Here’s an annual reminder for you as you decompress from filing your tax returns: Alabama’s state and local governments are collecting less in state and local taxes than any other state in the United States.
Good right? Maybe. Maybe not.
As Tax Day — and an extended deadline caused by web portal outages — pass, 2018 may mark another year when Alabama pulls in less money per capita to operate its state services than any other place in America.
Even less than Mississippi.
Alabama has been behind in tax collection since the early 1990s, according to the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, which has produced an analysis of Alabama’s tax revenues since 1988.
The low taxes are often the largest catalyst for perpetual budget crises in Montgomery and the biggest bump in the road as lawmakers try to balance the two state budgets, a constitutionally mandated requirement.
Budgeting over the last two years in Alabama has been a lot smoother because the state has had billions on hand from a settlement with BP Oil over the 2011 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but as we head into 2019, Alabama is expected to face another dramatic budget shortfall.
The last major shortfall in 2015 led to an increase of some taxes, including the cigarette tax and taxes on nursing home beds — but property and income taxes haven’t moved much in years.
While Alabamians are some of the most averse to taxes, the meager tax collections provide a strained pool of money not just for the finance of often unpopular government programs but also popular public services like schools, roads, courts, health care and public safety.
PARCA conducted the analysis of Alabama’s tax revenues by relying on the U.S. Census Bureau and its annual survey of state and local governments across the country.
State and local spending are considered together because vary in how they decide to divide up the taxation and collection responsibilities for funding public services and government.
Alabama has the lowest property taxes, both state and local, in the country, ranking 50th of the states. Alabama’s property taxes fund education, state and county general funds and county road and bridge funds.
Alabama and its local governments have developed a reliance on the sales tax and already has some of the highest sales tax rates in the country. And unlike other states, our sales tax applies to groceries and medications.
Sales taxes are often considered regressive because they more heavily affect low-income individuals than high-income individuals.
Despite those high sales tax rates and their effect on the cost of groceries and medication, Alabama’s per capita state and local sales tax collections rank 30th among the 50 states because Alabama’s sales taxes are not as productive.
That, according to PARCA, is because of the smaller tax base of economic activity and because Alabama’s sales tax is narrow compared to most states.
Alabama sales tax applies to almost all sales of goods, but it does not apply the tax to most kinds of business, professional, computer, personal or repair services. And in recent years, the economy has moved more toward the consumption of those services, lessening the effectiveness of Alabama’s sales tax.
In 2015, the last year PARCA performed its analysis, state and local governments collected a total of $15 billion in taxes or $3,144 per resident. Across the U.S., the media per capita value for state and local taxes was more than $1,230 higher at $4,379.
If Alabama collected taxes at a per capita rate equivalent to the national median, the state would have $6 billion more to spend on public services like building and maintaining roads, providing police and fire protection and operating civil and criminal courts — not to mention schools, colleges, libraries and parks, according to PARCA.
Even if national comparisons aren’t inviting, Alabama even stands out among other states in the South when it comes to revenue.
South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana all collected significantly more, per capita, than Alabama. If Alabama collected taxes at the same rate as Georgia, for example, the state would have about $1.8 billion more in tax revenue. If it collected the same amount of revenue as Louisiana, it would have $3.9 billion more.
Alabama has lower tax revenue than other states primarily because of lower tax rates, but a lower-than-average base of wealth also puts the state behind, PARCA said.
Tennessee and Florida collected less taxes as a percent of personal income — largely because those states don’t collect income taxes — than Alabama. But their higher base of wealth puts them at an advantage, and the states pursue other funding sources — like higher property taxes — to make up for lower income tax revenues.
Alabama’s collections amount to about 8.2 percent of total personal income of state residents. In Mississippi, total personal income is lower than Alabama, but that state’s collections amounted to 10.6 percent of total personal income.
Because of their greater effort at tax collection, the states have more money to spend per capita than Alabama.
A full analysis of Alabama’s tax system can be found here.
Congresswoman Martha Roby endorses Jeff Coleman
Congresswoman Martha Roby endorsed Jeff Coleman for Congress Thursday. “I fully support Jeff Coleman to be our next Congressman,” Roby said. “Jeff Coleman is a businessman who supports cutting government regulation and lowering taxes to help grow a strong economy. Jeff strongly supports our men and women serving in uniform, as well as our veterans.”
She continued, “The Second District needs someone who will support our interests right here in southeast Alabama, particularly our farmers. Jeff will do just that. He’ll get results for Alabama.”
“I am humbled and honored to receive this strong endorsement from Representative Roby. She has been a staunch supporter of our military men and women, as well as our farmers. I am looking forward to continuing her legacy of fighting for our conservative Alabama values, protecting the family farm, and fighting to ensure our veterans and active-duty personnel have all the resources they need,” Coleman said of the endorsement.
Coleman has now been endorsed by 10 mayors, multiple business associations in the state, the U.S. Chamber, and Roby. Coleman finished the Republican Primary on March 3 with 38 percent of the vote — 18 points ahead of his closest challenger.
Coleman has never run for public office and touts a 35-year successful business career.
Secretary of state says office will assist voters in complaints if local authorities punish voters without masks
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill told the Alabama Political Reporter that all 1,980 polling places will be open on Tuesday for in-person voting if a voter chooses to cast their ballot in person.
COVID-19 has been a paramount concern for people across the state and citizens have to deal with a number of business, Church and government office closures since March, but Merrill insisted that voters will be able to vote in either the Republican or Democratic Party runoffs on Tuesday at the polling place they are assigned.
A number of cities and counties are requiring masks whenever anyone goes out in any public place and government offices and businesses are refusing service to persons who do not have a mask or who refuse to wear one.
Merrill told APR that the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Scott Harris and other public health authorities are suggesting that you should wear a mask when you go out. Many polling places will provide them to voters that need them, but wearing a mask is not required to vote.
“There are only five requirements to vote in Alabama: You have to be 18 years of age. You have to be a citizen, You have to be a resident of Alabama, You must not have been convicted of an act of moral turpitude that has taken away your voting rights, and you must have a valid photo ID,” Merrill told APR. “When you meet those requirements you can vote in the state of Alabama.”
When asked whether voters in those jurisdictions with face mask requirements have to wear masks when at the polls, Merrill said, “I don’t think anybody at the local level is trying to prevent people from voting.
Merrill said if localities place police or other law enforcement outside polls and attempt to ticket those who try to enter or exit without the required mask his office would get involved.
“If they want to try to do that, we will assist the voter in filing a lawsuit on infringement of their civil rights,” Merrill said.
Public health authorities are urging that everyone wear masks or cloth face coverings to protect themselves from becoming infected with the coronavirus and to avoid spreading the virus to others. Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Alabama press corps Tuesday that 20 to 40 percent of people infected with the virus have no symptoms and don’t event know that they are infected.
Thursday is the last day to apply for an absentee ballot to participate in the Tuesday, July 14 party primary runoff election. The close of business Thursday is the last day to apply for an absentee ballot. The last day to return those completed absentee ballots is the close of business on Monday.
Voters with a health concern due to the possibility of getting or transmitting the coronavirus may obtain an absentee ballot. The voter will still have to check a reason for asking for the absentee ballot. If the reason is fear of the coronavirus, mark that there is a health reason for the application. You will be allowed to vote absentee. Remember to fill out all the paperwork completely and to mail or return the ballot on time.
In the Republican primary runoff, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions are running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. Judge Beth Kellum faces challenger Will Smith for the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
There is no statewide Democratic primary runoff races, but in the 1st Congressional District, James Averhart and Kiani Gardner are running for the Democratic nomination for Congress.
On the Republican side, former State Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl are running for the Republican nomination for Congress.
In Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, former State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, faces Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman. There are also a number of local races being decided in primary runoffs on Tuesday.
Notably in Etowah County, the revenue commissioner’s race is a runoff between State Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, and Jeff Overstreet for the Republican nomination.
In Jefferson County, State Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, faces Eyrika Parker in the Democratic primary runoff for county treasurer.
If either Nordgren or Scott win the local offices they seek, that will lead to a special election for what would become open seats in the Alabama House of Representatives.
The polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and close at 7 p.m. A valid photo ID is required to participate in any Alabama election.
Absentee ballot applications are available online.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported that 25 more Alabamians have died from COVID-19, raising the state death toll from the global pandemic to 1,032. Also, on Wednesday, another 1,162 Alabamians learned that they were infected with the novel strain of the coronavirus, raising the number of cases in the state to 46,424.
Only about 9 percent of the state has been tested at this point in time.
Sessions says that he will never stop fighting for law enforcement officers
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Sessions said on social media that he will “never stop fighting” for law enforcement officers. This was in response to the Saturday slaying of Ohio police officer Anthony Dia.
“We must end the violence against police,” Sessions said. “The last words of Officer Anthony Dia before he died on Saturday was ‘Tell my family I loved them.’”
“The disrespect and even attacks on our courageous law enforcement officers have reached a totally unacceptable level,” Sessions continued. “It is immoral and insane.”
Sessions prioritized good relations with law enforcement while he was U.S. attorney general.
“I understand how difficult their job is and how important it is for the peace and safety of our people,” Sessions said. ”I will never stop fighting for them. Let us remember Officer Dia and pledge that we will not forget his sacrifice.”
Toledo Police Officer Anthony Dia was 26-years old when he responded to a call about an intoxicated man in a store’s parking lot. When he “approached the male to check his safety,” the man turned around and fired a single bullet from a handgun, police said, citing witnesses account.
“He bled out, pretty much. They did what they could with lifesaving measures, but there was nothing they could do,” Dia’s widow Jayme told the Toledo Blade newspaper. “The last thing he said over the radio was, ‘Tell my family I love them.’ He lived for his family, and he loved, just loved, being a police officer.”
American law enforcement has come under heavy criticism by politicians, the media and the public alike following the death of George Floyd during an arrest by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Sessions served in the Senate from 1997 to 2017, when he was confirmed as U.S. attorney general in the Trump administration. Sessions is also a former U.S. attorney, Alabama attorney general and assistant U.S. attorney.
Following his service as U.S. attorney for both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, Sessions was chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Sessions is a former U.S. Army reserve officer. He has a bachelor’s degree from Huntingdon College in Montgomery and a law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law.
Sessions and his wife, Mary Blackshear Sessions, started the first college Republican club at Huntingdon College. They have three children as well as grandchildren. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III was born outside of Camden in Wilcox County in 1946. Sessions is a native Alabamian. He is 73 years old.
Sessions is running in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff. His opponent is former Auburn University head football Coach Tommy Tuberville. The winner of the GOP nomination will face incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the Nov. 3 general election. Defeating Jones is considered critical for Republicans efforts to try to retain control of the Senate.
Supreme Court hands down two rulings expanding religious liberty
The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday handed down two decisions strengthening religious liberty and expanding freedom of religion.
In the first case, the Court ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, saying that the Catholic nuns do not have to pay for medical procedures that they object to including abortion.
The decision was written by pro-life Justice Clarence Thomas. The 5-4 decision majority opinion is the biggest pro-life decision of the Trump presidency. This overturns a lower court ruling saying employees are entitled to abortion and birth control services.
The Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law praised the Supreme Court’s decision in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania. The Foundation had filed an amicus brief with the Court arguing in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor’s case.
This case arose from Obamacare’s contraception mandate. The Little Sisters objected to complying with the Obamacare mandate of contraception and abortion services based on their religious convictions. The Trump administration issued new rules that exempted employers with religious and moral objections to complying with the mandate. The States of Pennsylvania and New Jersey sued, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against the Trump administration and the Little Sisters.
The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Third Circuit. The Court held that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 allowed the Trump administration to craft these regulations and that the Trump administration had complied with the Administrative Procedures Act in enacting the rules.
Consequently, it did not reach the religious freedom claim, but it held that it was proper for the Trump administration to consider the effect of federal religious freedom law when it passed the rules.
“GREAT win at the Supreme Court today on the Obamacare abortion drug mandate,” said Republican Senate candidate Jeff Sessions. “For the first time in nearly a DECADE, the Little Sisters of the Poor & other religious groups can do their good work without fear of being forced to violate their beliefs.”
“As Attorney General, I reversed the Obama administration’s position in the Little Sisters of the Poor litigation, and said NO MORE to government persecution of religion,” Sessions said. “I have a lifelong record of fighting to protect religious freedom. This is one of many issues on which President Donald J. Trump and I worked on together to take a strong stand for religious liberty. I also started the Religious Liberty Task Force at the Department of Justice to protect religious freedom across the entire government.”
Sessions is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in the Republican primary on July 14. His opponent is former Auburn head football Coach Tommy Tuberville.
“Although the majority opinion focused more on administrative law than on religious liberty, the Court’s decision was a win for religious freedom because it upheld important rules that protect Americans with religious and moral objections to Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate,” said Matt Clark, the attorney who wrote the Foundation’s amicus brief in this case.
“Justice Alito’s concurring opinion importantly emphasized that the courts must defer to a person’s interpretation of his religious obligations when he raises a religious objection,” Clark continued. “As James Madison wrote in 1785, ‘The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.’”
Kayla Moore is the President of the Foundation for Moral Law.
“The main opinion said that Congress considers religious liberty to be an ‘unalienable right,’” Moore said. “We commend Congress and the Court for recognizing it as such, and we hope that the Court will take that principle to its logical conclusion in every religious freedom case that it considers.”
Bible scholar and cultural commentator Dr. Michael Brown said, “This is a tremendous victory for freedom of religion and conscience in America. Under Obamacare, employers were forced to provide birth control coverage as part of their health plans, which for many Catholics in particular would be in violation of their faith. The court has overwhelmingly ruled for religious freedom, honoring moral objections of employers who now may opt out of providing abortion or birth control services.”
The Supreme Court also released a ruling Wednesday saying religious institutions have the right to pick their own employees and are exempt from secular anti-discrimination laws.
“Trump and moral conservatives won two big ones,” Brown said.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru the Court ruled that the First Amendment prevents courts from intervening in employment disputes between religious schools and the teachers at those schools who are entrusted with the responsibility of instructing their students in the faith.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission. Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”
Brown is the author of the new book, “Evangelicals at the Crossroads: Will We Pass the Trump Test?” He has written 35 books and hosts a nationally syndicated daily talk radio show The Line of Fire, as well as the host of shows on GOD TV, NRBTV, and METV.
Barbara Ann Luttrell is the Vice President of External Affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast.
Planned Parenthood SE was upset with both rulings.
“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld two Trump administration rules that allow employers and universities to push their religious or moral beliefs on employees and students by denying them access to insurance that covers birth control,” Luttrelll said in a statement. “Bosses and universities will be able to decide — based on their own objections — if their health insurance plans cover birth control.”
Staci Fox is the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast.
“Today’s ruling deals yet another devastating blow to health care access in this country,” Fox said. “As is so often the case, it will hit people of color and low-income people hardest, and in the middle of a global pandemic that is already ravaging those communities. It is more proof that reproductive rights are under attack at all levels – not just abortion access.”
Both decisions were victories for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. The State of Alabama, under Marshall’s leadership, had previously joined multistate amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in both cases, supporting the Little Sisters of the Poor and Our Lady of Guadalupe School: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania; and Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru.
“The First Amendment rightly recognizes that one of the unalienable rights all men and women possess is the right to exercise their faith,” Marshall wrote in a statement. “And today the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that fundamental truth in two important decisions. Thankfully, the Court recognized that the federal government need not force nuns to violate their sincerely held beliefs by providing contraceptive coverage to employees who help them care for the sick. And the Court likewise reaffirmed that the government has no authority to tell religious schools who they must hire or retain to teach their faith.”