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We should name today “Taxmageddon 2015!”

Brandon Moseley



By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The modern Republican Party has been built on the principles of lowering taxes and fighting the growth and expansion of government in to all aspects of Americans lives. That said there are two camps within the GOP: the freedom wing that believes strongly in those principles and the establishment wing that is not so opposed to big government as long as they are the ones in charge of it.

On Thursday, September 10 the Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives chose which side they wanted to be in and most sided with the old guard establishment wing of the party: personified and led by Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn). Hubbard (outside of his 23 indictments) is best known legislatively for leading the charge on Governor Bob Riley’s Amendment One debacle in 2003. Hubbard and his key allies in the legislature steamrolled the conservatives. Most of the Democrats joined the Tea Party GOP in attempting to block the tax increases.

Representative Ed Henry (R from Hartselle) voted against every proposed tax increase. An exasperated Henry said, “I think we should name today “Taxmageddon 2015!””. “The tax man cometh! Very sad day for Alabama voters who expected promises to be kept.”

The House passed taxes on nursing home beds, pharmacies, cigarettes, car rentals and car titles. The more controversial increase in the business privilege tax was carried over and is likely to come up on Friday along with the excise tax on porn.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D from Gadsden) told the ‘Alabama Political Reporter’ that the legislature should, “Do the lottery before we raise taxes on the people of Alabama.”

Ford said that the Democratic Caucus will not support tax increases unless there is also a lottery on the table. The Democrats also favor an expansion of Medicaid.

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State Representative Phil Williams (R from Huntsville) said, “I am not totally an anti-tax guy. There are times where I would vote for tax increases.” “But we are just kicking the can down the road.”

Rep. Phil Williams said, “Trying to slow down all the tax bills that have passed today. Taxes are a necessary part of life and my family has paid a ton of them, but when we have an incredibly UNFAIR system of taxes in our state I will not vote to raise a few extra bucks to “pay the utility bills in the ivory towers of Montgomery”. So many of the political class do not even participate and work out “tax credits” for themselves. The Legislature knows this. In September 2012 we were told that if we could borrow the funds to deal with that years crisis we would make tax reform measures a priority so today’s crisis would not come. We did not, and here we are.”

State Representative Allen Farley (R from McCalla) said, “Before we can talk to the people of the state of Alabama about increasing the revenue we have to talk about how we are spending the revenue that we already have.”

Farley said that the cigarette tax is a regressive tax and as a former Sheriffs deputy he went into neighborhoods where people smoked who did not have the money to smoke. Raising the tax on those people is not going to make them quit smoking.

Rep. Farley said that the state has billions of dollars tied up because of earmarks. Lots of that money is federal dollars but “We also have $3.991 billion in state earmarked bills.” “In the last special session the Governor proposed un-earmarking $397 million of that. With the help of the Speaker’s budget we increased that to $501 million.” That passed the House but was defeated in the Senate. Farley objected to un-earmarking not being part of the call in this session. “I can’t vote for any tax until we are serious about how we are using the revenue we already have.”

Representative John Rogers (D from Birmingham) said that he opposed the plan because it, “Was just a patchwork solution.” “We have the lowest property taxes anywhere in the country.” “We need to working on a short term and a long term fix and don’t need to do a patchwork plan where we will be back here again next year.” “Close corporate loop holes.”

Rep. Will Ainsworth (R from Guntersville) said that the legislature should consider instead transferring money from the much more flush Education Trust Fund, “Education has a reserve that is just staggering to me.”

Ainsworth said, “The Cigarette tax is dead in the Senate. “We have an obligation to find a consensus.” Ainsworth said that the 78/22 plan would not be just a short term solution and would mean $163 million this year for the general fund. “I introduced that in the regular session as well as the special session and could not even get a committee hearing.”

Ainsworth suggested backfilling the use tax transfer by raising the tuition on out of state students at Alabama Universities, which he said is lower than in neighboring states. “51 percent of the students going to the University of Alabama are out of state students.” “We could raise $100 million by raising the tuition on out of state students.”

A visibly angry Speaker Mike Hubbard told Rep. Ainsworth to go back to “Go sit down.” Ainsworth was trying to introduce an amendment when Hubbard said that he had used up too much of his time. Ainsworth formally challenged the Speaker’s ruling on the rules. In a rare showdown over the rules, the House sided with Hubbard 74 to 4.

Rep. Mike Holmes (R from Wetumpka) said that he had serious concerns about the revenue stream. That the wholesalers had already bought tax stamps for the current cigarette tax and those products were already on the shelves. It could be weeks or months before the new stamps could go out. “It feels like we are legislating morality. We are making personal choices for our citizens by penalizing them for their choices.”

Rep. Connie Rowe (R from Jasper) carried the cigarette tax bill for the establishment. Rowe said, “I feel like this is part of the solution to keep our state government operating,” but admitted, “I don’t feel good about raising taxes.” Rowe justified the cigarette tax because, “I understand that this one polls well in the state.”

Rep. Henry said, “No one in my district told me to go to Montgomery to take more of their money to grow government.”

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Steve Clouse (R from Ozark) praised the “Very vigorous debate”; but said that, “The vote was a little closer than I thought it would be.”

Clouse said that if the business privilege tax does not pass then we will have to cut another $22 million out of the budget.

Henry said on Facebook, “House passes another tax on your title fee this time. They pushed another vote 51-49 to almost double the price of your car title.”

The 33% increase to the car rental tax passed just 50 to 49. People who rent or lease cars will see the tax increase from 1.5 percent to 2 percent of their rental/lease.

The legislature also raided $37.5 million from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) to assist the troubled SGF.

State Representative Tim Wadsworth (R from Winston County) explained; “HB30 being debated . Bill transfers $222,500,000 in use tax funds from Education Trust Fund to General Fund. Bill moves obligations of the Education Trust Fund which is about $185,000,000 to the General Fund. It results in a Net loss to the Education Trust Fund and a net gain to the General Fund of $37,500,000 -I VOTED NO. Bill passed.”

The tax proposals will have a more difficult time in the Senate.

State Senator Paul Bussman (R from Cullman) said, “Committee votes overwhelmingly to REJECTS my proposal to use rolling reserve funds to help support the general fund needs. Majority of committee is Republican – only one voted in favor. We will continue to have one part of government thriving and the other part will continue to suffer. In my opinion, the State will never be successful as long as we continue to allow haves and have nots. I will not support any new taxes and will actively fight to prevent my constituent from paying more taxes when the legislature is unwilling to make the tough decisions to correct the problems.”

Senator Paul L. Sanford (R from Huntsville) said, “My Scaled back Multi-State Lottery Bill (aka Powerball) did not make it out of committee today. Solutions are slim and far between in Montgomery. Please know I have offered two opportunities at solving General Fund Revenue problems on a long term basis:

1) Alabama Shared Revenue Fund (Sanford 78/22 Plan)

2) Alabama General Fund Lottery

Both have failed so now I will stop any taxes that come to the Senate.”

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.


In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley



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.

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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In Case You Missed It

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

Sam Mattison



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.

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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In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison



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.

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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In Case You Missed It

House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators

Brandon Moseley



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.”

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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