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Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford dies

Josh Moon

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Larry Langford, the charismatic and popular former mayor of Birmingham, has died following a lengthy illness. He was 72.

Most widely known for his push for a $500 million domed stadium … or maybe for trying to lure the Summer Olympics to Birmingham .. or, more likely, for both of those and his oversized personality, optimism and undeniable love for Birmingham, Langford died Monday in a Birmingham hospital.

The former mayor had recently been transferred from a Kentucky federal prison, where he was serving time for his 2009 public corruption conviction on 60 counts of misusing his office while serving as a Jefferson County Commissioner.

“Mayor Langford had an unmatched love for his community — a love he expressed through his boldness and creativity,” Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said in a statement. “Mayor Langford was an unabashed advocate for the city he served. Above all else, Mayor Langford loved this city.”

Until his legal troubles in 2009, Langford’s rise to mayor in Birmingham was an inspirational story. Coming up from very little and working his way to the mayor’s office, Langford was a relatable and inspiring character — able to draw the votes of both the business elite and the working poor.

Langford’s biggest contributions to the City of Birmingham came, arguably, in public education — a passion of the former mayor’s. He pushed for new schools and funding for school supplies, led an initiative that provided tablets for Birmingham school kids and was a staunch advocate of higher pay for public school employees.

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He also was an advocate for the poor. Having grown up in poverty, Langford knew the struggles and knew that often a chance was the only thing standing between a rich man and a poor man.

Even after his conviction, in which he received 15 years for steering county bond business to friends in exchange for gifts and money worth around $230,000, Langford remained a popular figure with the working class citizens of Birmingham.

He was allowed to return to Birmingham after the judge who sentenced him to 15 years changed the sentence at the request of the federal government to time served.

Langford is survived by his wife, Melva, who fought until the end to have her husband released.

 

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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Josh Moon

Opinion | Vilification of the poor continues to hamper Alabama growth

Josh Moon

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Two sessions ago, in a legislative committee meeting of some sorts, there was — believe it or not — a meaningful and sincere conversation among lawmakers about a controversial topic.

Drug testing welfare recipients.

The sponsor of the bill that wanted to require that every person who received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) money be drug tested was Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Scottsboro. Several of Hanes’ colleagues — mostly the Democrats — on the committee were attempting to dissuade him from bringing the bill, and they were using facts, recent events in other states and calm talk to get their point across.

To his credit, Hanes was also sincere in this discussion. He explained his reasons for bringing the bill, and he cited mostly personal experience and things he’d heard from constituents as evidence.

When his colleagues explained the exorbitant costs of the tests, combined with the fact that similar programs in every other state that had passed such laws had failed to produce any cost savings and lots of costs overruns, Hanes basically conceded defeat.

It was, I said at the time, a small victory for common sense and the Democratic process — two sides coming together, sharing ideas and reaching a reasonable and correct conclusion.

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But this is Alabama, where turning poor people into villains is a popular political tactic. And as such, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Hanes has now prefiled that same bill for the second consecutive year.

All of the facts are the same. All of the explanations for why it’s a bad bill — explanations that Hanes himself agreed with and conceded were true — remain accurate and true today.

But the lies have gone too far now to be reeled back in by one or two conversations, or a committee meeting.

It doesn’t matter that in reality the Alabama SNAP program is extraordinarily efficient, with less than 3 percent fraud, and with virtually no able-bodied, childless adults receiving benefits. It doesn’t matter that drug testing programs in other states have shown that SNAP recipients generally use illegal drugs at rates lower than the overall population.

All that matters is what Hanes’ voters believe.

And Hanes’ voters, after decades of conservative control in Alabama, have been conditioned to believe the absolute worst about anyone who accepts government assistance: they’re moochers, they’re thieves, they’re lazy, they’re drug addicted, they’re laying around watching TV all day eating lobster and steak and texting on their Obama iPhones while the rest of us work hard and pay their bills.

It doesn’t matter that most of these voters personally know someone on assistance and know that family’s very real story of unfortunate hardship.

It also doesn’t matter that in the entire history of the United States, we have never faltered economically because we gave too much to the poor. In fact, just the opposite is true — when we have given the most to the least, we have flourished.

Nope. All that matters at this point is the lie that the people believe.

And so, Alabama has closed six hospitals and watched as doctors and nurses fled the state, because passing Medicaid expansion would have been political suicide for a Republican governor.

Why? Because voters in this state — even the voters who would have been directly helped by the expansion — believed it to be a government handout that would destroy health care.

In Louisiana, which expanded in 2016, as APR’s Bill Britt wrote on Tuesday, instead of closing hospitals, there has been a $1.8 billion economic impact and more than 19,000 jobs were created because of the expansion. Louisiana had to elect a Democrat governor to get that done.

They stopped believing the lie.

In Alabama, it appears as if the true positives of Medicaid expansion are finally outweighing the lies that have stalled it here. There’s simply no way to ignore the positives at this point, and Gov. Kay Ivey will announce the expansion soon.

But it will not come without a shot at the poor.

Last year, in a setup move designed to appease lawmakers and voters about a possible expansion, Ivey’s team announced plans to implement a Medicaid work requirement. That requirement could literally be a killer for some recipients, causing them to lose coverage for working a job that doesn’t provide health insurance.

And those out-of-work, under-worked human beings will still get sick, still go to hospital ERs and still run up the cost of health care for all of us.

But that’s OK, as long some people never have to stop believing the lie that they really want to believe.

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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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Former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford dies

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