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Senate Passes Bill To Divide Up Possible New Gas Tax

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Thursday, March 3, the Alabama Senate passed Senate Bill 180, sponsored by State Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville). SB180 divides up how the money would be spent if the legislature passes any increases in the state taxes on a gallon of fuel, as many powerful special interests are advocating.

Senator Dial said on the floor of the Senate that his bill doesn’t create a new committee it just keeps using the ATRIP committee we already have. Dial said that each county will get a minimum of $2.5 million each and they don’t have to provide a match. After that first $32 million the rest of the money will be divided under the existing formula we use today.

Dial said that SB180 is not creating a new money. We have not seen a funding bill yet, which must originate in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Alabama State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Bay Minette) said, “This is a good bill and would suggest that members consider and support this bill.”

Sen. Dial said, “All funds that are raised go to roads and bridges. It is wrong to call the gas tax a tax. It is really a user fee for motorists that use the roads and bridges. If you walk, ride a bicycle, or ride a horse you don’t pay the tax. People ask me about toll roads, our tolls are paid at the pump rather than the tolls. The user fees have not gone up since 1992 and that changes in fuel efficiency of vehicles means that they should.”

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Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said that he visited Geneva County and the school superintendent there told him that the majority of kids there live on dirt roads so when it rains they can’t go to school. “We got some of them in Jefferson County. This starts the process so we can get good roads.”

Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) objected to using the new tax dollars to do another massive bond issue and questioned if the 20 years of payments would outlast the road repairs. Sanford said, “We just did the big bond issue on ATRIP and I am concerned my children are going to be strapped paying for this.”

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) wrote in his blog, “As I reported in an earlier blog, proponents of an increased gasoline tax took a divide and conquer approach to move the legislation along. Several contentious points exists with this proposal but the most contentious seemed to be how any new tax revenue would be divided between the state, counties and municipalities. An actual gasoline tax increase has not been introduced (as we near the halfway point of the session) but a formula to distribute any new tax was introduced by SB180 and has worked its way through the Senate receiving final passage Thursday.

Looking solely from the formula aspect (and not a new tax) there were some good things in the legislation that I supported – namely that any new revenue must be spent on roads and bridges, not equipment and people. What I didn’t like about it is that the distribution formula appears to cut municipalities out of the initial cut, rather keeping the funding going to the counties. The municipalities would have to compete at the state level and/or work deals with the county. Our area has a great reputation for working together to improve our roads. I’ve often said that people drive through multiple counties and municipalities to get to work, school, worship or play; they really don’t care who owns the road, they just want them improved. We’ve done (and continue to do) a remarkable job in recent years with several projects in the Senate District to include the on-ramp at County Line Rd and I-565, the Slaughter Rd intersection and Indian Creek Bridge replacement, and several ongoing projects in Madison and Limestone Counties such as the widening and repaving of County Line Road. Again, these are all evidence of the local government teams working together and I’m proud to be a part of the team.

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The divide and conquer approach this bill takes is it locks in about $500,000 for each county each year, guaranteeing all 67 counties will receive these funds for road and bridge work each and every year. Should this bill pass the House in its current form – get ready to see all 67 County Commissions on the steps of their respective County Court House asking the legislature to approve a gas tax increase. Latest rumor has the target at an increase of twelve cents a gallon, but of course you’re not supposed to notice paying that at the pump. I’ll keep you posted as things develop further.”

SB180 passed the Senate on a 25 to 4 vote. Senators Sanford, Sanders, Holtzclaw, and Bussman all voted Nay.

The Senate also passed House legislation long advocated by Dial to help all schools in the State to become wired.

Sen. Dial said afterward on Facebook, “One of the best days of my career in the Senate; with lots of help passed bill to establish the ‘Alabama Safe Infrastructure Trust Fund’ bill. The funding bill will allow for all schools to have a high speed internet connection; the bill will move Ala. ahead to total digital learning in the classroom. The bill is named after my good friends and colleague, Jabo Waggoner and Roger Smitherman.”

Alabama motorists currently pay 16 cents per gallon to the state of Alabama. The federal government collects another 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24 cents per gallon on diesel fuel. County and municipal governments also levee their own taxes on fuels. According to gaspricewatch.com Alabama averages 39.3 cents of taxes per gallon of gas and 46.3 cents in taxes on every gallon of diesel bought for over the road use.

Special interests like the road builders and the county commissioners have been advocating for higher gas prices for the last several years. They claim that improving fuel efficiencies mean that today’s cars drive more miles but pay less gas taxes per mile of used and that the increase is needed to make up the difference.

The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) supports the legislation. On Friday, March 4, BCA’s Dana Beyerle wrote, “Another priority for BCA is SB180, which the Senate passed by a vote of 25-4. It would ensure that all new funds for roads and bridges are dedicated for that purpose and used in an accountable and transparent way. SB180, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, now goes to the House for consideration.”

 

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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Alabama’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise

Alabama’s ongoing increase in new cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations is especially worrisome for public health experts as flu season arrives and several holidays are just around the corner.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alabama continues to rise, with 1,789 new cases reported Saturday, despite fewer tests being conducted, and cases are up 55 percent from two weeks ago, based on a 14-day average of daily case increases.

Alabama’s ongoing increase in new cases and COVID-19 hospitalizations is especially worrisome for public health experts as flu season arrives and several holidays are just around the corner.

Coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 9 million on Thursday, and numerous states were seeing surges in cases and hospitalizations. Nearly 1,000 Americans died from COVID-19 on Wednesday, and the country has reported several days of record-high new cases.

“There’s going to be a whole lot of pain in this country with regard to additional cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus task force adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a CNBC interview Wednesday. “We are on a very difficult trajectory. We are going in the wrong direction.”

There were 960 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Friday, and the seven-day average of daily hospitalizations hit 976 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept. 2 and 29 percent higher than a month ago.

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More than 1,000 hospitalizations were reported in Alabama on Tuesday for the first time since August. Huntsville Hospital was caring for 163 coronavirus patients Friday, the largest number since Aug. 19. UAB on Friday had 58 COVID-19 patients and has been hovering between 60 and 70 patients for the last several weeks.

While the number of new cases is rising, the number of tests being performed has been declining. Over the last two weeks, Alabama reported, on average, 6,961 cases per day, 9 percent fewer cases than a month ago.

The rising cases and declining tests are also reflected in the percentage of tests that are positive, which on Saturday was well above public health experts’ target of 5 percent or below. 

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The state’s positivity rate on Saturday was 21 percent, according to APR‘s tracking of new cases and reported tests over the past two weeks. Many other COVID-19 tracking projects calculate the state’s percent positivity by dividing the 7- and 14-day averages of daily case increases by the 7- and 14-day averages of daily test increases.

The Alabama Department of Public Health calculates the positivity rate differently, instead dividing the number of daily cases by the number of individuals who have been tested, rather than the total number of tests done, as some people may have more than one test performed.

There are no federal standards on how states are to report COVID-19 testing data, and a myriad of state health departments calculate positivity rates differently. 

Even so, ADPH’s own calculations show Alabama’s percent positivity is nearly double where public health experts say it needs to be, or else cases are going undetected. According to ADPH’s calculations, the percent positivity on Oct. 24 was 9.6 percent, up 33 percent from the 7.2 percent positivity on Sept. 26. 

As of Saturday, there have been 2,967 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths reported in Alabama, with 427 reported this month, 19 percent more deaths than were reported in September.

On Saturday, ADPH reported 35 confirmed and probable deaths. 

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Alabama Democrats launch “biggest” turnout campaign in their history

“Our organizers and volunteers have been working relentlessly to turn out the vote,” the Alabama Democratic Party said.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Democratic Party said Friday that they have launched the biggest get-out-the-vote campaign in their history in a bid to re-elect U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

“We’ve made over 3.5 million voter contacts this election cycle,” the ADP wrote in an email to supporters. “Today, we’ve started the biggest GOTV campaign in our history. We will be contacting voters around the clock from now until Election Day. As it stands, we have enough money to reach about 91 percent of the voters in our GOTV universe.”

“Our organizers and volunteers have been working relentlessly to turn out the vote,” the ADP said. “They are contacting voters in all 67 Alabama counties, making sure every Democrat has a plan to vote on Nov. 3.”

On Saturday, Jones will make several campaign stops throughout the Birmingham area to encourage voters to turn out on Election Day. He will make stops in his hometown of Fairfield as well as in Bessemer, Pratt City and East Lake.

Jefferson County is the Alabama Democratic Party’s main stronghold in the conservative state of Alabama. Mobilizing Democratic voters to come out, especially in Jefferson County, is essential if they are to have any hope of re-electing Jones, who has been trailing in public polling.

Jones’s shocking upset of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in the 2017 special election is the only statewide race that the Alabama Democratic Party has won since 2008.

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Jones had a decided advantage in money in that contest to saturate the airwaves and fund a GOTV effort to reach Democratic voters in the special election.

The Jones campaign is trying to build upon that success, but it is an uphill battle and he’s widely viewed as the most vulnerable Democratic senator up for re-election in 2020.

This time, Jones’s Republican opponent is not hamstrung by allegations of sexual misconduct and Trump is at the top of this ticket. The president remains popular in Alabama even if his support has waned in some other states.

Jones needs both an unusually strong Democratic turnout and for a large number of Trump voters to split their ticket and vote for Jones instead of his Republican opponent, Tommy Tuberville.

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Roughly half of Alabamians are straight-ticket voters.

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Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh won’t seek re-election in 2022

Marsh said it would be up to the Republican caucus to decide whether he’ll remain pro tem for the last two years of his term.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the top Republican member of Alabama’s upper chamber, will not seek re-election in 2022. 

Marsh told The Anniston Star, which first reported the story, that he will also not run for governor or the U.S. Senate in 2022 or in the future.

Marsh’s decision to not run again will bring an end to a 24-year career in state politics. Marsh, 64, made school choice a focus of his legislative work over the years, championing charter schools and wrote the Senate’s version of the 2014 Alabama Accountability Act, which allows for tax credits for those who make donations to scholarships for students at private schools. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Marsh found himself on the other side of public health experts’ understanding of the disease, suggesting to a reporter that he’d actually like to see more people become infected to build the state’s overall immunity to the virus, a theory that public health experts say would lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths and many more illnesses. 

Marsh also battled Gov. Kay Ivey over the expenditure of $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid over the summer, suggesting early on that the state should spend $200 million of that money on a new Statehouse, which drew widespread public condemnation.

The Alabama Legislature later approved Ivey’s plan to spend the federal aid, which does not include a new Statehouse. 

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Marsh explained to AL.com on Friday that during his tenure, the Republican-controlled Legislature has put Alabama’s fiscal well-being on solid ground. 

“Fiscally, I think we’re as strong as a state as we’ve ever been. I think this COVID has shown how financially secure the state is through our policies. I feel very good about our accomplishments,” he told the outlet. “But there comes a time for everything and I just want to make it clear that I do not intend to seek election in 2022.”

Marsh said it would be up to the Republican caucus to decide whether he’ll remain pro tem for the last two years of his term.

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Alabama Power reports progress on restoring power following Hurricane Zeta

Alabama Power said 131,000 outages remain and that the utility provider expects to have service restored to 95 percent of affected customers by Tuesday.

Brandon Moseley

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Crews work to restore power after Hurricane Zeta. (VIA ALABAMA POWER COMPANY)

Alabama Power said Saturday that its crews have restored power to 373,000 customers following Hurricane Zeta, which caused more than 504,000 outages at peak.

As of Saturday at 2:12 p.m., Alabama Power said 131,000 outages remain and that the utility provider expects to have service restored to 95 percent of affected customers by Tuesday.

 

 

Hurricane Zeta hit Louisiana as a category two hurricane on Wednesday before ripping through Mississippi and Alabama. There is an enormous amount of damage across the footprint of the Southern Company, the parent of Alabama Power.

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Alabama Power has said the impact of the storm is similar to what the company experienced during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the April 27, 2011 tornadoes.

Because Zeta was so fast-moving, it did not lose much of its strength as it moved inland. Much of the state experienced tropical-storm-force winds. There is significant, widespread damage throughout the state.

Alabama Power is having to deal with downed poles and trees that knocked out wires. The company’s crews are working with more than 1,700 lineworkers and support personnel from 19 states and Canada.

Alabama Power said that its crews are working quickly and safely to restore power and will continue to work on restoring power over the weekend.

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Alabama Power storm team evaluators, line crews and support personnel worked throughout the day Thursday and Friday assessing damage and repairing poles and wires damaged in the storm.

Crews are working diligently and as quickly and safely as possible to restore service, the company said.

Remember that there are line crews working along roadways all across the state. Cities, counties and homeowners are still working on debris removal so drive slowly and give yourself more time to get where you are going while out.

Alabama Power warns everyone to stay away from downed power lines, as well as fallen trees and tree limbs that could be hiding downed lines. Always assume a downed line is still energized and poses a potentially deadly hazard.

If you spot a downed line, call Alabama Power at 1-800-888-2726 or local law enforcement and wait for trained crews to perform the potentially dangerous work of removing the line or any surrounding debris.

Hurricane season lasts until the end of November.

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