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Conservative Opposition to Gaming and Tax Plans (Opinion)

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

GOP candidate after GOP candidate running for office in 2014 said that they were for limited government, rightsizing government, and no new taxes, yet here we are a few months later and now GOP leaders are telling us that we need new revenues.  Nobody much talked about the revenue issue during last year’s election that has dominated this year’s legislative session.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) is pushing a plan that would take an additional $541 million a year in from the private sector. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) is proposing over $100 million in new taxes and giving the Poarch Creek Indians a statewide gaming monopoly in exchange for a $250 million one-time windfall payment to balance the general fund.  Even Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R from Anniston) has gotten on the new revenue bus proposing: a state lottery, opening up casinos at Victoryland, Greenetrack, the Birmingham Race Course, and the Mobile Dog Track to Class III gaming as well as the Governor  signing a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.

On Wednesday, May 6 the Alabama Political Reporter asked former State Senator Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) when did Alabama Republicans started running for office promising higher taxes and expanding gambling in the State?  Sen. Beason said that he has been in Alabama politics for a long time and he has never seen anything like it.  Beason said he could not recall any GOP candidates ever having success by promoting higher taxes and gambling expansion.

Former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said in a statement on Facebook, “If I told you 6 months ago that Alabama’s Republican Governor, Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate would each have a separate plan to increase government spending by proposing tax increases, a lottery and casino gambling, most people would say I had lost my mind. But, that is what is happening. If you are opposed to these Democrat ideas you should contact your legislator and tell them to oppose these liberal ideas.”

Time is running out on this legislative session.  Under the arcane rules of the legislature, if the Governor’s tax proposals are not considered by this week in Committee they are dead for the Session and they are not on any committee schedule we have seen to this point. That will effectively eliminate Governor Bentley’s fantasy revenue plan without it visiting the floor of either House. Gov. Bentley failed to sit down with legislative leaders before this session and craft any sort of plan together. Instead legislators were forced to read about the Governor’s legislation in the press like everybody else. Threatening the legislators if they did not bow down to his demands has not won over many hearts and minds in Montgomery and it appears that the death of his unpopular tax plan is a result of this failure to communicate. Undaunted the Governor is threatening to bring everyone back for multiple special sessions if he does not get his money.

That leaves the Marsh gambling expansion plan and the Hubbard plan to give the Poarch band of Creek Indians a monopoly and raise a number of taxes for a total of over a $100 million. Speaker Mike Hubbard’s plan is on very shaky legal footing and if passed is almost certainly going to be challenged in the courts on state constitutional grounds. The only reason that plan is making any traction is that it has the backing of the powerful Speaker of the House: Rep. Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn).  Speaker Hubbard through sheer force of will has moved his package of tax increases through Committee and they will be considered on the House floor next week.  Speaker Hubbard has accepted a Poarch Creek offer of $250 million for a gaming monopoly that would bring Class III gaming to the Indians’ casinos in Wetumpka, Montgomery, and Atmore.  The Indians have reportedly also suggested that they might be willing to add a casino somewhere North Alabama casino to help with economic development there.

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The tax increases are very unpopular with legislators and faces stiff opposition in the Senate. Many legislators speaking off the record have expressed reservations about giving anyone a gaming monopoly.  The popular Speaker’s influence may be waning due to his approaching criminal trial on 23 counts of felony ethics violations. If convicted, a new Speaker will have to deal with this budget mess before 2017 rolls around.

Voice of Alabama Politics Pundit and talk radio host Baron Coleman wrote recently, “It’s unclear what Republicans in the lower chamber are thinking by going along with Speaker Hubbard’s plan. Many legal experts believe Hubbard will be watching the 2018 elections from the comfort of a 10×6 cell in one of our state’s overcrowded and underfunded resorts for the criminally-inclined. He has nothing to lose.”

Hubbard will likely have to gain the support of House Democrats for cloture votes on his bills next week during what are expected to be marathon House sessions.

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has borrowed his plan from ideas originally put forward by the House Democratic Caucus.  The Marsh/Democrats plan would fund the general fund with a state lottery, class III gaming at the three Indian casinos, as well as at the four dog tracks in Birmingham, Greene County, Mobile, and Shorter.  The Marsh plan would require a referendum of the voters because it is a Constitutional Amendment.  The Marsh plan does not include new taxes or a $250 million one time payment so the estimated $261 million hole in next year’s budget will likely not be fully addressed though some legislators have suggested borrowing money to carry the state over until the gambling revenues come in, though Marsh himself has suggested that the state tighten its belt to get through the gap.

On Tuesday, May 5 the Alabama Political Reporter asked Marsh why if we are going to open Alabama up to gambling, why we don’t we go to Las Vegas and sit down with all the players in that business and invite them to all bring their proposals to Alabama.  You say that Mike Hubbard’s plan would create a monopoly; but your plan creates a cartel of Milton McGregor, Greentrack, the Poarch Creek Indians, and the ownership of the Mobile Dog Track, why not let the gaming commission decide who gets these licenses?

Sen. Marsh replied I have no problem with that.  If somebody wants to bring that amendment on the floor I am willing to change it.  Marsh said that his plan gives 20 year deals for those already in the state but if the gaming commission wants to bid it out in ten years he is open to that.  “I want the best possible bill.”  I am open to any ideas.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Sen. Beason which of the two plans he preferred.  He said when your choices are between a bad plan and a worse plan you choose option C: none of the above.  Beason said that the state is doing their budgeting all wrong.  They are asking the department heads how much money do you need to keep doing what they are doing and then coming up with an amount or revenue needed to achieve that number.

Sen. Beason said that the state should instead come up with the expected revenue available and then prepare a budget in order of priorities.  Beason said that some in Montgomery are using the Obama playbook and are identifying the programs that people actually like and are threatening those programs in order to try to get people in line behind the tax increases.

State Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said in a statement on Facebook, “Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015 were over 28 Billion in Alabama. I will not support Taxes or Gambling until we fix what’s wrong in Government. The narrative in Montgomery that we need more revenue is wrong and I plan on fighting any revenue increase. Revenue proposals are the easy way out.”  Ainsworth said that the state should follow the example of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) who, “Turned a $3.6 billion deficit in Wisconsin to a surplus without raising taxes.”

The Alabama Policy Institute’s Katherine G. Robinson and Caleb Crosby wrote recently, “The General Fund woes present a very real challenge for our leaders, but the public is being fed a number of false choices as to how this problem must be solved. We should not be forced to choose which revenue generator is the least offensive. There are still plenty of good ideas and even bills on the table that would help the state do what the private sector does–scale back spending in a down year. The appeal of easy money through gambling is that those tough decisions can be sidestepped, but not without repercussions.”

Alabama’s Republican National Committeewoman Vicki Ann Drummond said recently, “I am not for gambling and I am not for taxes and if I were down there (Montgomery) I would vote against both.  I do believe there are a lot of places where we can cut back.”

Former Chairman Armistead wrote recently, “Government sponsored gambling is dishonest, financially damaging to citizens and is a major contributor to the unfairness and inequality in American life. It’s a policy experiment that has failed.  It has failed because it is proven itself to be blatantly dishonest and it has failed to generate genuine economic growth.  Predatory gambling is a something-for-nothing scheme that veils the most cut-throat business in the country.”

A recent Alabama Political Reporter polls shows that Alabama voters oppose tax increases 52.6 percent to 33.7 percent disapprove.  Only 12.0 percent strongly approve of raising taxes, while 40.7 percent strongly disapprove of raising taxes.  Republican primary voters are even less supporting of tax increases.

Las Vegas-style gambling is however supported by 55.5 percent while only 31.0 percent disapprove of Las Vegas-style gambling.

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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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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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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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