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66 Percent of Alabama Voters Oppose Higher Taxes to Deal with Budget Crisis

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Six months of gloom and doom by the Governor and his media allies has not swayed voters to support new taxes to deal with the supposed “crisis” in the General Fund. New polling commissioned by the Alabama Jobs Foundation was released on Wednesday showing that voters do not support higher taxes and this is true across all demographics: Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Whites, and Blacks.

The news is devastating for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R), and his latest plan to hike taxes on the people by as much as $500 million a year.

The polling by Target Point Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia, supports results in earlier polling commissioned by news outlets including the Alabama Political Reporter and Yellow Hammer News on the tax issue.

Most Republicans running for office in Alabama in 2014 or 2010 have, at some point, pledged not to raise taxes on the people of Alabama. The pollster asked likely voters: “In the last election, a number of elected officials in the state legislature promised during their campaigns that they would not raise taxes. Now a number of those legislators say they may vote to increase taxes to meet the demands of the state budget.  Knowing that they are changing their position, how would this affect your vote for them in the next election?  Would you say would vote FOR the candidates who vote FOR the tax increases or AGAINST the candidates who vote FOR tax increases?”

6 percent said they would “Definitely vote for” the tax pledge breaking candidate; 17 percent “Probably For”; 25 percent said they would vote “Probably Against”; 38 percent were “Definitely Against’; 12 percent did not know what they would do and 2 percent refused to answer the question. Breaking your no new taxes pledge helps with 23 percent of the voters and hurts with 63 percent of likely voters.

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The poll made it very clear that the people surveyed do not want their representatives raising their taxes.

The pollster asked: “Governor Bentley has called the legislature into Special Session and the Governor is proposing the legislature into Special Session and the Governor is proposing the legislature raise taxes by a total of $310 million. The Governor says the tax increase is necessary in order to avoid drastic cuts in state services? Do you support or oppose the Governor’s proposal to raise taxes in order to avoid drastic cuts in state services?”

Only 12 percent said they “Strongly Support” the Bentley plan. Just 15 percent “Somewhat Support” the controversial tax increase plan. 15 percent “Somewhat Oppose” while an overwhelming 50 percent of the people surveyed answered they “Strongly Oppose” raising the tax burden on the people of the state. Five percent did not know what they think and one percent refused to answer the question.

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66 percent of respondents oppose tax increases while just 28 percent think this manufactured budget crisis justifies higher taxes. This is uniform across demographics. 66 percent of Republicans oppose Bentley’s tax increases to just 27 percent in favor. 68 percent of independents oppose to just 24 percent in favor. 64 percent of Democrats oppose higher taxes; while only 33 percent are in favor.  72 percent of African American voters oppose the tax increases.

While the polling shows no support for raising taxes it did show that there is considerable support people support a vote on gambling and more specifically for the Marsh plan.

89 percent of voters said that they support the people voting on gambling versus letting the legislature or the governor decide the issue.

The pollster asked respondents about the Marsh plan: “The Alabama Legislature is considering a constitutional amendment that would do the following three things: Allow Los Vegas-style table gaming at the state’s four do tracks; Create an education lottery and provide college and technical school scholarships; AND Authorize the Governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and require them to pay fees for their casinos.  Based on this description would you vote YES in favor of or vote NO against the constitutional amendment?”

46 percent answered that they would “Definitely vote Yes.”  19 percent said they would vote, ‘Yes, but could change their mind”; 4 percent “Lean Yes,” 0 percent “Lean No”; 8 percent “No” but could change mind,” 21 percent will “Definitely Vote No” and 1 percent don’t know how they will vote yet.

The pollster also asked about the Poarch Creek plan: “Another alternative proposal, which would avoid having a statewide vote on it, is with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians that currently operates the only existing casinos in Alabama. They have proposed to make an upfront payment of 250 million dollars to the state of Alabama, along with additional smaller amounts of money in future years to help alleviate the budget shortfall.  In exchange for this payment the state would grant the Poarch Band tribe a full monopoly on gaming in the state of Alabama, restricting gaming in Alabama only to current casinos operated by the State. Based on the description would you say you SUPPORT this proposal or would you OPPOSE this proposal to give the Poarch Creek Band a monopoly on casino gaming in exchange for an initial payment of 250 million dollars and eliminate a statewide vote on the Constitutional Amendment?”

19 percent say that they “Strongly Support” the Poarch Creek plan. 18 percent said they “Somewhat support” the plan; 3 percent “Lean Support”; 1 percent “Lean Oppose”; 15 percent “Somewhat Oppose”, 41 percent said they “Strongly Oppose”, and 3 percent said they don’t know.

If given a choice between the two gaming plans, 77 percent prefer the Marsh plan; while only ten percent prefer the Poarch Creek Plan.  Nine percent responded that they can not support either plan; while three percent did not know and one percent declined to answer the question.

80 percent of the people of Alabama said that they support a lottery.

Alabama Jobs Foundation Executive Director Chip Hill said that this new polling data reinforces what they already believed. Hill thanked Senate President Del Marsh for being there for the press conference at the Harbert Center in Birmingham.  Director Hill said that the Foundation had a new full page ad that began running this weekend.

Hill said that the Foundation was committed to find solution for the budget crisis in Alabama and that they believe that the Marsh Plan is the best option for Alabama. They also are recruiting more involvement from prominent business leaders to join the foundation.

The Executive Vice President at Brombergs Frank Bromberg III said that it was vitally important that on an issue like the lottery that the people of Alabama have the right to vote.

Bromberg said that over 80 percent of the people of Alabama supported the lottery and joked that the 10 or 11 percent that said “NO” didn’t understand the question.  VP Bromberg said, I hope and pray that the legislature will go through with this suggestion. It is the right thing to do.

The President of the Alabama Jobs Foundation former Auburn Head Football Coach and Athletics Director Pat Dye said in a written statement, “These results simply confirm what I hear from Alabamians across the State. They are ready to vote on this issue once and for all.” The voters are clear about what they support: an education lottery and gaming that brings jobs, revenue and economic development to our State.

The President and Managing Partner of Target Point Consulting Michael Meyers said that his group telephoned 809 likely voters in Alabama. 34 percent of those were on cell phones and they used live operators to ask the questions.  Meyers said that the poll has a good mix of Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Meyers said that according to the survey there will be repercussions when they go back to their districts if legislators vote to raise taxes. Meyers said the majority of respondents reject the tribal plan. “These numbers are pretty compelling.”

Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “The voters of Alabama are speaking as load and clear as they can on this issue. They demand the right to vote on this issue. They support my lottery and gaming constitutional amendment by large numbers. And just as important they do not support raising taxes, period.”

The Alabama Political Reporter asked the voters rejected tax increases but did the poll look at budget cuts?

Meyers said, the survey asked respondents: Some legislators have proposed cutting state budgets 20 to 30 percent do you approve or disapprove of this proposal. 49 percent answered that they approve of the budget cuts. 37 percent are opposed. There is a lot of partisan differences in this. 60 percent of Republicans answered that they support budget cuts; while 57 percent said that they opposed cutting the budgets.

Sen. Marsh said that his plan is based on an Auburn University of Montgomery study that showed that the plan would create 11000 jobs. That is the same size as the auto industry in Alabama.

Senator Marsh said, “I don’t game. I don’t gamble. I have never bought a lottery ticket.” Marsh said that he see this as an economic development issue. “Gaming is another industry.”

Sen. Marsh warned, “This gaming piece of legislation will not solve this year’s budget situation.” It will take time to set this up. It will not solves this year’s budget problem, but it will solve future budget problems. The lottery portion will go to education and his current plan creates a scholarship program out of some of that money.

Sen. Marsh said that 66 percent of the people oppose new taxes and Governor Bentley proposed $700 million in new taxes. That has now fallen off to $500 million. It is hard to believe that is the solution.

Marsh said, “We will pass a budget. Will the governor sign it I don’t know.”

Senator Marsh said that as the Senate President Pro Tem, “I could probably force this issue to the floor,” but said that he won’t do that.

Marsh said that it makes sense to take up this plan after the budget has been passed.

 

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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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

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Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

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The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

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Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

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Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

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Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

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Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to try to clarify how legislators accept consulting contracts under Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. Some pundits have suggested that House Bill 387 is actually designed to weaken the existing ethics law.

Sponsor state Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, argues that the legislation is merely a clarification and is intended to prevent legislators from inadvertently crossing the line into illegality.

Wingo said that his bill would require legislators to notify the Alabama Ethics Commission that they have entered into a consulting agreement in an area outside of their normal scope of work.

State Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, said, “I have never understood why members of this body were allowed to take contracts as consultants or counselors.”

Wingo said, “Never do I use the word counselor in my bill; it is consulting.”

Beckman asked, “Are we going to be getting into an area where  every time we turn around we create a bureaucratic nightmare where we have to go get an opinion. These opinions whether it is orally or written don’t hold up in a court of law.” Beckman said, “We are serving the people here but we get this admonition that we can still be a consultant if we get an opinion.”

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Wingo said, “This does not apply to professions where a member is currently licensed.”

Beckman said, “I would like to see more opinions coming out of the Ethics Commission. Right now we have the Ethics Commission competing with the Attorney General’s office over who has more authority.”

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said,”This happened to a friend of mine. He just got out of prison. He was a state senator and had a written letter from the Ethics Commission which his lawyer read at trial and the jury convicted him anyway.”

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Rogers never named his friend, but reporters think he was talking about former state Sen. Edward Browning ‘E. B.’ McClain who spent over 22 years in the legislature until he was convicted on 47 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery, and money laundry in 2009.

A federal jury found that McClain and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue were guilty in a scheme where McClain would secure public funds for Pettagrue’s community programs and then receive a kickback once the funds were in hand. McClain was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison. McClain was not prosecuted under the Alabama ethics law as the state has a much weaker ethics statute then. The current ethics law was passed in 2010.

Rogers said, “If they offer me a consulting contract for a field like aerospace engineering that I know nothing about they are trying to pay me off. If you can already be a consultant for something you know about why would you seek a consulting contract for something you don’t know about.

Rogers this is how they can pay you off for your vote.”

State Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell said, “I don’t like making changes to things like this because we get into things called unintended consequences.”

McCampbell was reading from the bill and Wingo said, “You are reading from the original version it has completely changed.” “We worked tirelessly on this bill with the Ethics Commission this is not a fly by night bill.”

“If a member of the legislature enters into a contract to do a consulting contract outside of their normal field of work this bill requires that they consult with the Ethics Commission first,” Wingo said. “It is up to the member to notify the Ethics Commission not to the company or person offering them the money.”

State Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said, “Everybody but legislators are allowed to do contract work up to $30,000.”

Rep. Wingo said, “This is not intended to be a roadblock.”

State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said, “The whole purpose of this is not to prevent members from doing work in your field.” “What you are doing is offering to protect me.”

State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, asked Wingo what the Alabama Attorney General said about this legislation.

Wingo replied, “I have not contacted the Attorney General.”

Knight responded, “Something from the Ethics Commission does not carry a lot of protection from the Attorney General. We have seen that in the past. I think the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission should be in agreement in the working on this.”

Wingo answered, “Maybe this is a first step.”

Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked, “Do we have anybody doing work outside of their regular scope of work?”

Wingo answered, “Yes I think so.”

Wingo said, “If we had had this bill four or five years ago maybe we could have been spared the embarrassment that this body experienced with the former Speaker.”

Wingo was referring to former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was convicted of 12 counts of felony ethics violations in June 2016. Ironically, Hubbard is largely responsible for creating the ethics law that he was found guilty of violating 11 times in his relentless pursuit of outside contracts and personal wealth.

Unlike McClain, however, Hubbard has not yet served any of this sentence.

House Bill 387 passed 67-0 with 26 legislators abstaining.

The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Lisa Osborn in 2009 was consulted in this report.)

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