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As lawmakers consider new gas tax, Alabama remains last in per capita state, local tax collection

Chip Brownlee

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As state lawmakers prepare to consider a gas tax increase during the next legislative session, a new report from the Public Affairs Research Council shows Alabama’s state and local governments collect less in taxes per capita than any other state in the country.

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.

“This is not a new finding,” the PARCA report says. “This has been true since the early the 1990s. And it underlies the difficulties we face when trying to provide to our citizens the level of government services enjoyed by citizens in other states.”

Lawmakers have flirted with a gas tax increase in recent years, and proponents say it is imperative to raise revenues to invest in Alabama’s aging infrastructure.

In Alabama, the gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1992, when lawmakers added 5 cents to the gallon, and the state ranks 35th in per capita state and local collections on motor fuel.

Several neighboring states have increased their motor fuels taxes in recent years, leading to Alabama’s rank declining relative to other Southeastern states. In 2016, only South Carolina collected less in motor fuels taxes, but South Carolina will likely surpass Alabama in the next few years because it adopted a plan recently to gradually increase its gas tax, and its rate now exceeds Alabama’s.

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It isn’t just the gas tax that hasn’t really been adjusted in years.

Alabama’s low taxes — while they may be a positive for your pocketbook — are often the single largest contributor to near-perpetual budget crises in Montgomery, placing a significant barrier for lawmakers as they balance the two state budgets every year. It’s a constitutionally mandated requirement.

While budgeting over the last two years in Alabama has been a smoother process — largely because the state has had billions on hand from a settlement with BP Oil over the 2011 Deepwater Horizon oil spill —Alabama is expected to face another budget shortfall this year.

The last major budget 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. Alabama’s extremely low property taxes are the main reason tax collections fall below other states.

If Alabama’s per capita property tax collections matched the average of other Southeastern states, state and local governments would have an additional $2 billion — yes, billion with a “b” — to spend on services and education, and the overall tax revenue per capita would be in the middle of other Southern states.

Though Alabamians are some of the most averse to taxes, the meager tax collections result in a strained pool of money for popular public services like schools, roads, courts, health care and public safety.

While Alabama has avoided passing general tax increases, it has turned to selective sales taxes. Alabama ranks high in per capita collections on alcoholic drinks (No. 3 in the U.S.) and on public utilities (No. 5) in the U.S.

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. The Census Bureau data makes it possible to compare the finances of state and local governments across the 50 states.

This year’s data is from 2016, the latest available, and tax rates haven’t changed much at all since then.

State and local spending are considered together because states 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.

The base of wealth in Alabama is also smaller than most other states, which also contributes to lower taxes. In Alabama, taxes amount to 8.2 percent of the total personal income earned by state residents, when comparing total personal income to total state and local taxes collected. Tennessee and Florida have lower tax rates as a percentage of percental income, and Georgia and Florida have lower taxes as a percentage of GDP.

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, ranking 29th in the U.S. 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. Alabama is one of three states that continue to apply sales tax fully to groceries without providing offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families.

At the same time, Alabama’s sales tax is not as broad as other states and doesn’t apply to most services. Despite higher taxes, Alabama’s sales tax isn’t as productive as other 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 2016, the last year the Census Bureau performed its analysis, state and local governments collected a total of $15.6 billion in taxes or $3,203 per resident. Across the U.S., the median per capita value for state and local taxes was more than $1,281 higher at $4,484.

If Alabama collected taxes at the per capita rate of the median state, local and state governments in Alabama would have an additional $6.2 billion to spend on building roads, providing public safety protection, operating courts, supporting schools and colleges and maintaining parks and libraries.

Even if national comparisons are ignored, Alabama stands out among other Southern states when it comes to revenue.

Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee all collect significantly more taxes per capita.

If Alabama collected taxes at the same rate as Louisiana, for example, the state would have about $3.2 billion more in tax revenue. If it collected the same amount of revenue as Arkansas, it would have $3.7 billion more.

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The full report is available here.

 

Economy

High death rate, low immigration levels leave Alabama with one of nation’s lowest growth rates

Chip Brownlee

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New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Alabama has one of the nation’s lowest growth rates.

“As Alabama approaches its 200th birthday, the state is still adding population but at a slower rate than most of its Southeastern neighbors,” analysts wrote in a Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama analysis of the Census Bureau numbers.

The Census Bureau’s data release in December includes state-level estimates for the underlying components of population growth, and in some cases, population decrease.

These numbers come at a time when state leaders are increasingly concerned about the 2020 Census and reapportionment of Congressional seats that will follow.

They fear Alabama may lose one of its seven congressional seats to another state that’s growing faster.

The states that could steal a seat are those growing at a faster rate — including those in the Mountain West like Utah, Nevada and Idaho. Arizona, Texas and Florida are also outpacing the rest of the country.

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The possibility has so concerned state officials that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks sued the U.S. Census Bureau in an effort to prevent them from counting undocumented immigrants in the census, despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have held the opposite.

It’s unlikely that suit will succeed based on precedent, and a federal judge recently blocked a “citizenship question” on the census altogether, making that possibility even lower.

On the other end of the spectrum, Gov. Kay Ivey is publicly encouraging the state to respond to the census in an effort to ensure every person is counted.


Click here for a visualization of the data


But it’s not solely immigration that is buoying the chance of Alabama losing a congressional seat.

From 2010 to 2018, Alabama’s population only increased by 2.3 percent.

That puts Alabama as No. 35 among the 50 states in that metric.

The rate of natural increase — a number that calculates the crude birth rate by subtracting the death rate from the raw birth rate — is worse.

Alabama ranks 43rd in that metric.

Alabama falls into the lowest tier of growth, with growth under 1 percent.

The numbers within those metrics are even starker.

Alabama has the second-highest death rate in the U.S. The only other state with a higher death rate is West Virginia, a state that has been ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

A low rate of international migration levels also contributes to Alabama’s slow growth rate. It had the fourth-lowest rate of international immigration in the country.

Alabama does have a positive rate of domestic in-migration, but that number is still lower than some of its neighbors in the Southeast.

Coastal Southeastern State like North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida — along with Tennessee — are seeing faster growth overall than Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas.

In the last year, Alabama’s population increased an estimated 0.3 percent.

But it could be worse.

Eight states — Mississippi and Louisiana among them in the Southeast — lost population in 2018, according to the Census estimates.

The Census tracks births and deaths in a state and estimates the number of people moving in and moving out to estimate population change.

Alabama had an estimated 57,216 births in 2018 but an estimated 53,425 deaths. That’s a net natural increase of only 3,791 people. Domestic migration and international migration added up to a net increase of 9,062.

That’s a net population change of only 12,751 people in one year.

“Alabama’s population is older than the average state,” PARCA’s analysis found. “That effects population in two ways. Older residents are more likely to die, and younger people are more likely to have children. In addition, Alabama residents, by many measures are less healthy than residents in other states and have a shorter life expectancy than residents of most other states. Alabama’s high death rate ultimately depresses the state’s rate of natural increase.”

Perhaps the most obvious comparison is with South Carolina, a state that has demographics similar to Alabama’s.

In 2010, when the last national census was held, South Carolina had fewer people than Alabama. But since then, South Carolina had a growth spurt, fueled in large part by domestic migration.

The state has now surpassed Alabama in population, adding 450,000 new residents while Alabama added only 100,000 since 2010.

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Economy

Alabama tax revenues are up but still below pre-Great Recession levels

Brandon Moseley

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Last year was a great year for most state governments, with a few notable exceptions.

In Alabama, tax revenues are soaring, but have not entirely recovered from pre-Great Recession levels.

According to a new study by the Pew Charitable Trust, 36 states collected more tax revenue than they did at their pre-Great Recession peaks, after adjusting for inflation. Alabama’s tax revenues were up markedly in the third quarter of 2018 to the highest levels seen since state government revenues peaked in the third quarter of 2008.

The economy has expanded substantially and that is showing in increased tax collections. Alabama’s state government had peaked to an all-time high in the third quarter of 2008, when Bob Riley was the Governor. Then the stock market tanked, millions of American homeowners found that they were unable to pay their mortgages, banks began to fail, the homebuilding industry crashed, and Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama intervened in the economy with the TARP bank bailout. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, their homes, their 401ks, and many lives changed forever.

For state governments, people making less money pay less taxes. By the second quarter of 2010, paralleling the national average, Alabama’s total tax collections had dropped 13.2 percent from peak levels and lower than tax collections had been in years. The people of Alabama responded to the economic crisis and corruption scandals in Montgomery by rejecting 136 years of Democratic Party control and giving Mike Hubbard and the Republicans supermajorities in both Houses of the Alabama legislature plus every statewide race on the ballot. Doug Jones’ narrow victory over Judge Roy Moore in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate is the only time a Democrat has won a statewide race in Alabama since.

Lawmakers in Alabama and state capitals across the country struggled to figure out how to cut budgets, get federal bailout dollars, and/or raise revenues to keep state agencies afloat. Nationally state tax revenues bottomed out in the fourth quarter of 2009 at 12.5 percent below peak levels. Two years later nationally average states had recovered back to just 4.4 percent below the pre-Recession peak of 2008. Alabama, however, was still 11.3 percent below the peak revenues seen in 2008. By the fourth quarter of 2013 nationally state governments were taking in 2.4 percent more than they did during the third quarter of 2008, adjusted for inflation. Alabama, however, was still 7.7 percent below those peak revenues.

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When Governor Robert Bentley (R) resigned amidst scandal during the second quarter of 2017, Alabama tax revenues were still 4.1 percent below the 2008 third 1uarter state peak. The national average was 6.3 percent above the third quarter of 2008. In the third quarter of 2018, Alabama tax collections were only 1.1 percent below the pre-Great Recession peak. The national average, however, is 12.2 percent above the mark set ten years ago.

The ten states with the greatest gains in tax revenues are: 1. North Dakota (47.9 percent above peak) 2. Colorado (32.2 percent above peak), 3. California (27.6 percent above peak), 4. Oregon (26.8 percent above peak), 5. Minnesota (25.5 percent above peak), 6. Hawaii (23.6 percent above peak), 7. Washington (22.8 percent above peak), 8. Nevada (22.5 percent above peak), 9. South Dakota (20.8 percent above peak) and 10. Maryland (18.8 percent above peak).

The ten states most below their third-quarter 2008 collections are: 50. Alaska (-86.3 percent below peak), 49. Wyoming (-38.2 percent below peak), 48. New Mexico (-15.3 percent below peak), 47. Oklahoma (-8.5 percent below peak), 46. Florida (-7.9 percent below peak), 45. Ohio (-7.4 percent below peak), 44. Louisiana (-6.7 percent below peak), 43. West Virginia (-2.8 percent below peak), 42. New Jersey (-2.6 percent below peak), and 41. Arizona (-2.2 percent below peak).

According to the authors, states collectively took in 5.5 percent more tax revenue from July 2017 through June 2018, the budget year used by most states, than they did in the previous year, after adjusting for inflation. It was the greatest increase since tax dollars rose 7.0 percent in fiscal 2011. Just two states bucked the upward trend and took in less in fiscal 2018 than they did a year earlier: Mississippi and Ohio.

To read the report, click here.

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Economy

Ivey awards first broadband accessibility grants

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced the first ever grants from Alabama’s Broadband Accessibility Fund.

Residents in seven Alabama communities will be afforded access to high-speed internet thanks to the grants, totaling almost $1.1 million. The fund was created by the Alabama Legislature and signed into reality in March 2018 by Gov. Ivey.

“These grants may only represent one step in terms of providing high-speed internet opportunities to rural Alabama, but it is a monumental leap for a program that has the ability to positively impact the lives of so many people,” Gov. Ivey said. “By supplying these services to rural Alabama, we are also providing these areas the ability to step up in education, health care and economic development.”

The Broadband Accessibility Fund provides funds for service providers to supply high-speed internet services in unincorporated areas or communities with 25,000 people or less. Under the law, awards cannot exceed 20 percent of the total cost of a project.

Ivey placed the administrative duties of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund under the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

“Providing broadband services to Alabama’s rural communities is in many ways the equivalent of providing those same areas with electricity in early 20th Century,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA and Gov. Ivey share the goal of supplying this essential service to every part of Alabama.”

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Grants awarded and coverage areas are:

Millry Telephone Co. Inc. of Millry will receive $938,306 for expanding coverage to incorporated areas of Gilbertown and Toxey and some unincorporated areas in Choctaw County.

Marcus Cable Associates of Birmingham will receive $11,022 to expand coverage in the East Wood Point area in Moulton.

Marcus Cables Associates of Birmingham will receive $11,063 for expanding coverage in the Emerald Ridge area in Chelsea.

Charter Communications will receive $29,567 to expand coverage to Glen Ridge in southwest Tuscaloosa County.

Charter Communications was awarded $6,017 to provide coverage to the Grace Haven subdivision in Boaz.

Charter Communications received $8,415 to provide coverage in the Vickey Lane area in Boaz.

Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. will get $74,586 for providing broad band coverage in the Pea Ridge community near Henagar.

Governor Ivey added on social media, “I’m proud to announce that almost $1.1 million in grants are being awarded in an effort to increase broadband access in rural Alabama. This is a major step forward for these 7 communities. A gain for rural Alabama is a gain for our entire state.”

State Senator Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) sponsored the legislation to create the Broadband Accessibility Fund.

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Economy

Red state governors tout economic success of Medicaid expansion

Bill Britt

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Montana’s Gov. Steve Bullock presented a report in early January that shows Medicaid expansion has added $270 million to the state’s economy annually since its passage in 2015, according to The Great Falls Tribune.

“I think that it’s time we finally fully recognize the value of Medicaid expansion is as much for Montana businesses as it is for the Montanans receiving health care,” Bullock said.

Montana’s success — as well as Idaho’s recent decision to expand the health insurance program for low-income individuals — may serve as a model for Alabama.

Alabama is one of 14 mostly southern, conservative states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was one of several Republican attorneys general who sued to overturn the law in a case that is still pending appeal.

Meanwhile, Alabama has witnessed the closing of six hospitals since 2011, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. They have warned that the closures could get worse as more cuts are anticipated later this year.

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Hospitals that rely on so-called disproportionate share hospitals payments — or DSH  — are barely operating in the black, and it wouldn’t take much to put them in the red.

“If the state has not expanded Medicaid in 2020, as the DSH cuts are scheduled to take effect, that will close a significant number of hospitals,” said Danne Howard, the association’s chief policy officer in December. “That will cripple. That will be the straw that the hospitals can’t survive.”

Louisiana’s expansion of Medicaid in 2016 resulted in a $1.85 billion direct economic impact, according to an April 2018 report. It has also led to the creation of 19,000 new jobs.

Three deep-red states — Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah — joined the 32 expansion states through ballot initiatives in November 2018. Solid majorities in each conservative state voted for the measure. Three other states — Kansas, Wisconsin and Maine — elected Democratic governors who are likely to push expansion.

Should Medicaid expansion be on the 2019 legislative agenda? Experts say it has to be

Recent estimates show that between 235,000 to 300,000 people in Alabama would gain access to Medicaid if the state were to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid. In 2018, the federal government paid 94 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion. That funding will drop to 90 percent by 2020, but will remain at that level going forward.

A UAB School of Public Health study found that expansion would cost the state about $770 million over the first seven years in costs, but could potentially result in $20 billion in economic growth over the same time period.

In her inaugural speech, Gov. Kay Ivey eluded to tackling health care but didn’t address Medicaid expansion directly.

A look at other issues Ivey touched on in inaugural address

Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said in an interview that expansion is unlikely to be on the agenda for the 2019 legislative session.

Former chairman of the State Senate Health Committee Gerald Dial in an Op-ed said that if the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, “More hospitals will close.”

He also pointed out that beyond the six rural hospitals that have already closed, 88 percent of the remaining rural facilities are operating in the red.

“Many have had to eliminate services, cut staff and if nothing changes, a number of them will likely have to close their doors,” Dial said. “And when a community loses its hospital, it also loses doctors, pharmacies, and other providers, devastating the community not only in terms of access to health care but in job and economic losses.”

Opinion | Retiring Republican state senator: Alabama should expand Medicaid

Ivey’s administration is riding high both in her personal approval rating and with the state’s booming economy. The governor seems poised to use her political capital to move the state forward despite political considerations.

Economic gains in Montana and Louisiana could convince a majority of the state’s conservative lawmakers that expansion is a winning proposal. Mississippi, another deeply conservative state, also appears ready to move forward with a version of the expansion.

Republican lawmakers are expected to impose work requirements on social welfare benefits in the coming legislative session. Some say this is a precursor to expanding Medicaid.

 

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As lawmakers consider new gas tax, Alabama remains last in per capita state, local tax collection

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 5 min
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