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Public Hearing Held on Raising Taxes

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

For over three months, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) has been lobbying the State legislature to raise taxes on the people of Alabama.

On Tuesday, May 5, the House Republican Caucus voted in favor of a much more modest package of tax increases along with a Rep. Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) backed plan to give the Poarch Creek Band of Indians a gambling monopoly in the State of Alabama. The tax increase proposals were debated by supporters and opponents in a rare Tuesday public hearing in the House Finance and Taxation Committee chaired by Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark).

Mental health advocates spoke in favor of raising taxes. They said that 1 in 4 adult Alabamians suffer from some form of mental illness and the Department of mental health, “Can not have less money than we have now.” 

State Representative John Knight (R-Montgomery) said that the State’s General Fund budget has a shortfall of $270 million to level fund State agencies at last year’s levels.

Roger Serveline with Enterprise Rental cars. He said that Enterprise employs 1100 Alabama residents: “We oppose the 33 percent tax increase.” 

It is a myth that rental car customers are mostly rich travelers from out of state. 66 percent of rental car customers are Alabama residents. A 2010 study showed that 25 percent make less than $40,000. The rental tax also would apply to leasing vehicles. The share of new cars that are leased has doubled. Many businesses lease or rent vehicles particularly trucks as needed rather than have dollars tied up in the capital expense of owning.  Serveline warned that raising the rental tax would have a negative ripple effect across the economy. Alabama already has much higher rental car taxes than neighboring states because unlike those states Alabama lets local governments apply their own taxes to leasing vehicles. This would bring the taxes to10 percent in some jurisdictions.

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“Where is it going to stop?”

Mr. Sizemore spoke on behalf of the Alabama Trucking Association. Sizemore said that 20 percent of large truck purchases are lease agreements. This tax increase will have enormous gravitational pull to other states where leasing a new truck tractor will be much less.

Wanda Laird with the National alliance for mental illnesses said that not passing taxes and instead cutting the Department of Mental Health budget would have a devastating effect on the mentally ill.

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Tom Holmes, who is the Chairman of Government Affairs Committee for ARK of Alabama said that they support any legislation that brings revenue to the General fund. We serve 6000 individuals each day and would lose some of those people with budget cuts. 

State Representative Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) spoke on behalf of her bill HB572 which raises the tax on cigarettes by 25 cents a pack, down from her previous bill which raised 42 cents a pack and the Governor’s proposal which would have raised the tax by an incredible 85 cents per pack.

Christy Cain, the Chair of Alabama Healthy Changes and Executive Director of Alabama Children First said that raising tobacco taxes would be a beneficial step for Alabama. The average Alabama does not recognize the dire straits that Alabama is in. She however was concerned that the tax increase was too small. Children First and Healthy Change are worried that this would only generate $55 million a year and a 25 cents is not a deterrent to encourage smokers to quit and teens not to start. If we could reduce the number of smokers it would make Alabama a better place to live.

Kimble Forester with Alabama Arise said that the group has changed our position. We were opposed to it because it is a regressive tax; but have changed our position because of the health benefits. While the tax will hit the poor the hardest they will benefit the most from the lowered mortality by not smoking. They do prefer a 55 cent tax increase because it would give adults another reason to quit and prevent teens from starting.  The increase, “Needs to be big enough for sticker shock.” 

Economist Patrick Fleenor said that he has done an enormous amount of research on cigarette taxes. Recent state cigarette tax increase didn’t get the revenue they expect. New Jersey and Hawaii have both lost revenue from cigarette tax increases. This is due to an increase in ross border shopping and smuggling. Consumers move their shopping habits across the border to the state with the lowest taxes. 

Ricky Jones a wholesale distributor from Andalusia representing the Wholesale Distributors Association said that Alabama is the only state in the region to allow local taxes to be levied on top of the state tax. There are 399 tax jurisdictions on cigarettes in Alabama. That is not like any other state.  Ozark adds 20 cents to every pack. If you add another 25 cents consumers will drive to Georgia and Mississippi. Florida has higher cigarette taxes now and tons of people come into Alabama from Florida because it is $10 a carton less here. We will lose that if we raise the taxes.  “86 percent of the people who smoke in Alabama make less than $15,000 a year.” There might be a health benefit from raising taxes but a penny tax on Coca Cola and Frito Lay would do more good by decreasing diabetes.  It is foolish to rely on taxes from a source that will go down in revenue every year from now on as fewer people smoke.

A representative of the Petroleum and Convenience stores Association said the 250 different companies we represent run 4000 stores in Alabama and cigarettes are the largest product we sell. Cigarettes were 36.4 percent of sales in 2010 that has dropped to 32.5 percent of sales in 2014. That business is very price competitive. They will drive across town to save money. Many stores will not be able to survive if this passes.

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Aerospace and Defense

Jones criticized for voting to limit Trump’s war powers authority

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted in favor of S.J.Res.68, a resolution which directs the removal of United States military from hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran that have not been authorized by Congress. Jones have been criticized by Republicans for voting to limit President Donald J. Trump’s war powers on Iran.

“Before a President can lead us into war, he or she must first earn the support of the American people and also fulfill their solemn constitutional obligation to seek approval from Congress,” Sen. Jones said in a statement. “While the President has the power to protect Americans in the case of an imminent attack, that authority does not extend to committing our service members to long-term hostilities unilaterally. This resolution sends a strong message that we will follow the Constitution and we will not send our troops into harm’s way without the serious consideration and consent of the Congress.”

Trump Victory National Finance Committee member Perry O. Hooper Jr. released a statement in response.

“Senator Jones once again turned his back on Alabama and voted as the leftwing Democrats commanded. He has no regard for the values, opinions or views of Alabamians,” Hooper said. “He sees us as deplorables just like the elites of the Democratic party who have funded 80 percent of his doomed campaign for re-election.:

Hooper stated, “I whole heartily support the President who stated ‘We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness… If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party.’”

“The Commander-in-chief must be free to work with his staff and his military leaders to conduct covert operations like the one that eliminated Iran’s terrorist-in-chief General Soleimani,” Hooper added. “You can’t micromanage the war on terrorism. The Democrats in Congress are so filled with Trump Derangement Syndrome that no matter how much it would benefit our country and the world; they would never give Trump a “victory”. If it came down to it, they would leak everything to the media no matter what the consequences.”

Senator Jones is a cosponsor of the legislation and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Eight moderate Republicans voted with the Democrats on the resolution.

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Senator Jones has also been criticized by Republicans for his comments that he was “appalled” by Pres. Trump’s actions following his acquittal on both Articles of Impeachment.

“Newsflash for Senator Doug Jones: Most Alabamians have been appalled by his actions his entire time in office,” former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said. “It’s about time we send Doug home, and replace him with someone who understands our values. Alabamians deserve a Senator they can be proud of again.”

Sessions is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Jones’ Senate seat.

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The Republican primary will be on March 3.

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News

Moore says the Constitution is under God’s laws

Brandon Moseley

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Saturday, Senate candidate former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) presented his views on the Constitution and the sovereignty of God to attendees of the Conservative Leadership Conference in Florence.

“The form of government is both the Declaration and the Constitution,” Judge Moore said.

Moore argued that the rights granted to the citizens in the Bill of Rights do not come from the Constitution itself; but rather from God and the Constitution is there to protect those rights that God has ordained.

“The Constitution is the supreme law of the land; but the Constitution is under the rule of God,” Moore stated. “We as Americans, as Republicans as Democrats should go back to the Constitution.”

“Democrats are trying to move us toward a socialist government,” Moore warned. “The same people who want to take our guns away want to take prayer out of schools.”

“Most Christians do not understand the Ten Commandments,” Moore said. The first four are the duties that we owe to God and the last six are the duties that we owe to each other.

Moore quoted from Washington, Blackstone, and the 1954 legislation that inserted “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance.

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Moore said that Project Birmingham used Russian style tactics to undermine the support for Roy Moore and build up support for Doug Jones. Moore also blamed Richard Shelby for his defeat.

Moore said that Democrats have used similar smears liked the ones used against him in 2017 against Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.

“When you vote is stolen from you by tactics that is wrong,” Moore said/

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Moore warned that the greatest threat to this nation is the decline in morality. “We are at a critical point in our history.”

Moore warned that no nation could take us down from without; but that we could fall from within and warned of the growing agenda of the LGBTQ community.

“We are starting to recognize transgender rights above the right of your rights,” Moore warned.

“We are five votes (in the Senate) away from overturning everything our country is founded upon,” Moore warned if the Equality Act is passed. The Equality Act, “Which sounds good is about to take away the most precious thing our country is founded upon: our freedom of conscious.”

Moore warned that the legislation would lead to men in girls’ bathrooms and in girls’ sports.

Moore said that when man invents rights that are not from God it leads to problems. The right to privacy was invented and from that came the right to abortion, which has resulted in the deaths of millions, the right to sodomy, and the right to gay marriage. Now we are about to create a right of transgenderism.

Moore said that marriage was ordained by God as between one man and one woman. “If you can make it between two men you could make it between five men and between a man and a horse.”

“How do you correct it?” Moore asked rhetorically. “You recognize the sovereignty of God.”

“I have been mocked and removed from office twice,” Moore said.

“I am sick of seeing politicians carrying Bibles and doing nothing,” Moore said. The national debt was $5 trillion in 2005 now it is $23 trillion. They say they are Pro-Life and yet Planned Parenthood continues to get taxpayer dollars.

“We keep quiet because we are afraid it is going to offend anybody,” Moore said. “I couldn’t keep quiet about Obergefell. I wrote an opinion in API.”

Moore is a candidate for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary on March 3.

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House

McCutcheon is in “wait and see mode” on medical marijuana bill

Brandon Moseley

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Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) last Thursday was asked by reporters where he stood on pending medical marijuana legislation.

“I am in a wait and see mode,” McCutcheon told reporters. “The sponsor of the bill has done a lot of work.”

On Tuesday, State Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence) introduced a bill to legalize tightly controlled medical cannabis. The Medical cannabis bill introduced on Tuesday is Senate Bill 165.

“We have a letter from the Attorney General,” recommending that the legislature reject the bill.

Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) is arguing that while marijuana remains a federally controlled substance the legislature should not pass a state law that would be noncompliant with federal law. Marshall believes that if medical marijuana has any medical benefit then the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be the appropriate authority to approve such legislation and the state should wait for FDA to act.

33 states already have legalized medical marijuana.

“It brings up a legal question when you get a legal opinion from the attorney general office,” McCutcheon explained. “It answers some of my questions and also on the pro and the con there were some questions raised in the legal community.”

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McCutcheon said, “That is why we are in the mode that we are in.”

Melson introduced a medical marijuana bill last year during the 2019 regular session. That bill passed the Senate; but had difficulty getting out of committee in the Alabama House of Representatives. Instead of passing medical marijuana legislation the legislature passed a bill extending Leni’s Law and Carly’s law and establishing the Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission tasked with making a recommendation to the legislature.

The Alabama Medical Cannabis Study Commission was chaired by Sen. Melson and met monthly from August to November. In December, the commission voted in favor of a draft proposal recommending that the state allow licensed medical providers to prescribe marijuana based medications to patients with a demonstrated need. The state would create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate medical cannabis in the state. Farmers, processors, transporters, and dispensaries would have to get a license from the Commission and product would be strictly regulated.

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Despite the Commission’s recommendation, SB165 remains highly controversial in the legislature and there is expected to be considerable opposition to the bill. SB165 is 82 pages long.

SB165 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Judiciary Committee Chairman Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) told the Alabama Political Reporter that there will be a public hearing on SB165 on Wednesday, at 8:30 a.m. in the Alabama Statehouse room 825. Opponents and proponents will both be given the opportunity to voice their opinions.

Thursday was the fourth day of the 2020 legislative session.

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Elections

Congressional candidates call on Sessions, Byrne to stand up for South Alabama

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At a rare joint press conference, the Democratic Candidates for the First Congressional District called on Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Sen. Jeff Sessions to stand up for South Alabama following the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut nearly $300 million slated for projects awarded to Austal.

“The current administration’s decision to divert that funding from Austal to build the border wall is harmful to our community and will potentially put good jobs at risk,” said Dr. James Averhart, CW05, USMC retired. “This is nothing more than a political stunt on the backs of the hard-working men and women of South Alabama.”

Over the years, South Alabama has become a hub for shipbuilding and defense projects developing ships and planes for the United States military.

“While the President may be comfortable playing political games with our communities, our representatives must stand strong against this disastrous decision,” said Dr. Kiani Gardner, a scientist and professor. “We are grateful Senator Jones is speaking out against it and the devastating impacts it could have on our communities.”

This matter transcends partisan politics, our Republican representatives must stand with Senator Jones and tell President Trump to find a better way to protect our Southern border,” said Rick Collins, a longtime Mobile businessman.

This is only the latest Trump Administration proposals that could have devastating impacts for the local economy. Recently, the administration proposed new tariffs that would have a significant impact on Airbus’ local operation.

 

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