By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, July 27, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) released a videotape in which he announced plans for a Special Session to pass a lottery to be used as a new State General Fund (SGF) revenue stream. Gov. Bentley urged the people of Alabama to contact their State legislators and demand that they give the people the right to vote on his proposal.
Bentley’s five minute tape, however, did not actually have many of the necessary details, such as, when this vote would occur and when will legislators return to Montgomery for the Special Session. Many legislators and State leaders expressed skepticism about the Governor’s proposals.
State Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) said, “The Governor is doing the same thing he did last year, calling a Special Session of the legislature to fix a ‘crisis’ with no consensus or solid, long-term solution ready. That, in my opinion, is a path for failure which will waste time and cost the citizens of Alabama thousands of dollars. Make no mistake, this is not about Medicaid or the lottery. This is about the expansion of other forms of gaming in Alabama. Everything else can and should be addressed in the next Regular Session. And don’t forget that last year’s “crisis” and Special Session was solved by raising your taxes, which I strongly opposed.”
House Minority Leader state Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said, “If we passed a lottery bill tomorrow and got it on the ballot in time for the November election (which is the soonest we could do it), it would still be a year before the lottery started bringing in new revenue. The new budgets go into effect on October 1st of this year—more than a month before the voters could even vote on the lottery! There’s simply no way the lottery can fix the current Medicaid shortfall.”
State Representative David Standridge (R-Hayden) said, “There is no doubt our State budget is in peril. I do not personally support the lottery, nor do I believe that a lottery is the answer to all our state’s financial needs. However, I do believe in the citizens’ right to vote on important issues and would not deny the people the right to vote on a well-planned and vetted lottery bill. I will not support any legislation which is unclear on where the lottery funds will be spent or that does not contain safeguards from corruption.”
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) raised questions about a Bentley lottery, specifically: “Would there be safeguards to keep Bentley supporters from getting no-bid contracts with the lottery commission? Would there be safeguards to prevent Bentley insiders from landing $200,000 a year jobs with expense accounts and luxury state cars? Would there be safeguards to prevent the revenues from being siphoned off for Bentley pet projects?”
Senate Minority Leader Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery) said, “We are pleased that the governor has decided to entertain legalized gaming after Democrats have been pushing the issue for years. We need to legalize and tax our existing gaming facilities, as well as create a statewide lottery so our state can adequately fund and expand our struggling Medicaid system and properly support our underfunded educational system. These gaming dollars can provide stability and long-term economic streams for many of our General Fund and Education Trust Fund needs.”
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) asked voter what is it they want to do. England said, “By now I am pretty sure that you have heard the news. Governor Bentley will be calling a Special Session at some point in the very near future to deal with the lottery. His proposal would send the revenue generated to the General Fund (essential state services) instead of to the Education Trust Fund. So I have simple question for you. Please participate and share if you do not mind. Would you vote for a lottery if the money generated by the lottery goes only to funding essential state services like Medicaid, Corrections, Mental Health, and Law Enforcement and not to education?”
Rep. Standridge said, “I have learned in the last couple of years to examine Governor Bentley’s massive proposals, whether it be $700 million in new taxes, building $800 million in new prisons, and now the lottery, with a critical eye. In fact, just like the Governor’s prison bill, the lottery proposal is long on promises and lofty aspirations, while being short on details and specifics. With the current ongoing ethics investigations in our State, all government officials should stand firmly on the side of caution by carefully studying and thoroughly vetting any lottery proposal. We must insure that we get this right for the people of the state of Alabama. We cannot allow any potential lottery to line the pockets of special interest groups or to add to the atmosphere of political corruption already in Montgomery.”
Former Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn (R) said, “Whether you’re for or against the Lottery, we can’t let Bentley use this as a distraction from his disgracing the office of Governor. It’s time to end Mr. Bentley’s playhouse of grab ass and corruption.”
Rep. Ford said, “Lottery revenue in other states has been stagnant. If the lottery brings in $300 million it’s first year, it will still be bringing in $300 million five years from now. But the costs of Medicaid and other General Fund programs will continue to increase as inflation and other factors drive up costs from year to year. Even if we put 100 percent of the lottery revenue into Medicaid, in just a few short years the costs of healthcare will have outgrown the lottery and we will be right back to where we are today. In the end, the lottery is no more of a solution than borrowing money out of the state’s savings account was in 2012.”
Sen. Bussman said, “The people have a right to vote on a stand-alone, clear, detailed lottery bill. But over the last few years, getting a stand-alone, clear, detailed lottery bill has been impossible. My support for such a bill will depend on those details. If other forms of gaming are tied to the bill in any way, I will strongly oppose the bill.”
Sen. Ross said, “It is estimated that $250 million a year leaves Alabama and goes into the coffers of nearby states where gaming is legal, such as Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee. We need to benefit from the millions of dollars spent by Alabamians who patronize other states through their gaming facilities and lotteries; and we agree with Gov. Bentley that it is time to allow the people of Alabama to decide the issue once and for all by allowing them to vote. With the governor’s lead, I hope our Republican colleagues will finally support and approve gaming for Alabama.”
Rep. Standridge said, “Like any massive legislative proposal, the devil is in the details. Until I know for sure what the Governor is proposing, it is impossible for me to take a certain stand on the issue. Due to recent events in our State, we need to be diligent to weed out corruption and not fuel it; therefore, we must avoid any possible corruption and be very explicit on how lottery funds will be distributed. While I prefer designating such funds for college scholarships and for education, I recognize the dire situation of Medicaid, law enforcement, and other critical needs facing the State at this time. To be clear, I will vote against any proposal that will line the pockets of politicians and special interest groups.”
Rep. Ford warned, “We’ve seen in other states where lottery revenue ended up not going where it was promised. Legislators sold the lottery to their state as an “education lottery” or as a fix for a general fund program like Medicaid or infrastructure (i.e., roads and bridges). Once the lottery was passed and the money started coming in, legislators would put the money in the budget where it was supposed to go, but then they would transfer other funding out of that program and use it to fund pork projects or other programs.”
Rep. Standridge said, “If we do go into a Special Session, I hope my colleagues will not only consider the Governor’s proposals, but will also consider using our time wisely to pass common sense ethics reforms that insure transparency and accountability. The people of this State are demanding honest and accountable leadership. We should not hesitate to use the upcoming Special Session as an opportunity to rid our State of corruption and to restore the people’s confidence in State government.”
Rep. Ford said, “I have introduced legislation that would create a lottery specifically for scholarships. Under my bill, lottery revenue would pay for the first two years of college for anyone who gets accepted into a public college or university. I believe we should educate for a purpose, and that purpose is getting a job.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
House passes General Fund Budget
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.
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.
Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday
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.
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.
Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor
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.
- 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.