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Opinion | Survey says time for Accountability Act to go

Larry Lee

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More than 600 people have responded so far to a recent online survey about the Alabama Accountability Act.  They are loud and clear as to how they feel.  Seventy-six percent say it should be repealed.  Another 17 percent say it should be modified and only one percent say it should be left as is.

This is not surprising since 78 percent of respondents are either currently working in public education, or are retired educators.  They also have a vested interested as 58 percent either have children or grandchildren now in a public school.

More than 51 percent are in the age range of 46 to 65.  Sixty-eight percent of all respondents are female. And 46 percent identify themselves as Republicans, 32 percent are Independents and 23 percent are Democrats.

Editor’s note: SurveyMonkey was the instrument used to get responses.  This methodology is used by more than 4,000 companies worldwide In market research.  Unlike traditional political polling, SurveyMonkey does not control responses according to demographics.  However, the number of responses is so large that info is very valid in measuring attitudes and trend lines.

The survey probed a number of issues regarding AAA.

For instance, while those supporting the accountability act imply that public schools should not miss the $100 million now diverted from the Education Trust Fund by this legislation, 95.5 percent of survey takers do not believe Alabama schools are adequately funded.

Only four percent say they know someone who has contributed to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and seven percent say they know a student who has received a scholarship with this program.

This law creates a double standard for charitable contributions.  While the state allows an income tax DEDUCTION for traditional contributions based on the contributor’s income tax bracket; donors to an SGO get a dollar for dollar TAX CREDIT on their taxes.  Say you are in the 35 percent tax bracket and give $1,000 to the Boy Scouts, you get a $350 (35 percent X $1,000) tax deduction.  However, if you give $1,000 to a SGO, the state allows you to take this amount off your tax liability owed the state.  In other words, you are reimbursed $1,000.

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Some 56 percent of those who answered the survey say both regular charitable contributions and SGO contributions should be treated equally.

There is concern these scholarships are sometimes used to recruit athletes to private schools and 77 percent think a school getting AAA scholarships should not be allowed to compete in athletics with public schools.

They also have strong feelings about scholarships being given to non-accredited private schools as is presently allowed.  Eighty-three percent oppose this.

The survey shows intense feelings about the State Board of Education and their unwillingness to take a stand on AAA.  Some 88 percent say the board should take a public position on AAA and 90 percent say the board should be actively involved in making legislative changes to the law.

While this law requires that the state identify the bottom six percent of all public schools and label them as “failing,” 78 percent say the same bottom six percent standard should be applied to private schools.

AAA does not stipulate that any resources or help be given to “failing” schools to help them improve.  Eighty-three percent of responses say this is wrong.

So far, school boards in Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of AAA.  Some 87 percent agree with school boards taking such action.

Respondents were asked how they feel about the overall state of public education in Alabama.  Unfortunately, 45 percent believe it will be worse in the future than it now is
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Might it be that after six years of the accountability act and little to show for it, plus the fact that the state school board is apparently content to give up $100 million in funding without saying a word, there is ample reason for pessimism?

I don’t know that answer.  But I do know the folks who took this survey have spoken loudly that they do not believe the accountably act works and are calling for action.

Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools.  He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board. [email protected]

 

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Opinion | With COVID-19 policy, don’t blame your umbrella. The rain got you wet

Monica S. Aswani, DrPH, and Ellen Eaton, M.D.

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Monica S. Aswani, DrPH, is an assistant professor of health services administration and Ellen Eaton, M.D., is an assistant professor of infectious diseases.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this perspective are those of the authors.


As states re-open for business, many governors cite the devastating impact of physical distancing policies on local and state economies. Concerns have reached a fever pitch. Many Americans believe the risk of restrictive policies limiting business and social events outweighs the benefit of containing the spread of COVID-19.

But the proposed solution to bolster the economy — re-opening businesses, restaurants and even athletic events — does not address the source of the problem.

A closer look at the origins of our economic distress reminds us that it is COVID-19, not shelter-in-place policy, that is the real culprit. And until we have real solutions to this devastating illness, the threat of economic fallout persists.

Hastily transitioning from stay-at-home to safer-at-home policy is akin to throwing away your umbrella because you are not getting wet.

The novelty of this virus means there are limited strategies to prevent or treat it. Since humans have no immunity to it, and to date, there are no approved vaccines and only limited treatments, we need to leverage the one major tool at our disposal currently: public health practices including physical distancing, hand-washing and masks.

As early hot spots like New York experienced alarming death tolls, states in the Midwest and South benefited from their lessons learned.

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Indeed, following aggressive mandates around physical distancing, the number of cases and hospitalizations observed across the U.S. were initially lower than projected. Similarly, the use of masks has been associated with a reduction in cases globally.

As the death toll surpasses 100,000, the U.S. is reeling from COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. In addition, the U.S. has turned its attention to “hot spots” in Southern states that have an older, sicker and poorer population. And to date, minority and impoverished patients bear the brunt of COVID-19 in the South.

Following the first COVID-19 case in Alabama on March 13, the state has experienced 14,730 confirmed cases, 1,629 hospitalizations and 562 deaths, according to health department data as of Monday afternoon.

Rural areas face an impossible task as many lack a robust health care infrastructure to contend with outbreaks, especially in the wake of recent hospital closures. And severe weather events like tornadoes threaten to divert scarce resources to competing emergencies.

Because public health interventions are the only effective way to limit the spread of COVID-19, all but essential businesses were shuttered in many states. State governments are struggling to process the revenue shortfalls and record surge in unemployment claims that have resulted.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, allocated $150 billion to state governments, with a minimum of $1.25 billion per state. Because the funds were distributed according to population size, 21 states with smaller populations received the minimum of $1.25 billion.

Although states with larger populations, such as Alabama and Louisiana, received higher appropriations in absolute terms, they received less in relative terms given their COVID-19 related medical and financial strain: the CARES Act appropriations do not align resources with state need.

As unemployment trust funds rapidly deplete, these states have a perverse incentive to reopen the economy.

Unemployment claimants who do not return to work due to COVID-19 fears, per the Alabama Department of Labor, can be disqualified from benefits, perpetuating the myth of welfare fraud to vilify those in need.

The United States Department of Labor also emphasized that unemployment fraud is a “top priority” in guidance to states recently.

Prematurely opening the economy before a sustained decline in transmission is likely to refuel the pandemic and, therefore, prolong the recession. Moreover, it compromises the health of those who rely most heavily on public benefits to safely stay home and flatten the curve.

Some would counter this is precisely why we should reopen — for the most vulnerable, who were disproportionately impacted by stay-at-home orders.

The sad reality, however, is that long-standing barriers for vulnerable workers in access to health care, paid sick leave and social mobility pre-date this crisis and persist. And we know that many vulnerable Americans work on the frontlines of foodservice and health care support where the risk from COVID-19 is heightened.

A return to the status quo without addressing this systemic disadvantage will only perpetuate, rather than improve, these unjust social and economic conditions.

COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities in our state and nation, and re-opening businesses will not provide a simple solution to our complex economic problems.

No one would toss out their umbrella after several sunny days so why should America abandon public health measures now? After all, rain is unpredictable and inevitable just like the current COVID-19 crisis.

The threat of COVID-19 resurgence will persist until we have effective preventive and treatment options for this novel infectious disease.

So let’s not blame or, worse, discard the umbrella. Instead, peek out cautiously, survey the sky and start planning now to protect the vulnerable, who will be the first to get wet.

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Opinion | Cleaner air during pandemic shows need for alternative fuels, electric vehicles

Mark Bentley and Phillip Wiedmeyer

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Photos of a smogless Los Angeles skyline set against a brilliant blue sky have emerged as an iconic image to showcase the impact of decreased air pollution during America’s COVID-19 quarantine.

Similar photos from around the world, including what are usually smog-filled cities in India, China and Europe, provide a glimpse of a world with improved air quality.

It’s no secret that poor air quality has historically been caused by traffic, but due to tighter regulations by the federal government, industries’ contribution to pollution has decreased significantly. Scientific research is beginning to show how social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have created an unintended consequence of improving worldwide air quality.

For nearly two decades, the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition has been advocating to improve Alabama’s air quality by increasing the use of cleaner alternative fuels and expanding the market for advanced technology vehicles. Cleaner burning alternative transportation fuel options like biodiesel, ethanol, propane and natural gas also reduce pollution just like electric vehicles.

Air pollution remains a global public health crisis, as the World Health Organization estimates it kills seven million people worldwide annually.

But is the COVID-19 pandemic showing us the wisdom of transitioning to cleaner vehicles, whether electric vehicles with drastically lower emissions or vehicles using cleaner-burning alternative fuels? The answer is an emphatic yes.

Recent research shows global carbon dioxide emission had fallen by 17 percent by early April when compared to mean 2019 levels. In some areas, including the United States and the United Kingdom, emissions have fallen by a third, thanks largely to people driving less, according to research published in Nature Climate Change.

Numerous organizations, including NASA, continue to study the environmental, societal and economic impacts of the pandemic, and researchers view recent air quality gains as promising evidence that the use of alternative vehicles could have long-term positive impacts.

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“If I could wave my magic wand and we all had electric cars tomorrow, I think this is what the air would look like,” Ronald Cohen, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at UC Berkeley who studies the effects of the stay-at-home orders on air quality, told the Los Angeles Times.

Wider use of electric vehicles and the other domestically produced alternative fuels would lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil while also helping our environment. Poor air quality already causes negative consequences for millions of Americans.

Alabama could also see economic benefits from increased production of electric vehicles, with Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz operating plants in the state and working hard to produce the next wave of electric vehicles. As part of a $1 billion investment in Alabama, Mercedes began construction of a high-voltage battery plant in Bibb County in 2018 for its all-electric EQ brand of vehicles, as well as batteries for its hybrid plug-ins.

“This is a teaching moment,” Viney Aneja, an air quality professor in the Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at North Carolina State University told the Raleigh News and Observer. “We should learn from it. We should promote behavior that will allow air quality to be as good as it is outside right now.”

This is a prime opportunity for America to embrace alternative and cleaner-burning transportation fuels, as well as electric vehicles, while also decreasing reliance on foreign oil and creating jobs here at home.

It could also make those picturesque photos of the big-city skylines become commonplace instead of a rarity.

Mark Bentley has served as the executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition since August 2006.

Phillip Wiedmeyer serves as the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition’s chairman of the board of directors and president and is one of the ACFC’s original founders. He also serves as the executive director of the Applied Research Center of Alabama, a non-profit dedicated to public policy issues impacting Alabama’s growth, economic development and business climate.

About the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition

Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition serves as the principal coordinating point for clean, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle activities in Alabama. ACFC was incorporated in 2002 as an Alabama 501c3 non-profit, received designation U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program in 2009 and was re-designated in 2014. A national network of nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions brings together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements and emerging transportation technologies. To learn more, visit www.alabamacleanfuels.com.

 

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Opinion | Electric vehicles next wave to drive Alabama’s continued auto-manufacturing success

Gerald Allen

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Alabama has long been a leader in the automotive manufacturing sector in the United States and, now, we have the opportunity to sustain that momentum for years to come through significant investments in the electric vehicle (EV) industry.

Dating back to 1993 when Mercedes-Benz announced their opening of their only U.S.-based assembly plant in Tuscaloosa County, our state has continued to provide a favorable business climate that has helped recruit Hyundai, Honda, Toyota and Mazda. The substantial investments of these companies have only furthered economic activity through the numerous tier 1 and tier 2 automotive suppliers that have also located to our state.

Combined, these Alabama-based automakers and suppliers produced nearly 1.6 million engines in 2018 and created over 40,000 automotive manufacturing jobs. Alabama currentlyranks as the number three autoexporting state in the country, andexports of Alabama-made vehicles and parts totaled $7.5 billion in 2018.

Now, as we continue toward a 21stcentury transportation system and economy, we must acknowledge – and prepare for – the electric vehicle wave that is coming.

Significant research shows that consumer interest in electric vehicles is exponentially on the rise and so is theproduction of EVs by manufacturers. Globally, total EV sales surpassed 1 million vehicles in 2017, then quickly doubled to cruise past 2 million in 2018 and that number is expected to double again in 2020 to reach 4 million total sales. According to a Deloitte report, it is expected that global EV sales will top 21 million by 2031.

In recognition of the growth in EV sales, Mercedes-Benz broke ground in the fall of 2018 in Bibb County to build a plant producing high-voltage batteries for the all-electric EQ brand of Mercedes vehicles, as well as batteries for Mercedes hybrid plug-ins. This project alone is well over a billion-dollar investment in Bibb County and, with it, Mercedes has now invested more than $6 billion in its operations here in the state.

We know that expanding EV sales andproduction in Alabama will require anumber of investments from the industry, the legislature and eventually theconsumers of this state. To cement our reputation as a forward-leaning automotive leader, we must prepare for the future of electric vehicles, production of electric vehicles parts and ensure the necessary EV infrastructure is in place to be competitive for generations. Doing so will show that our state supports this burgeoning sector of automotive manufacturing and help recruit even more of these projects that will provide numerous high-paying jobs and produce significant economic benefits.

The Rebuild Alabama Infrastructure Plan, approved legislatively in 2019, provided a foundational first step as it included a provision that helps propel Alabama toward the cutting-edge of EV infrastructure. The landmark legislation established a grant program that proactively facilitates the installation of new EV charging stations across the state. These stations will supplement the Electrify America charging stations currently being installed in the state and add to Alabama’s EV infrastructure.

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Additionally, the full body of the state Senate and our colleagues in the House have shown a commitment to the expansion of EV production in Alabama with a $2 million investment in this year’s budgets to educate and promote the use of electric vehicles to the public. We believe this will further Alabama’s reputation as a premier automotive manufacturing state as these funds will go toward developing an EV industry educational website with mapping of charging stations and other useful resources, as well as funding to further build out  Alabama’s EV charging infrastructure.

Mercedes-Benz has been a game changer for our state. With their initial investment in 1993 to their significant investments in EV batteries, it’s clear the electric vehicle wave is coming and, with it, significant opportunities for automotive manufacturing growth in Alabama. Now is the time for us to show our state’s ongoing ingenuity by supporting this sector’s transformation to electric vehicle production with these significant investments and overall support of the growing EV industry.

Gerald Allen is a member of the Alabama State Senate, R-Tuscaloosa, representing District 21. Senator Allen can be reached at [email protected].

 

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Opinion | Mueller anniversary a sad reminder of the day Sessions ran away when needed most

Tommy Tuberville

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Three years ago this week, one of the biggest hoaxes in American history began as Robert Mueller was appointed to lead the Democrats’ Russia witch hunt, and the man most responsible for birthing that national nightmare was U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is now running to reclaim his former Senate seat.

Throughout this campaign, Sessions has claimed that nameless, faceless Justice Department bureaucrats demanded that recuse himself from the investigation, and he had no other choice than stepping down.

So, without even a courtesy call to the man who appointed him, Sessions abandoned his president and fed him to the wolves, and he almost bought down the entire Trump presidency in the process.

The truth is that Sessions did, in fact, have several other options, but he lacked the courage and selflessness to seriously consider any of them.

If Sessions was unsure he could remain loyal to the president, perhaps the easiest option would have been to decline the cabinet post when it was first offered, but, instead, he went in the other direction.

Just two weeks ago, President Trump appeared on the Fox and Friends morning show and said that Sessions literally begged him to be appointed attorney general on four separate occasions, so he made the appointment despite severe misgivings.

“(Sessions) wasn’t, to me, equipped to be attorney general, but he just wanted it, wanted it, want- ed it,” Trump said. “Jeff was just very weak and very sad, and when ‘Russia’ was mentioned, just the word ‘Russia,’ he immediately, instead of being a man and saying, ‘This is a hoax,’ he recused himself.”

In response to the nationally-televised comments, Session released a harshly-worded statement that accused President Trump of lying.

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Another option available to Sessions would have been to ignore the urgings of the Deep State bureaucrats at the Justice Department who supposedly told him that he must recuse himself ac- cording to “regulations.”

On-going revelations about inappropriate actions by entrenched liberals at the Justice Department and the FBI indicate that many of those who advised Sessions were likely working against President Trump and pushing for him to fail from the first day he took office.

But even if Sessions felt so strongly that insulating himself from the investigation was the proper path, he should have first marched into the Oval Office with his recusal in one hand and his resignation in the other and said, “Mr. President, which one of these do you want me to sign?”.

That way, it would have been Donald Trump’s choice, not Sessions’, but he was too fearful of the answer, so he recused first and boxed-in the president.

Yet another option available to Sessions was to quit his job and walk away as soon as President Trump’s loss of confidence in him became obvious, which happened quickly. But like a bad houseguest who will not leave when the party is over, Sessions overstayed his welcome for months on end and forced the president to fire him.

Sessions was likely reluctant to resign because he felt he had given up his U.S. Senate seat in or- der to become attorney general, but when you work for the president, what you gave up, what you sacrificed, and what you think you deserve must simply be set aside and forgotten.

Selflessly doing what is best to protect the president and the nation you serve should be your one and only focus.

As a retired football coach, I know a good bit about teamwork and winning.

In order to win, each player has to be willing to put the team ahead of themselves. They have to set their own interests aside so the team can succeed, and they have to take incredible risks in order to score a win. Jeff Sessions proved too selfish and unwilling to do any of those things for the Trump team to win.

Finally, Sessions had at least one other option, and it is the one I would have taken.

He could have remained loyal to the president, watched his back against the Democrats’ fake news sneak attacks, and helped him fulfill the promise of making American great again.

President Donald Trump knows that he can depend upon Tommy Tuberville to remain loyal to him come Hell or high water, and that is why my campaign proudly carries his full endorsement and support.

 

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