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Bentley Believes He is Winning

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, August 12, following an incredibly unproductive legislative Special Session, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) spoke to the influential Rotary Club in Birmingham at the Harbert Center on 4th Avenue North.  Gov. Bentley told them that he is making progress in convincing legislators to pass his tax increase proposals. Bentley also acknowledged that he has held talks with US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michelle Birdwell about expanding Medicaid in Alabama.

Governor Bentley told the members of Rotary Birmingham; “We are having some problems in Montgomery,” and acknowledged that, “It has been a struggle of wills.”  Bentley said that he is trying to solve problems and that is what the people of Alabama want him to do. “The people want us solve problems.”

Bentley said that everybody in Montgomery has known since 2012 that this year was coming. The $150 million each year from the Trust Fund is used up. We owe money to the Federal government. We knew that we needed another 200 to 250 million a year in revenue for the general fund.

Gov. Bentley said, “It is not anything new. The people of the State are tired of our one-time-fixes. We have to have taxes in the General Fund that grows with the economy. We have had a banner year. Sales tax up 3 or 4 percent. But those taxes go to the Education Trust Fund (ETF) not the State General Fund (SGF) where the problem it.”

Gov. Bentley said that he has proposed moving the Use tax from education to the General Fund, but we need to make sure that we replace it.

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Bentley said that he has proposed replacing it with ending the FICA tax deduction on state income tax or with a 5 cents tax on soft drinks. The soda tax wouldn’t hurt anybody. The most anyone would have to pay by the elimination of the FICA tax deduction is $276. The Governor said that he also proposed a cigarette tax. Businesses need to be involved to so he has proposed increasing the maximum rate of the business privilege tax from $15000 to $25000. These are simple suggestions; but the legislators were not ready.

Gov. Bentley told the Birmingham Rotary Club that he believes he is winning the debate on taxes and the next call for a Special Session would be very similar to what was in the last call……but he refused to say when that would happen.

Bentley said the legislature passed a budget in the Regular Session because it had too many cuts in it.

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Bentley said that legislators have to be prepared to drop everything for a Special Session and you knew that when you ran for the office. “I can call them back anytime I want to.”  Bentley said that the House of Representatives is almost ready to pass his plan. “The house has really taken a leadership role.” It is time for the legislators to step up and make some bold action. Rep. Bentley praised some of the freshmen Senators for stepping up. Sen. Clyde Chambliss has really stepped up.

Bentley said this is not about taxes it is about people the lives of people. The governor said that legislators need to quit worrying about re-election and do what is necessary to provide the essential services to the people of Alabama.

Bentley scoffed at the notion that the legislature is anti-tax. They have already passed $30 million in local tax increases the last session and $25 million in this session. “It is time to step up and be leaders.” We are going to get through this. I am the only one who has been consistent in this debate. We need to grow the money in the General Fund.

Bentley said, “We need leaders whether they get re-elected or not.” Anyone who is not willing to step up and do what is right for the people of Alabama, they don’t need to be serving.

Bentley said that there is plenty of money in the education budget but that in downturns in the economy then we don’t have enough revenue, which is why he is for filling the lost use taxes.

“We are the lowest per capita state in the country.  We have to have more revenue and said that legislators should not honor stupid pledges to people in Washington like Grover Norquist not to raise taxes.

Bentley said that he has been,

“Like John the Baptist leading the way to prepare us for this day.”

Former Congressman Spencer Bachus (R-Vestavia) asked Bentley if it is time to expand Medicaid. We are paying for it. Is there any conversation between us and those agencies. John Kasich (R- Governor of Ohio) accepted the expansion used those moneys for mental health and it is saving Ohio prisons money.

Gov. Bentley said, “I said that we would never expand a broken system.” Since then we have totally revamped Medicaid from a fee for service system to an outcomes based system. We are fundamentally changing the Medicaid program. We have a million people on Medicaid now.  When I came in we did not even really know how Medicaid works. Don Williamson did a lot. We have divided the state into five regional care organizations. UAB has been a part of that.

Gov. Bentley acknowledged that he has met with US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Birdwell twice about the expansion populations. Bentley said that he did not want to create any new entitlement but would be willing to expand Medicaid with the requirement that the people getting the free healthcare were either working or were in job training. “We have talked.  She understands where we stand.”

Bentley told Bachus, “Y’all failed in Congress.”  We thought the Supreme Court would rule the right way.  Nobody fought harder than I did; but we probably have lost that battle.

Bentley said that he would support an expansion if it was designed by the State, was affordable, and was acceptable to the people of the State and the state legislature.

Bentley said that he suggested combining the two budgets in his first two years in office. There was total opposition from all of our education people. “The legislature folded. It was like a wet noodle.” What we are talking about is the beginning of that.  Right now under the Alabama State Constitution every dollar of State income tax that comes in has to pay for the salary of a teacher. Bentley said that he is open to changing that but you would have to do that through amending the state constitution.

The Governor said that he wants a budget that is workable long term which is why we are going to forbid gambling in the call. A lottery will not solve any problems in 2016. I think we continue to make progress. I spoke with Speaker Hubbard this morning and he thinks they are close (to agreeing to the Governor’s demands).

Bentley said that the House needs to just pass his plan without worrying about what the Senate will do. Send that budget to the Senate and force them to deal with it there. Bentley said that the House sent a signal to the Senate when they rejected the Senate’s Austerity budget.

 

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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Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

Brandon Moseley

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.

“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”

Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.

“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.

Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.

It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.

Tuberville said he would ban that practice.

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A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.

Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.

President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.

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The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.

Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

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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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