back in the classroom.”
Polling consistently shows Tuberville with a commanding lead over Jones. Real Clear Politics lists the race on their current board as a likely Republican win. FiveThirtyEight’s election model gives Tuberville a 79 percent chance of defeating Jones.
Tuberville says election is about “the American dream”
“It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us,” Tuberville claimed.
Thursday, Tommy Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest asking Madison County voters to support him and re-elect Donald J. Trump Tuesday.
The former Auburn University head football Coach told the estimated crowd of 350 that, “It is great to be here. This has been a lot of fun for me. Two years ago, my wife and I started to pray on whether or not to run. When we decided to run, she said don’t come back until you win.”
“This is a very serious election,” Tuberville said. “This is not about Donald Trump. It is not about me. It is not about Biden or Jones. It is about the American dream. They are trying to take it away from us.”
“I always told my players this: this country gives you the opportunity to fail and if you fail you get back up and try again,” Tuberville said. “When I was growing up in Arkansas I wanted to be a college football coach. People in high school laughed at me for it and people in college. It takes perseverance.”
Tuberville said that this country gives you the opportunity to succeed, more so than any other country in the world. Most of the rest of the world is socialist.
Tuberville warned that the other side is trying to turn America into a socialist country.
“We are not going to let them ruin this country,” Tuberville vowed.
The 2020 Madison County GOP Freedom Fest was held at the brand new Toyota Field, the new home of the Huntsville Trash Pandas minor league baseball team.
Tuberville praised President Trump whom “I have gotten to know through all of this and we have become friends. He never slows down; and he is sharp as a tack.”
Tuberville said that the President once called him at 2:30 in the morning, “He said sleep is overrated.”
To protect the American dream we need to vote on Tuesday to keep the Senate and get Donald Trump re-elected.”
Tuberville said that he has spoken with, “A lot of people who as nervous as I am about Tuesday.” Coach Tuberville, who is being outspent, urged the crowd to ignore all of the television ads by his opponent, incumbent Senator Doug Jones (D).
Tuberville vowed to defend the Second Amendment if elected, “They ain’t getting my guns….or your guns.”
“We need to get God back in our schools and teach values again,” Tuberville stated. “The other side does not talk about values and morals.”
We are not going to allow them to tear down our country,” Tuberville said. “God will not allow them.”
“We are going to get God back in our country like it is supposed to be,” Tuberville said.
Coach Tuberville was introduced to the crowd by State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville).
Scofield said that he “is ready to send Doug Jones back to California.”
“Yes I know he is actually from here; but he sure votes like California. He certainly doesn’t vote like the vast majority of the people of Alabama want him to vote.”
Scofield called Tuberville is “A fighter” who will stand up for the values of the people of Alabama.
Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said, “This is the most important election of my lifetime.”
“Do we believe in freedom and liberty or do we believe in socialism?” Brooks said. “We need to beat them like a drum.”
The general election is on Tuesday. You must bring a valid photo ID with you to your assigned polling place in order to participate.
Secretary of State John H. Merrill predicted that the state would have record participation on Tuesday.