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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.”

Alabama delegation supports Port of Mobile navigation improvements

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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.

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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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Governor

Speaker McCutcheon standing with governor on gaming workgroup

Bill Britt

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During her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey said she would be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group to gather all the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. She also asked the Legislature to give her time for the group to come back with an answer.

Whether lawmakers would grant Ivey’s request for time has been an important question swirling around the halls of the State House.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon answered that question on Wednesday when APR reached out to his office with a request for clarification.

APR’s email wrote, “Speaker McCutcheon recently made the statements quoted below.”

“I am not a big gambling guy; but if you are going to vote for a lottery, that’s gambling, then don’t be a hypocrite and let’s get the biggest bang for the buck,” McCutcheon said. “Let’s address a lottery, the Poarch Creek Indians, and these counties that want a one-armed gambling. Put them all in a room and hammer out a deal.”

The Speaker warned, though, that if he cannot get a grand deal between all the parties on gambling, then there likely would not be any gambling bill brought forward in 2020.

“Does he still stand by these statements?”

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The following is the response APR received from the Speaker’s office:

“Since the Speaker made the statement, the Governor will be signing an Executive Order to bring people together to evaluate the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. The Speaker will be working with the Governor in her efforts.”

Ivey said once the working group had completed its task, she would “bring these facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue.”

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That McCutcheon is in  alignment with the governor should signal to all interested parties that no further movement on gaming legislation will happen until the working group has completed its evaluation.

Some have been slow to hear Gov. Ivey’s entreaty.

Even after Ivey’s call for more time to gather facts, the Poarch Creek Band of Indians continues to flood television, internet and social media with a massive advertising campaign touting their billion-dollar plan in exchange for a tribal-state compact and exclusive right to Vegas-style casino gaming in the State.

PCI lobbyists, including tribal council vice-chair Robbie McGhee, are being very pro-active at the State House.

On Tuesday, Madison County Republican Rep. Rex Reynolds said, “We’re gonna move forward on a lottery. We clearly got that message during our conference meeting yesterday. I think it’s the right thing to do. The people want to vote on a lottery and I think we need to give them an opportunity to,” according to a report by WAFF.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, the House budget chairman, recently said that he planned to file legislation that would create an education lottery in Alabama.

Clouse’s bill would create a paper lottery with scratch-offs and PowerBall options only.

Opinion | Prepare for more gambling debates in the 2020 Legislative Session

A day after Ivey issued her State of the State request to the Legislature to stand down on gaming, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh held a meeting with representatives of the Poarch Creeks and two of the State’s dog tracks to discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.

Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming

These various statements and actions have added confusion as to what is happening with gaming this session.

Now that McCutcheon has made his position known, maybe it will put to rest the rumors, activities and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that go against Ivey’s wishes.

 

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Education

Business, community leaders call on lawmakers to support Gov. Ivey’s push for more Pre-K funds

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Governor Ivey’s push for a $25 million statewide expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program was endorsed today by business and community leaders from across the state. If approved by the state Legislature, the proposed funding increase would add at least 160 new classrooms next year and help enroll at least 2,889 additional four-year-olds.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force included its support for Governor Ivey’s budget request in its 2020 Legislative Recommendations. The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities.

In addition to increased funding in FY2021, the Task Force’s plan proposes a series of recommendations to fully fund the state’s First Class Pre-K program by the 2022-23 school year while maintaining the program’s benchmarks for quality and accountability. The Pre-K Task Force’s Recommendations are available in their entirety at https://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/asra-pre-k-task-force-recommendations/.

“We are not there yet, but the state is moving in the right direction to provide high-quality, voluntary pre-k to all families that want it,” said Mike Luce and Bob Powers, business leaders and co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force. “The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force is pleased that Governor Ivey is once again prioritizing additional funds to add more pre-k classrooms across the state. We stand with Governor Ivey and encourage lawmakers to appropriate the $25 million increase outlined in her proposal.”

For 13 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom – regardless of demographics, zip code or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.

The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. It allocates funding for the First Class Pre-K program through a competitive application process. Public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, nonprofits, universities, and other community-based providers are all eligible to apply. Potential providers can apply for three different levels of funding: an excellence classroom (up to $50,400), tiered funding (ranges from $86,904 to $100,008), and a new classroom (up to $120,000). Applications for First Class Pre-K classroom funding are due March 13 on the Department’s website, www.children.alabama.gov.

The ASRA Pre-K Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $122.8 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2019-20 school year, nearly 40 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.

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Governor

Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming

Bill Britt

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Despite Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for the Legislature to give her “time to get the facts,” on a lottery and gaming before proceeding with legislation, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh summoned representatives of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians and two of the state’s dog tracks to sit down and discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.

Ivey seizes gaming issue

A day after Ivey’s State of the State, Marsh, along with Senators Bobby Singleton and Steve Livingston, held a conference with Robbie McGhee, PCI’s Vice-chair, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn from Greenetrack to try and reach an agreement among the three gaming entities.

Marsh, at the Wednesday meeting, informed those gathered that they needed to come up with a compromise on the gaming issue so that legislation could proceed with a constitutional amendment on a lottery and gaming package this session.

Participants in the closed-door meeting declined to speak with APR about the content of their discussions. However, those who have knowledge of the conversation did relay some of the details to APR.

According to those sources, the group discussed what a compromise might look like, what tax revenue the facilities would be allotted to the state and locations sought by PCI.

Reportedly, the discussions were generally cordial and productive while lawmakers were present, but that the tone changed dramatically once the lawmakers left the room.

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Two sources with an understanding of events said that McGhee turned arrogantly defiant after the legislators left, telling the track owners that PCI didn’t need to compromise because they already have the votes necessary to pass their desired legislation. Benefield, Winn nor PCI would confirm APR‘s sources’ account.

Any lottery or gaming legislation requires an amendment to the state’s 1901 Constitution, which must be approved by a vote of the people. The governor plays no direct part in legislation that involves constitutional amendments.

PCI is demanding Class III Vegas-style gaming, which would require a tribal-state compact that must be negotiated under the authority of the governor.

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There is a way to bypass Ivey, although it is fraught with complications.

If the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment that includes a comprehensive gaming solution plus an authorization for the governor to negotiate a compact with PCI, then a potential federal-state showdown could occur.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that tribe request the negotiation of compacts with states in which they intend to conduct Class III gaming. “States, in turn, must negotiate with tribes in good faith to develop such a compact,” according to a report in Indian Gaming Lawyers. “If the state refuses to do so, the federal government may intervene and potentially impose a compact if all other efforts to secure a compact have failed.”

In a report titled The Tribal Trump Card, Patrick Sullivan explores several cases in which tribes have sued various states under IGRA’s good faith clause.

If the tribe has the vote to pass its legislation, that is not publicly known at this time.

Others close to the tribe say McGhee’s remarks to the track operators should be ignored as he is still smarting from the billion-dollar “Winning for Alabama” campaign that is a bust for PCI.

A recent survey conducted for Alabama Republicans found that an overwhelming majority of likely Republican primary voters disapprove of any legislation giving the Poarch Creeks a monopoly. Those numbers skyrocket in the areas where PCI casinos currently exist.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon has stated publicly that he wants to push for a grand gaming package that puts the issue to rest once and for all and also brings in a lot of money for the state. He has indicated that anything short of a grand plan will not get a hearing.

Do the Legislature and PCI want to challenge Ivey? That’s a daunting question for anyone who has watched her operate the levers of power over the last few years.

Whether Marsh’s meeting was meant to undermine Ivey’s call for time to “get the facts,” or a last attempt at a compromise is unclear. But what is certain is Ivey’s intentions to seize gaming issues and bring a solution to the Legislature in the best interest of the state.

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Governor

Ivey seizes gaming issue

Bill Britt

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Toward the end of her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey snatched the issue of a state lottery and gaming from the hands of the Legislature.

“I will be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group of some of Alabama’s most distinguished citizens, to begin working, to gather all the facts on how much money we could really gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred,” said Ivey.

Not only did Ivey take ownership of the gaming debate, she asked the Legislature to stand down.

“My challenge to the Legislature is: give us some time to get the facts and then, together, we will give the people of Alabama the information they need to make the most informed decision possible,” said Ivey. “Once they have done so — I will bring these facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue.”

Not since Gov. Don Siegelman’s failed attempt to bring a lottery to the state in 1999, has any governor dared throw weight behind a lottery bill much less try to untangle the Gordian knot that gaming has become as a result of former Gov. Bob Riley’s bingo wars.

Riley and his compatriots upended years of established law that allowed electronic bingo in Macon, Lowndes and Greene Counties, which resulted in the Poarch Band of Creek Indians gaining a virtual monopoly over gambling in the state. Despite federal rules that prohibit the tribe from operating any games that are illegal in the state, the Poarch Creeks have thrived.

Over the last several months, the Poarch Creeks have engaged in a statewide advertising campaign to promote a billion-dollar payday for the state in exchange for a state-tribal compact and a guaranteed unfettered monopoly over Vegas-style gaming.

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Ivey’s announcement has put an end to any hopes of an immediate compact or other gaming legislation for now.

Lottery legislation requires an amendment to the state’s 1901 constitution, which must be approved by a vote of the people. The governor plays no direct part in legislation that involves constitutional amendments. However, any state-tribal compact must be negotiated under the authority of the governor.

For the last several years, the Poarch Creeks have blocked all attempts to pass a lottery and have resisted calls to negotiate in good faith with owners of the state’s dog tracks.

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Even as there was hope going into the 2020 session that PCI might come to the table for a comprehensive gaming solution recently, those hopes have been waning because there doesn’t seem to be any indication the tribe is backing down from its demands for an advantage over others players in the market.

There is also apparently no leader in the House and Senate strong enough to bring all sides together in a compromise.

Ivey has shown she is powerful enough to bring disparate groups together for a common solution as she did with the 2019 gas tax.

When it comes to the issue of gaming, the Legislature will most likely follow Ivey’s lead as it would be foolish to buck a governor with her approval and influence.

It is doubtful even the Poarch Creek’s money can stop Ivey.

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