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Ivey uses inaugural address to call for infrastructure, corrections funding

Chip Brownlee

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via Governor's Office

During her inaugural address Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey, who is beginning her first full term as Alabama’s 54th governor, called on the Legislature to improve the state’s infrastructure and replace aging prisons.

The governor was sworn into office Monday morning on the steps of the State Capitol. Ivey used the legacy of Gov. Lurleen Wallace, the state’s first female governor, to call for investments in roads and bridges.

“In her inaugural address, Gov. Wallace called on the Alabama Legislature to, among other things, provide greater funding to build and improve our roads,” Ivey said Monday. “Today, I follow in Gov. Lurleen Wallace’s footsteps in many ways and make the same ask to the members of the Alabama Legislature.”

Though Ivey has a number of allies in the Legislature, where Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers, the fight for greater funding for infrastructure — in the form of a gas tax — could be a difficult one.

Republican leadership in both chambers have been in lockstep with Ivey on calling for an increase to the gasoline tax, which hasn’t been adjusted since 1992. Alabama’s Association of County Commissions and a number of business groups have thrown their support behind an increase in the gas tax.

Despite that, significant numbers in the conservative wing of the Republican caucus have been opposed to efforts to increase the gas tax in recent years. Some Democrats have also opposed the increase, saying it would fall disproportionately on the backs of working Alabamians.

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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.

“After all, if we want to compete in a 21st-century global economy, we must improve our infrastructure by investing more in our roads, our bridges and our ports,” Ivey said Monday.

Ivey never mentioned a gas tax specifically in her inaugural address, though. She stuck to general calls to increase road and bridge investment instead of speaking on a gas tax specifically. She has endorsed a modest increase in the gas tax.


READ IVEY’S INAUGURAL ADDRESS HERE.


“It has been nearly three decades since we last made any changes to our current funding, and the challenge has grown with the passing of time,” Ivey said. “Now is the time to increase our investment in infrastructure – now is the time to solve this problem.”

Ivey seemed to predict that Republican leadership will need some help from Democrats to pass a gas tax increase. She called on legislators to work in a bipartisan fashion to solve issues.

“Let’s face it,” Ivey said. “The challenges we confront today did not just arrive on our doorstep; likewise, they will not go away in weeks or even months. But if we work on them together – Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals – then today’s challenges can be looked upon as tomorrow’s accomplishments.”

Lawmakers have tried numerous times in recent legislative sessions to move on a gas tax, but all efforts eventually stalled. This year, the gas tax seems to be a priority for leadership. Second on their list is prison construction — another issue that has remained at an impasse in the legislature for several years.

Ivey called for an “Alabama solution” to problems with the state’s corrections system.

“We are revitalizing our statewide corrections system by replacing costly, at-risk prison facilities,” Ivey said. “This effort will ensure that Alabama stays committed to statewide prison reform, and we will be announcing more detailed plans in the coming days.”

Though few details have been publicly announced, the Department of Corrections has hinted a plan to lease new prisons.

Less than two years ago, the Legislature rejected a plan by then-Gov. Robert Bentley to spend approximately $850 million on four mega-prisons. But prospects of securing funding for a smaller project with a higher price tag is sure to face push-back in the Legislature.

Dunn’s appearance at this month’s Contract Review hearing was to receive approval for an extension to a nearly $11.5 million contract with Birmingham-based Hoar Program Management, LLC, to complete a study that would result in a request for proposal to build the three facilities.

Could leasing be the answer to new state prisons?

Two lawmakers who spoke with APR on background think that leasing prisons may not be the ideal solution, but it avoids much of the legislative in-fighting that doomed new prison construction in the past.

The Legislature is set to convene in March for the 2019 legislative session.

 

Governor

Lieutenant governor picks deputy chief of staff

Chip Brownlee

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The lieutenant governor has selected his deputy chief of staff.

Jess Skaggs, a former Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries administrator, will be Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth’s deputy chief of staff, his office said Thursday.

“As lieutenant governor, I plan for my office to be the most active and engaged in Alabama’s history, and Jess Skaggs has the experience, dedication, and energy necessary to help make that plan a reality,” Ainsworth said. “Jess has a deep desire to serve his fellow Alabamians and to make our state an even better place to live for all of its citizens. I’m happy to have him on my team as we work to provide Alabama with more jobs, better schools, and a higher standard of ethics among its elected officials.”

Skaggs previously served as the deputy commissioner for external affairs in the department.

He spearheaded economic development opportunities for the Department of Agriculture and Industries in that role. He also worked with the Alabama Legislature to promote the state’s agricultural industry and assisted the commissioner with public policy research.

Ainsworth was sworn in as lieutenant governor on Monday. He’ll begin presiding over the Senate when the Legislature returns for the 2019 session in March. Ainsworth said Monday that he plans to focus on economic development, education, job training and government ethics during his term.

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Aside from his experience in the ADAI, Skaggs has other experience in the Legislature that could come in handy for the lieutenant governor. Skaggs worked closely with two senators and five state representatives as the delegation director for the Baldwin County Legislative Office. In that role, he oversaw constituent services, drafted and researched legislation, and coordinated community service grants for the delegation members.

Skaggs worked on the bill that authorized improvements to Gulf State Park and the Lodge at Gulf State Park. That was at the behest of former State Sen. Tripp Pittman, for whom he worked as a legislative aide. Pittman who chaired the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

A graduate of Huntingdon College with a degree in political science and history, Skaggs has also worked on numerous political campaigns as a general consultant and fundraiser.

He and his wife, Charlanna, an attorney specializing in business law, have three daughters and one son.

 

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A look at other issues Ivey touched on in inaugural address

Bill Britt

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Among the 2,766 words in Gov. Kay Ivey’s inaugural speech, she addressed a few major themes and some gems and clues on critical issues that she wants to tackle over the next four years.

Roads and bridges were front and center in Ivey’s remarks, as were prisons, but within the text she emphasized other priorities, as well. Among those she mentions is the Port of Mobile, the 2020 Census, health care, rural economic development and statewide access to high-speed internet broadband.

“It can be easy to focus only on the issues that need the most immediate attention – such as education, roads, and prisons,” said Ivey toward the end of her speech. “[B]ut in reality, as we dig in and begin to address these issues, I hope the progress that we make will inspire us to tackle other pressing challenges, such as health care, rural economic development, access to broadband and other important issues.”

Port of Mobile

Ivey is fully committed to a fuel tax to upgrade the state’s infrastructure. She mentions roads and bridges several times during her address, adding ports to the mix in one key sentence. “After all, if we want to compete in a 21st-century global economy, we must improve our infrastructure by investing more in our roads, our bridges, and our ports.”

Alabama’s entire congressional delegation led by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby has endorsed modernization of the Mobile Harbor Federal Navigation Channel. Port modernization is one of the most significant proposed economic development projects in state history.

“The deepening and widening of the Port of Mobile will provide economic development opportunities throughout the entire state of Alabama,” said Sen. Shelby. “This project will create an avenue for exponential growth by facilitating and expanding commerce in the state. I look forward to continuing our work with the Corps as we strive to improve the safety and efficiency of the Port in an increasingly global marketplace.”

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Alabama delegation supports Port of Mobile navigation improvements

Gov. Ivey, like Senator Shelby, understands that modernizing the Port of Mobile would fund significant infrastructure projects.

2020 U.S. Census

Also during her address, Gov. Ivey made a point of stressing the 2020 U.S. Census, which could not only cost the state a congressional seat but much needed federal funding that underpins the state government operations.

“And speaking of our Congressional Delegation, my Administration has already been hard at work with local and state leaders in all 67 counties to begin the tedious — but all-important task of making sure we get an accurate headcount for the upcoming Census,” said Ivey.

As APR’s Brandon Moseley reported, “A recent study by George Washington University indicates that the U.S. government returned more than $1,567 to the state in 2015 for every Alabamian counted in the census. More than 100 federal programs use data collected during census counts as part of their formulas to distribute billions of dollars in federal funding to the states. Those programs include Medicaid, Medicare Part B, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Highway Planning and Construction, and Title 1 Grants to Local Education Agencies. Census-derived data also is used to allocate seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and in legislative redistricting.”

Ivey establishes statewide group to prepare Alabama for maximum Census participation

Health Care

Alabama Republican politicians have ignored the question of Medicaid expansion or rejected it outright, but there are recent signs that resistance is softening.

“Despite what appears to be a solid opposition among Alabama Republicans, some public health experts and hospital officials, including the Alabama Hospital Association, are issuing dire calls for a renewed debate,” reported APR’s Chip Brownlee.

“Medicaid expansion is the one thing the state can do to prevent more hospital closures, loss of jobs, and cutbacks on services,” said Danne Howard, the association’s chief policy officer.

“The association — and the more than 100 individual hospitals it represents across Alabama, many of them rural and some of them teetering on the edge of closing — view the situation as so dire that the association plans to launch a renewed effort early next year to bring the discussion back to the forefront ahead of the 2019 legislative session, when a new class of state lawmakers will take office,” according to Brownlee.

While Ivey only mentions health care in one passage, it is no doubt on her mind.

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

Broadband Access

In Aug. 2018, Ivey joined Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, and others to promote the benefits of rural broadband and announce that Aderholt has secured $600 million for USDA to increase access to broadband in rural America.

“High-speed, high-quality connectivity is essential to modern day life. It’s a necessary component to education, commerce & quality healthcare,” Ivey said.

Aderholt said that “Securing $600 million for rural broadband wasn’t the end of our mission, but just the beginning. Today, Anne Hazlett- Assistant Secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and I talked about the next steps to bring broadband to all of Alabama.”

Bringing broadband to rural Alabama

Rural Economic Development

PowerSouth President and CEO Gary Smith wrote about the need for rural economic development in September of last year. After enumerating the successful economic opportunities in other parts of the state, he asked, “But what about the rest of Alabama? What about Selma, Eutaw, Greensboro, Andalusia, Greenville, and so many other communities? Those communities have succeeded in the past with textiles, agriculture, military, and lighter industries. However, many of them have fallen on hard times. What will rural Alabama look like in 20 years?”

Smith highlighted three areas that need improvement so that rural communities can be competitive.

“It is clear that good-paying jobs locate in areas with better education, medical care, and communications services,” he wrote.

The Alabama House Rural Caucus is ready to use its energy to gain support for rural cities and counties and can be a great asset to Gov. Ivey. Rural Caucus Chair David Standridge, R-Hayden, recently said, “A vast majority of Alabamians live in rural areas, and it is vital that their voices be heard in the Legislature and throughout all of state government. From rural healthcare to broadband internet access, to improving our roads and bridges, there are serious issues that must be addressed to improve the quality of life of those who live away from major urban centers. I, along with my colleagues, remain committed to protecting rural Alabama.”

Alabama House Rural Caucus re-elects David Standridge as chairman

Toward the end of her speech, Ivey made a plea to all Alabamians to join her in a quest to make the state even better.

“The campaign season and elections are long since behind us. Today, all Alabamians – regardless of party affiliation – have the chance to stand together, united, to help build a brighter future and guarantee that our best days are still in front of us.

And we need everyone to help… teachers, farmers, job creators, health care professionals, law enforcement and the media.”

Ivey’s inaugural address leaves tempting clues on her full agenda.

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Ivey: Pelham to resign, Bonner to take over as chief of staff

Josh Moon

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Chief of Staff Steve Pelham is officially resigning from Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, a release from the governor’s office said Tuesday morning. Former congressman Jo Bonner will take Pelham’s spot.

Pelham’s resignation was first reported by APR earlier on Tuesday.

“Steve has been a close friend and a trusted confidant for a number of years and has provided our office with outstanding leadership,” Governor Ivey said.  “When we made the transition to the Governor’s Office in 2017, Steve was responsible for leading the effort to make certain the Ivey Administration was up and running on day one.  He has maintained that level of commitment to our organization, structure and focus to details throughout our first term together.”

Bonner joined Ivey’s staff in December as an advisor — a move that seemed to be in preparation for Pelham’s eventual departure.

“Jo brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to our administration,” Ivey said, “and I know we aren’t going to miss a step as my cabinet, staff and I work, every day, to honor the support and confidence the people of Alabama gave us last November.”

Pelham will become the new Vice President for Economic Development and Chief of Staff to Auburn University President Steven Leath in February.

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Sources: Ivey chief of staff set to resign

Josh Moon

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via BCA Today

Steve Pelham, the chief of staff to Gov. Kay Ivey, is planning to resign from that position later this week, multiple sources close to the governor’s office have told APR.

Pelham is expected to take a job in the Auburn University president’s office, working directly for university President Steven Leath.

He will remain with Ivey’s administration for 30 days ensuring a smooth transition.

The move is a dramatic shakeup in Ivey’s office, where Pelham was long considered one of the most influential voices. In fact, at times, people in and around the governor’s office referred to Pelham as the “acting governor,” and he was leaned on heavily by Ivey to make day-to-day decisions.

Her trust in Pelham isn’t hard to understand.

He took over as her chief of staff when she took office as the state’s lieutenant governor in 2011. He never left her side, helping her navigate the tricky transition to governor when Robert Bentley resigned in 2017.

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Pelham’s workload increased over the last year, as Ivey — already known for her tendency to work outside of the office — missed even more days while campaigning. For much of the year, Pelham was the de facto governor of the state.

It’s unclear at this point who would replace Pelham — if Ivey will look to promote from within the office or look elsewhere, perhaps seeking a strong voice to help her better communicate with lawmakers as they ready for fights over a gas tax increase and the building of new state prisons.

 

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Ivey uses inaugural address to call for infrastructure, corrections funding

by Chip Brownlee Read Time: 4 min
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