By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, January 12, state Senator Phil Williams (R from Rainbow City) and State Representative Jim Hill (R from Odenville) both addressed the gathered members of the St. Clair Farmer’s Federation in Ashville.
Sen. Williams told the influential farmers’ group, “Thank you, it is my real honor to be here as your State Senator.”
Sen. Williams said that his race with former State Senator Larry Means (D from Attalla) was one of the most contested races in the state last year. Williams said, “We outspent everybody except for the Governor and the attorney general.” The career Army Officer and Rainbow City attorney unseated Sen. Means (then under indictment) in the historic Republican landslide election of 2010. Former Sen. Means (now the Mayor of Attalla) tried to get his seat back in 214. Williams thanked the farmers for helping him win.
Sen. Williams said, “The (Farmer’s) Federation was a huge asset to me.” All four Farmers Federation County chapters in the District endorsed Williams.
Sen. Williams said, “I am a firm believer that what happens in Montgomery affects our daily lives even more than what happens in Washington DC.”
Williams said that every vote counts and cited the example of long serving Sen. Roger Bedford (D from Russellville) who lost his seat to Dr. Larry Stutts (R) by just 50 votes out of 35,000 votes cast. “It literally came down to every vote counts.”
Sen. Williams said that the 2014 election was the first test of our photo ID law. The Senator cited the case of Union Town where 120 percent of its adult population voted in a recent city election as an example of election corruption in Alabama.
Sen. Williams said that the 2015 legislative session, “Is going to be a rough year in some ways.”
Williams said, “I do feel like we (the Republican Super Majority) have done some great things.” Williams said that the legislature has downsized and consolidated agencies and have avoided proration; but warned that we are coming into what is probably going to be our toughest year yet. The state faces a $260 million deficit in the general fund, “We don’t know how we are going to fill it.” Some people calculate that that deficit could be up to $700 million.
Sen. Williams said, “I am a conservative Republican and I ran as an anti-tax guy.” I believe that we have to be good stewards of what you give us. Alabama is one of the only states in the country with two budgets: one for education and one for the general fund. The growth taxes are in the education budget
Williams said that the legislature will spend a great deal of time consolidating State agencies and said there is a movement to consolidate Agriculture and forestry. “There are lot of things that could happen with those two departments.”
Williams said that there are 4000 less state employees than there were four years ago and there could be less people on the payroll in the future. Sen. Williams said that the State will look at ‘Corporate loopholes’ that are on the books that may have made sense 30, 40, or 50 years ago when they passed; but may not be doing a lot of good today. The legislature will be holding public hearings and these decisions will not be made behind closed doors.
Williams said that he is opposed to anything that will raise individuals’ income taxes.
Sen. Williams said, “Some folks say we need a statewide lottery.”
Williams said that prison reform will be a big issue in the session. Two things: prisons and Medicaid cost over 60 percent of the general fund. The prisons are 22 percent by itself. The State is housing 195 percent of the prisons capacity. “The State prison system is overwhelmed and we are very concerned that the federal government is going to come in and make us fix it.”
Sen. Williams said that Sen. Cam Ward (R from Alabaster) is heading the Prison Reform Commission looking for solutions. A bond issue to build new bigger prisons means borrowing money and the prisons are consuming a huge amount of money now.
Williams said that there was, “Big talk about Medicaid expansion under Obamacare,” but expanding Medicaid would cost the state $220 million a year by 2019.
Sen. Williams said, “I agree with Gov. Bentley on not expanding Medicaid and I hope we stand the line on that.”
Sen. William said that he had had some discussions with Auburn University President Dr. Gouge about starting an Ag. Degree program at the Cherokee County Gadsden State Campus in partnership with the Auburn Agriculture College. Gouge said I would be very interested in that. Four months ago Auburn U. signed an agreement that started with Poultry Science. You can start a four year degree in agriculture and take the first two years at Gadsden State in Cherokee County.
Williams said that one of the biggest issues they face in the legislature is actually about spay and neuter clinics. It creates controversy leading to near riots.
State Representative Jim Hill (R from Odenville) also addressed the group.
Rep. Hill said that while Williams had the most expensive legislative race in the State, he had the cheapest with no primary or general election opponent.
Hill, who has spent 19 years as a Judge, said that he told Speaker Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) to put me where I can do the most good: something dealing with sentencing reforms and prisons, because that is where I can do the most good.