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Austerity Budget Passes Out of Senate Committee

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, May 27, State of Alabama agency head after agency head paraded in front of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee warning about how their agency will be impacted if they are forced to endure cuts to their budgets.

The Senate Committee introduced a substitute version of HB135; but their 2016 budget is still $1.62 billion. About $200 million less than what the budget was for the 2015 fiscal year which ends on September 30.

Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told reporters that there are a number of bills which are moving through the legislature in the next four legislative days that could make up most of that $198 million gap. Orr said that he hoped that if the Senate and the House both passed the new revenue bills that he could substitute a General fund budget from the Senate floor.

The Governor’s $541 million package of tax increases on car sales, cigarettes, tobacco, car leases, publicly owned utilities, banks, insurance, etc. is languishing in committee and is unlikely to be acted on by either House.

Similarly Chairman Orr made no mention of gaming revenues. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) plan to create a state lottery, negotiate a gaming compact with the Poarch band of Creek Indians, and allow casinos at four dog tracks appears to be dead. On Friday Marsh had promised to bring his controversial gambling package to the floor if after polling the Senators over the weekend on their opinions he felt that he had the votes. Gambling did not come up in the Senate session on Tuesday…meaning it is likely that there are enough Senators to filibuster that plan so nothing gets done in the remaining days of the session. Thursday could prove different; but for the fifth consecutive year it appears that gaming will not be debated on the floor of either House.

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The last time gambling was voted on by the Senate, people pled guilty to bribery and four Senators were indicted by federal authorities. Juries later found all the alleged conspirators not guilty.

Chairman Orr instead is laying his hope on a package of individual bills released by his committee in the past two days. The biggest of these is SB496, sponsored by Sen. Orr which reallocates existing use tax dollars. The bill would transfer $80 million a year of existing sales taxes from the ETF to the SGF.

SB497 is sponsored by Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Bay Minette). It broadens the definition of who is an instate business. Senate Bill 497 “establishes a factor presence nexus standard for business activity for purposes of business privilege tax, income taxes, and/or financial institution excise taxes which could increase receipts to the Education Trust Fund and State General Fund by an estimated $2 million to $8.5 million annually combined,” according to the fiscal note which is based on information obtained from the Department of Revenue.

Senate Bill 501 sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) will increase auto sales receipts by an estimated minimum of $2,000,000 of which $840,000 would be credited to the State General Fund and $1,160,000 would be deposited to the Education Trust Fund by applying Alabama automobile sales tax to out-of-state residents who purchase a vehicle in Alabama and whose resident state does not allow Alabama residents to purchase a vehicle in their state for first titling and registration in Alabama without the payment of tax to that state.

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SB507, sponsored by Roger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) would increase the current pharmaceutical privilege tax from 10 cents to 25 cents for each prescription filled or refilled for a citizen of Alabama. The pharmacists would be recompensated however by the Alabama Medicaid Agency raising the amount it pays the pharmacies to fill prescriptions. Since most of the Medicaid dollars come from the federal government the net effect of all of these moves is estimated to be over $8 million a year.  Part of that is however negated because to get the independent pharmacists of Alabama to go along with this scheme the state has to agree not to hire a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) for the costly Alabama Medicaid program.

SB504 sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) would end the practice of individuals being able to file a certificate of exemption from income tax withholding. The increase to the ETF would be an estimated $12 million.

Orr said that House Bill 140 which passed the House on Tuesday also could generate some revenue for the general fund. It makes it unlawful to possess or use an automated sales suppression device or phantom-ware in Alabama.  Orr said that some restaurants and other retailers use the devices to keep two sets of books. The Committee gave favorable report to SB505, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) which is the Senate version of the same bill.

Senate Bill 216, sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) would, “Allow state agencies authorized to statutorily levy or assess fees retained by the agency used to fund its operations or programs to review their fee schedule and request an increase of any such fees based upon a percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index since the last fee adjustment or over the preceding ten-year period of which the fee is to be increased, whichever period is shorter. Each five years thereafter, the agency may repeat this process.”

The bill could increase revenues to various agency funds and the SGF depending upon the number of agencies with approved requests to increase eligible fees and the amount of the fee increase. The committee agreed to leave the Alabama Public Service Commission or the State Banking Department out of the purview of this bill on the agencies request.

Chairman Orr said that because they could not project how much revenues this might generate it could not be used to prepare the 2016 SGF; but $60 million a year was the number discussed in committee.

The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee also gave favorable report on a 9 to 4 vote to SB502, sponsored by Sen. Dial, merging the SGF and ETF into one budget and doing away with all earmarking.  This is a Constitutional Amendment and would have to be ratified by a vote of the people.

The target number we have been hearing is about $180 million. That will take significantly more than the fiscal notes in the bills that are listed here.

The Alabama Political Reporter has spoken with members of the House who are still adamant that they will not raise taxes on the people of Alabama and are skeptical of the idea that the leadership can cobble together enough votes to pass the BIR or cloture debate on all of the revenue bills. They remain skeptical of the idea that the House will ever pass the Senate’s beefed up General Fund budget. Some favor some version of the $1.63 billion austerity budget or shutting everything down and coming back in special session awaiting a better solution.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Roby warns Americans to be careful this Thanksgiving

Congresswoman Roby urged Alabamians to adjust Thanksgiving holiday activities to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

Brandon Moseley

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Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama

Congresswoman Martha Roby, R-Alabama, warned Alabamians to adjust their Thanksgiving holiday activities to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

“Thanksgiving is a special holiday because it provides us an entire day each year to pause and give thanks for the many blessings we have received,” Roby said. “Particularly amid a global pandemic, the stress and craziness of life often make it easy to lose sight of just how much we have to be thankful for. Whether you are gathering with loved ones or remaining in the comfort of your own home, I hope we all take time to celebrate gratitude – something we may not do enough of these days.”

“As we’ve learned to adjust our daily routines and activities throughout the course of this pandemic, we know this Thanksgiving will not look like those of the past,” Roby said. “Please be mindful of any safety measures and precautions that have been put in place to help protect your family and those around you. The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) released guidance that includes a list of low, moderate, and high-risk activities in order to help Alabamians have a safer holiday season. ADPH suggests a few lower risk activities such as having a small dinner with members of your household, preparing and safely delivering meals to family and neighbors who are at high-risk, or hosting a virtual dinner with friends.”

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, echoed Roby’s warning to be safe this Thanksgiving holiday.

Aderholt said: “I want to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving! I hope Thursday is filled with a lot of laughter and gratitude, and that you can share it with friends and family. And while we continue to navigate this Coronavirus pandemic, please stay safe this holiday season.”

On Thursday, the CDC encouraged families to stay home as much as possible over the holiday weekend and avoid spreading the coronavirus.

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“As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” the CDC said in a statement before the holiday. “Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.”

The CDC has updated its guidelines to encourage families to stay home during the holiday.

  • The CDC said that postponing Thanksgiving travel is the “best way to protect” against the virus.
  • If you are sick or anyone in your household is sick, whether you think it is COVID or not, do not travel.
  • If you are considering traveling for Thanksgiving, avoid traveling to locations where virus activity is high or increasing.
  • Avoid travel to areas where hospitals are already overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19.
  • Try to avoid traveling by bus, train or airplane, where staying 6 feet apart is difficult.
  • Avoid traveling with people who don’t live with you.
  • You should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying travel until the vaccine is available or the pandemic is more under control.
  • Discuss with your family and friends the risks of traveling for Thanksgiving.
  • Try to dissuade people from visiting this holiday.
  • If you do travel, check for travel restrictions before you go and get your flu shot before you travel.
  • Always wear a mask in public settings, when using public transportation, and when around people with whom you don’t live.
  • Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who does not live with you.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
  • When you wear the mask, make sure that it covers your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin.

Remember that people without symptoms may still be infected, and if so, are still able to spread COVID-19. Remember to always social distance. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick. Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when you are unable to wash your hands. Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Try to also avoid live sporting events, Thanksgiving Day parades and Black Friday shopping this year.

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Roby represents Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District and will be retiring at the end of the year. Aderholt represents Alabama’s 4th Congressional District and was re-elected to the 117th Congress.

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Opinion | Let’s hope for Reed’s success

Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.

Bill Britt

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State Sen. Greg Reed has been chosen as the next president pro tem of the Alabama State Senate.

State Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, will lead the Alabama Senate as president pro tem during the upcoming 2021 legislative session. What changes will Reed bring to the upper chamber, and how will his leadership differ from his predecessor? No one knows for sure.

Reed succeeds Sen. Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem since Republicans took control of the Statehouse in 2010. Marsh, along with then-Gov. Bob Riley, current felon Mike Hubbard and ousted BCA Chair Billy Canary orchestrated the 2010 takeover that saw the Republican rise to dominance.

Reed, who won his Senate seat the same year, was not a charter member of the Republican ruling class, but he benefited from the power sift.

Mild-mannered and studious with a quiet charm, Reed has steadily ascended the ranks of Senate leadership. His silver hair and calm determination have served him well. Reed is a senatorial figure straight out of Hollywood’s central casting.

In all, Reed is nearly universally liked and respected, which in the near term is a hopeful sign of potential success. But political leadership always comes with a warning: “Friends come and go, enemies accumulate.”

Reed’s relationship with Gov. Kay Ivey is certainly less contentious than Marsh’s and gives rise to the belief that there will be greater cooperation between the executive and the Senate.

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With the economy and public health under dire stress due to the ravages of COVID-19, legislative priorities are fixed: get people back to work and eradicate the coronavirus.

However, one of Reed’s first tests will be whether he can cool the smoldering anger of those senators who still feel the sting of Ivey’s rebuke over the allocation of CARES Act funds. He will also need to resist those who want to punish the administration over its use of public health statutes to implement mask mandates and other safety measures to prevent the deadly coronavirus spread.

Despite outward declarations of a unified body, the State Senate is a small, insular and unwieldy beast where egos loom large and consensus on policies is often tricky to achieve except on “red meat issues.”

Building a coalition on policy in the Senate is often a combination of horse-trading, cajoling and carefully applied pressure. The way forward in the near term is exact: pass legislation that spurs economic recovery and mitigates the health crisis at hand.

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But Reed will also simultaneously need to recognize what comes next for justice reform, prison construction, gambling and a myriad of other pressing issues. His job will be to understand the prevailing winds, which are evolutionary, not revolutionary.

As author Doris Kearns Goodwin noted in Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: “For political leaders in a democracy are not revolutionaries or leaders of creative thought. The best of them are those who respond wisely to changes and movements already underway. The worst, the least successful, are those who respond badly or not at all, and those who misunderstand the direction of already visible change.”

Reed’s temperament and style appear right for this moment in Alabama’s history.

As President Abraham Lincoln said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Let’s all hope that Reed passes the test.

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Aderholt introduces broadband-focused EXPAND Act

The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the critical need for efficient and reliable rural broadband, Aderholt said.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, on Tuesday released new rural broadband legislation, the Enabling Extra Time to Extend Network Deployment (EXTEND) Act.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has showcased the critical need for efficient and reliable rural broadband. Teleworking, telemedicine, and virtual classrooms have been our reality for the better part of eight months, and it could continue into the new year,” Aderholt said. “Since Congress has passed stimulus funding for Coronavirus relief, I believe states should be allowed to use that money to address this dire need.”

Alabama currently has hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act dollars that the federal government sent to the state in March, but there were so many conditions on how the money could be spent that the state has been unable to find acceptable uses for most of those funds and may have to return that money to the federal government unspent early next year. Aderholt’s legislation would free up those dollars for use expanding rural broadband in Alabama.

“That is why I introduced a bill today to do just that, secure the ability for states to expand their rural broadband infrastructure with Coronavirus relief funds,” Aderholt said. “This bill will help those rural areas that have been left behind by providing a pathway for states to determine which areas are particularly underserved, while also preventing overbuilding in areas where broadband access is widespread.”

“I am hopeful that this legislation will set a precedent for future funding bills, ensuring that rural areas have access to funds to build out the broadband infrastructure they need, while also preventing waste and abuse,” Aderholt said. “It’s clear that adequate funding is needed now more than ever, and ensuring states the option to use Congressionally approved stimulus money for this issue is a step in the right direction.”

Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, is the lead co-sponsor on the EXPAND Act.

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“When Americans can’t access the Internet, they aren’t able to participate in our 21st century economy, learn remotely, or communicate with others outside of their communities, all of which have become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Latta said. “The EXTEND Act works to support the buildout of broadband infrastructure in areas that do not currently have broadband capabilities. It ensures funds from the CARES Act, which I supported earlier this year, can be granted by states for the deployment of broadband so all Americans, including people living in rural communities, have reliable internet connectivity. I’d like to thank my colleague Rep. Aderholt for his attention to this critical issue, and I am encouraged that with this bill, we are working towards a more connected future.”

Aderholt was recently overwhelmingly elected to his 13th term representing Alabama’s 4th Congressional District.

“I would also like to take a moment to thank you for sending me back to Washington, D.C. to serve as your Representative for Alabama’s 4th Congressional District,” Aderholt said. “It is an incredible honor to serve you in Congress, and it is a responsibility I do not take lightly. And no matter how you voted in this election, I promise to fight for you, and for everyone in our district, in the halls of Congress.”

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Governor orders flags lowered in honor of former Rep. Alvin Holmes

Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday ordered the flags at the State Capitol and in State House District 78 to be lowered to half-staff in honor of former State Rep. Alvin Holmes, a tireless advocate for the Black community who served in the House for 44 years. 

Holmes, 81, died Saturday. Ivey’s directive calls for flags to be lowered on Sunday when Holmes is to be buried and remain lowered until sunset that day. 

“A native of Montgomery, Rep. Holmes served the people of Alabama in the House of Representatives for 44 years,” Ivey wrote in her directive. “As the longest-serving representative in our state’s history, it is only fitting that we pay homage to his decades of dedicated service. Anyone that had the privilege of working with or hearing Rep. Holmes address the legislature, knows that he was passionate about his work and cared deeply about improving our state, specifically in matters regarding civil rights. His unique approach to conveying the importance of causes he supported garnered much respect from his colleagues and is something the people of our state will not soon forget. I offer my sincere condolences and prayers to his family, friends and constituents of his beloved community.”

A caravan honoring Holmes took place in Montgomery on Monday.

State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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