By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, April 14 the Alabama Senate passed SB179 the Education Trust Fund budget with the unified support of both political parties 33 to 0. The budget included an additional $13.5 million increase for the state’s voluntary Pre-K program.
State Senator Cam Ward (R from Alabaster) said on Twitter, “Al Senate just passed the #Education Trust Fund Budget unanimously w/ little controversy. Very rare!”
On Wednesday, April 8 the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee met for a public hearing on SB179, the Education Trust Fund Budget for Fiscal Year 2016.
Sen. Trip Pittman (R from Montrose) chairs the powerful committee. Pittman announced that the state has paid back the $437 million due to the Alabama Trust Fund.
The voters of Alabama voted to raid the money from the Alabama Trust Fund so the legislature would not have to right size the state’s troubled general fund before the 2014 elections. The money to pay back the ATF came from the Education Trust Fund…..that has a more stables source of revenue.
Chairman Pittman said that the budget is based on projections: “Time will only tell if they are accurate.” Pittman said that the governor submitted a budget. He made some suggestions that agencies currently in the education budget be moved to the general fund. “Some of those agencies had been in the education budget for years.” Some of those agencies have requested staying in the education budget.
Sen. Pittman said that be baseline in the budge formulation is based on what we spent in 2015. Chairman Pittman said that the PACT requirement for 2016 is approximately $32.5 million in 2016. That could grow to $80 million by the end of the decade, Pittman warned.
Pittman said that the actual numbers of public school students declined so that freed up some money that money goes to the foundation program. In the pre-K through 12 system experts say that the greatest challenges are in the middle school level so the committee moved money to add more 7th and 8th grade teachers. The retirement system received an additional $6.7 million. There is an additional appropriation for textbooks.
Sen. Vivian Figures (D from Mobile) asked if textbooks are fully funded: to 2008 levels.
Pittman said, “No it does not get us to 2008 levels.”
Sen. Figures said that we haven’t fully funded textbooks for the children left behind, but we are letting money be diverted to scholarships.
Pittman said, “Education allows individuals to achieve their potential. It allows a representative democracy to survive.”
Sen. Pittman acknowledged that some arguably general fund agencies are funded in the education budget; but “Previous legislatures have diverted far greater funds. John Dillinger robbed banks because that is where the money is.”
Pittman said that the lowering of diesel fuel will hopefully help in the transportation costs. The Committee has made a commitment has to increase funding for pre-K. There are more and more students in the pre-K program every year. Commissioner Ross said she wanted $20 million. We were able to settle on $13.5 million. This is voluntary pre-K. There is no substitute for parents making good decisions. “By the time you are 5 years old 80 percent of your cognitive abilities are developed.” Vocabulary is the basis for phonics. Phonic are the basis for the ability to read. “If you have the ability to read you can teach yourself a lot of things.”
Pittman said that hopefully we have good teachers involved. One of the keys for following that is student assessments. Last year we were not able to fully fund the assessments called for. To evaluate performance we need to establish a baseline. “The superintendent (Tommy Bice) worked out a deal with the testing company so they were able to get those testing started.” We will have to pay in arear. Have increased the amount for standardized testing by $6 million.
Pittman said that school systems have made a good step in distance learning. The systems should be applauded. Distance learning access is extremely critical to deal with children from rural areas, that need extra time, discipline issues, with transportation problems or special needs. “We increased access from $18 million to $20 million.”
Pittman said that the 2 year system has a lot of challenges. There are very important for workforce development. It is extremely important that the two year system provide quality instruction at the most affordable rate per credit hour. Dual enrollment has increased from last year. Children can get bored. This allows children in HS to start getting credits. It is a great program that deserves to be expanded. Looking at the splits on the money there is a $5 million increase for Veterans Affairs. We understand how important higher Ed is to Alabama. South Alabama got an increase because they have experienced a lot of growth. The PACT program solution was part of something that was not contemplated when the rolling reserve act was passed. All of the other entities except for rehabilitation services were level funded. They received an additional $million for them to leverage $6 million in federal funds.
Alison Mulendorf with the ASRA thanked the Committee for doubling Alabama’s funding for Pre-K. The first class of pre-K students are outperforming their peers. They have better attendance and less are referred to Special Ed. Mulendorf predicted that they will be more likely to graduate and attend college. The program currently serves 13% of four year olds. In the next few years she hoped that all students will have access to voluntary pre-K. The $13.5 million is the increase needed to work toward the goal of fully funding the program by 2023.
Nancy Pack with the Alabama Public Library Service said that since 1958 we have had a public library in every county in the state. That will change without needed state funding.
Sen. Pittman defended the money being spent on the expensive ACT Aspire testing. Pittman said those standards are our state standards. “I am so adamant about the testing because we need to see if those standards are working.” At this point to determine that we needed a baseline. ACT is something that all of us are familiar with.
Roy Clem with Alabama Public Television (APT) said that there were America’s first statewide broadcasting system and have been serving the state for 60 years.
The ETF budget sailed through the Senate and now moves on to the Alabama House of Representatives where no major opposition is expected.
Mimi Penhale, Russell Bedsole advance to GOP runoff in HD49
Tuesday, Republican voters in House District 49 went to the polls to vote for who will be their next representative. Miriam “Mimi” Penhale and Russell Bedsole received the most votes and will advance on to the special Republican primary runoff on September 1.
“What an incredible day!” Bedsole said. “Thank you friends and family for your love, support, and prayers. We had a great showing today and we are on to a runoff. Looking forward to getting back out and winning this thing on September 1st”
“THANK YOU Bibb, Chilton and Shelby County!” said Penhale on social media. “I’m looking forward to earning your vote, again, on September 1 in the runoff.”
The election was very tight between the two. Mimi Penhale received 829 votes, 31.4 percent of the votes. Russell Bedsole received 919 votes – 34.8 percent.
The rest of the votes was split among the other four candidates. James Dean received 17 votes – .6 percent, Chuck Martin received 640 votes – 24.3 percent, Jackson McNeely received 57 votes – 2.16 percent, and Donna Strong received 177 votes 6.71 percent.
There were 2,639 votes cast on Tuesday. Voter turnout was 8.88 percent.
Bedsole serves on the Alabaster City Council, Pemhale is the director of the Shelby County Legislative office.
The eventual winner of the Republican nomination will face Democrat Cheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, November 17.
The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Representative April Weaver (R-Briarfield) announced her resignation to accept an appointment with the Trump administration as a regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
House District 49 consists of portions of Bibb, Shelby and Chilton Counties. The winner will serve the remainder of April Weaver’s term which ends in late 2022.
Jimmy Reynolds, Ben Robbins qualify as Republicans for Alabama House District 33
Tuesday, the Alabama Republican Party closed its candidate qualifying period for the Alabama House of Representatives District 33 special primary election on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Jimmy Reynolds, Jr. and Ben Robbins have qualified to run for the District 33 seat in special Republican primary.
“Our district is a wonderful place to raise a family,” Robbins said in a statement. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to leave them with more opportunities than we had, and I believe fresh ideas, bold leadership and true conservative values are the foundation of that success.”
Robbins serves on multiple community boards, including Habitat for Humanity, co-president of Leadership Sylacauga and serves the Talladega Rotary Club as a past-president. He is also active with several local Chambers of Commerce and the Sylacauga Young Professionals. He is a seventh-generation Talladega County resident and the grandson of former Childersburg Mayor Robert Limbaugh. He and his wife Melanie have one son.
The Republican Special Primary Election will be held on Oct. 6, 2020, with the General Election scheduled for Jan. 19, 2021.
The vacancy in House District 33 occurred following the sudden passing of State Representative Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, earlier this month.
Jimmy Reynolds Jr. is a visual arts teacher at Sylacauga City School System. He previously worked for Hhgregg, Inc. and Tweeter Home Entertainment. Reynolds has a business management degree from Auburn University (1988) and lives in Hollins, Alabama.
House District 33 consists of portions of Clay, Coosa and Talladega Counties.
The special primary election for House District 33 will be held on Tuesday, October 6, 2020. The General Election will be held on Tuesday, January 19, 2021.
Sens. Doug Jones, Cory Gardner introduce the American Dream Down Payment Act
Tuesday, U.S. Senators Doug Jones (D-Alabama and Cory Gardner (D-Colorado) introduced the American Dream Down Payment Act of 2020. The bipartisan legislation would help prospective homeowners save for a traditional 20-percent down payment by creating special tax-advantaged savings accounts for eligible housing costs.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate our nation’s economy, it is getting even harder for many folks in Alabama and across the country to put money away in savings and to work toward the American dream of owning a home,” said Senator Jones. “Down payments are the biggest barrier to homeownership for first-time homebuyers, especially among low-income and minority Americans, and make it harder to build generational wealth that is often tied to home-ownership. Our legislation would provide a new path to help make the dream of buying a home a reality by making it easier to save money for down payments and other housing-related costs.”
“A down payment on a home can be a significant barrier to becoming a homeowner,” said Sen. Gardner. “Inspired by the popular 529 education savings accounts, this bipartisan bill will make it easier for people to save for a down payment, which will aid both our unique housing challenges in Colorado and our economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to work with Senators Jones and Brown to help more families achieve the American Dream and own a home.”
These accounts would be similar to the popular 529 Plan accounts that encourage people to save pre-tax money to pay for future education expenses. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is the Ranking Member of the Senate Banking & Housing Committee and an original cosponsor of the legislation.
The sponsors cite a recent survey by the Urban Institute which found that more than two-thirds of renters view the down payment as a barrier to owning a home. As rents and student loan debt rise, it can be harder for prospective homeowners to save for a down payment, especially if they are a first-time homebuyer or aren’t able to receive help from family members.
“Borrowers of color have been locked out of affordable homeownership for decades,” said Sen. Brown. “The gap in Black and white homeownership rates remain as large now as it was before the Fair Housing Act was signed into law. These troubling and persistent inequities in homeownership rates have prevented generations of Black and brown families from obtaining the American dream of owning a home. The American Dream Down Payment Act is a new tool to help make homeownership a reality.”
Even though the nation-wide homeownership rate is relatively stable, there are significant disparities in homeownership by age, race, and ethnicity. The Black homeownership rate which peaked just prior to the 2008-2009 Great Recession, has fallen to a 50-year low in 2016, at just 41.7 percent. That remains nearly 30 points below the White homeownership rate. This is before the recent COVID-19 economic panic, Millennials are less likely to own a home by age 34 than their parents or grandparents were. If these trends continue, a growing number of Americans will be locked out of homeownership.
“The introduction of the American Dream Down Payment Act offers Black American families and individuals the opportunity to build legacy wealth through homeownership,” Sen. Brown added. “The ability to accumulate tax-free savings funds breaks down/eliminates one of the most prominent barriers to achieving homeownership, the down payment. This Act serves as a tangible springboard to increase Black homeownership and real wealth-building prospects which the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) includes in the meaning of its time-honored slogan, Democracy in Housing,” said Donnell Williams, National President, National Association of Real Estate Brokers.”
The American Dream Down Payment Act would: Let states establish American Dream Down Payment Accounts, which they would manage in the same way they manage 529 Plan accounts today; Allow prospective homeowners to save up as much as 20% of today’s housing cost, indexed for inflation, to use for eligible down payment and other housing costs; Facilitate long-term savings for a down payment and allow contributions from family and friends; and Allow homebuyers using their American Dream Down Payment Account savings and earnings to use those funds tax-free at withdrawal for eligible expenses.
To protect American Dream Down Payment Account holders, the Securities and Exchange Commission would be required to set standards for the investments of eligible accounts and allowable fees.
This legislation is supported by the National Association of Realtors, Habitat for Humanity, and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers.
Senator Jones is a member of the Senate Banking & Housing Committee. Both Jones and Gardner face tough re-election battles this year.
Payroll Protection Program deadline has been extended to Saturday
Monday, Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) reminded business owners that the deadline to apply for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) has been extended to Saturday.
“The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) application deadline was recently extended to Saturday, August 8,” Rep. Roby wrote in an email to constituents. “Do not forget to fill out your application if you are a small business that has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.“
The PPP was a loan program administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). It was part of the bipartisan CARES Act to address the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic and the forced economic shutdowns which were implemented in the early months of the public health emergency in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel strain of the coronavirus.
The PPP loans are one percent interest loans available through the SBA. If the business uses the money to make payroll and pay standard operating expenses than the loans will be forgiven. https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program#section-header-5. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease. The loan forgiveness form and instructions include several measures to reduce compliance burdens and simplify the process for borrowers, including:
The PPP has been very popular, so much so that that program ran out of money just weeks after Congress passed it. Congress had to go back and provide more funding for the PPP.
You can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program
Senate Democrats are meeting with the Trump Administration, Senate Republicans, and House leadership on a compromise plan for a fifth coronavirus relief package. A big point of contention has been the size of the total package. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) supports a $3.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill; while Republicans prefer a more modest $one trillion relief bill. The two sides are expected to continue to negotiate through Friday in an attempt to reach a compromise before the August recess.
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) is serving in her fifth term representing Alabama’s Second congressional district. She is not seeking a fifth term and will retire at the end of the year.