By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
In November, Governor Robert Bentley was reelected by the vast majority of the voters in Alabama easily outclassing his Democratic opponent. But was Gov. Bentley reelected because the people of Alabama trust him implicitly to lead them, or were they voting for his first term policies of rightsizing Alabama government, keeping taxes low, and consolidating state agencies?
Governor Bentley recently said in a speech to PARCA that he is going to spend his second term raising taxes on the people of Alabama.
On Friday, February 27, the Governor released his plan. The Governor recently said in a series of speeches that he is going to spend his second term raising taxes on the people of Alabama.
The Governor previously proposed a $700 million tax increase, but by Friday, Bentley had downsized that plan to just $541 million per year in new revenue. He has proposed doubling the State sales tax on car and truck sales from 2 percent to 4 percent which he claims would generate an estimated $200 million.
Smoking would get a lot more expensive. Bentley proposes raising the taxes on cigarettes and tobacco. A pack of cigarettes would cost 82.5 cents more under the plan. This would produce another $205 million in revenue for the State. Alabama currently has one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the country.
Bentley also proposed changes to the corporate tax structure that would generate an estimated $20 million. The package also included: higher taxes on car rentals, changes to personal income tax deductions, higher taxes on utilities, and higher taxes on insurance.
There is already tremendous opposition to Bentley’s plans. On Saturday, February 21, the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee passed a resolution calling on the Governor and the Alabama Legislature not to raise taxes on the people of Alabama.
The resolution was passed by voice vote; but in the crowd of an estimated 500 Republican leaders, the Alabama Political Reporter did not hear any voices voting nay on the resolution.
The Governor recently said in a series of speeches that he is going to spend his second term raising taxes on the people of Alabama. Those plans had another setback on Saturday, February 21, when the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee passed a resolution calling on the Governor and the Alabama Legislature not to raise taxes on the people of Alabama.
Following passage of the GOP executive committee resolution, State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) said on Facebook, “The Governor needs to listen to the Party on this! Florida is in the process of cutting taxes but did you see where Attalla just raised taxes? Raising taxes has the opposite effect! Let’s grow the economy to raise revenue!”
Rep. Butler said that he believes that Gov. Bentley, “Is a very good man. I think he is listening to his democrat chief of staff he hired (former Speaker of the House Seth Hammett). There is a good reason his chief of staff is not in elected office anymore. I think he would be better off with a conservative as an adviser. Hammett is one of the reasons we are in the mess we are in.”
The head of the influential Alabama Republican Assembly Don Wallace said on Facebook, “This is not the Dr. Bentley that I campaigned for back in 2010. That candidate talked about reducing the tax/regulatory burden, talked about reducing overhead and putting more dollars in the classroom and into fixing roads, talked about chasing the ‘lobbyists’ out of the capital and returning it to the people. Very disappointed in the threatening tones and insistence on proposing $700 million per year in MORE TAXES, when the state budgets have grown over $600 million annually in the last 3 years. My question for Dr. Bentley is ‘Where did the $600 million go?’”
Alabama Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) did not wait for the plan to come out publicly against it in a big way.
Sen. Holtzclaw has gained considerable positive attention after he rented space on a billboard in Madison saying, “Governor Bentley wants to raise your taxes. I will not let that happen. Semper Fi – Senator Bill Holtzclaw.”
State Sen. Holtzclaw said on Facebook, “A little over 100 days ago Governor Bentley and I were re-elected on the same ticket to serve our constituents. After months of campaigning I don’t recall either of us discussing tax increases – in fact we were saying just the opposite, no tax increases. Since early January the message has rapidly gone from – we might need to look at raising taxes, to – we really should raise taxes, to – we are raising taxes $700M.I’m not ready to throw in the towel and surrender to the option of raising taxes. I believe the answer to our continued budget woes is two-fold; funding essential functions of government and un-earmarking the 80+ percent of the revenue that is locked up.”
Holtzclaw comments were made in an interview with WVNN’s Dale Jackson discussing why Holtclaw put the billboard up.
Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) Director John Cooper has since punished the people of Sen. Holtzclaw’s district; by shutting down over $100 million worth of road projects in the district. Cooper said that while Bentley did not order the action against Sen. Holtzclaw, but the Governor was aware of it.
The Governor is calling for massive tax increases of over $540 million a year which would take an estimated $5.4 billion out of the private sector over the next decade if implemented. The controversial plan is reminiscent of a plan by former Governor Bob Riley (R) in 2003; but unlike Gov. Riley’s Amendment One plan Bentley has said that he will not allow the people of Alabama to have a vote on his plan. Rather than pitching his plan to the people of Alabama, Bentley is putting pressure on legislators to pass his plan or else.
State Representative Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) has accused Gov. Bentley of threatening legislators who dare defy him by not funding road repairs in their districts as well as other projects. Rep. Henry told Yellowhammer Politics, “The reason our State is in the state that it’s in is because people — legislators, politicians — believed they could go to Montgomery, go to Washington, do whatever they want as far as passing themselves pay raises, tax increases, but as long as they bring home the bacon, bring home the projects to their local area, they can do anything they want to in Montgomery. In 2010 we changed all that… I was not sent there to bring home the bacon.”
Even Democrats have expressed concerns that the Governor’s plan would hit Alabama families too hard and have urged the Governor to support Rep. Craig Ford’s (D) lottery plan. Ford has introduced one lottery bill that would plug the hole in the state’s General Fund as well as the lottery bill he normally introduces where the proceeds go to the Education Trust fund.
State Senator J. T. “Jabo” Wagoner (R-Vestavia) said in a radio interview on 1070 AM that the legislature should raise the number of taxpayers in Alabama by growing the economy instead of raising taxes on the people of Alabama.
The Governor has just announced details of his $540 million plan, but an increasing number of voices are saying that plan is already dead on arrival in the legislature.
USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.
The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.
Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).
USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.
Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.
Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.
Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks
Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.
“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”
Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.
Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”
Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.
The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.
The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.
Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.
“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”
Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.
Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.
As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.
A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.
The Iron Bowl is Saturday
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.
Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.
Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.
In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.
Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.
The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.
Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.
Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus
Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.
Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine.
Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said.
“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response.
The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval.
“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations, we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines.
In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain.
“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily.
While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.
“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.