Monday night, state Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, and state Rep. Craig Lipscomb, R-Gadsden, addressed the St. Clair Farmer’s Federation in Ashville on their annual legislative day.
McClendon said that one of the biggest issue facing the legislature will be a proposed gas tax.
“I am not involved in it,” McClendon said. “Everything that I know is second hand or third hand and that is a gas tax. There is a lot of talk about raising taxes on fuel to go towards infrastructure or really roads and bridges. I have not seen the bill; but they have started showing us some numbers. We were told that it would be 12 cents per gallon. We were told at this meeting that 8 cents would go to the state and be used to draw down federal money, at an 80 cents federal to 20 cents state. Three 3 cents (per gallon) would go to the counties and one cent goes to the cities. The cities are not happy with that.”
“The Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tem. both appear to be big advocates for raising taxes on gas,” McClendon said. “What to do vote, yes or no. You could abstain but that is chicken. I could stay at the House and abstain. That is a dilemma. Do you do what you think is the right thing for the future of the state or do you do what the people want?”
McClendon asked for a show of hands from the estimated 34 people present at the meeting. Only two raised their hands in support of raising gas taxes.
Lipscomb said that dredging Mobile Bay will come out of it. They are going to use the transportation dollars to open up Mobile Bay for super container ships to increase commerce through the Port of Mobile.
“The last time gas taxes were raised were 1995,” McClendon said. “And that was just five cents. Gas taxes are interesting in that the taxes are per gallon and not per dollar. You collect the same amount whether gas prices go up or go down.”
State Representative Lipscomb said, “What we don’t know is what their intention are in disbursing the funds.” Do we get to keep our gas taxes locally or is it going to be used someplace else? “If that is the case I am not for that. I need to see a real tangible effort to keep our taxes local.”
The Alabama Political Reporter asked if the tax would be put on the ballot for a vote of the people in the 2020 election?
McClendon said that the Constitution make it the job of the legislature to decide.
“Our vehicles are much more efficient than they used to be,” McClendon said. Each cent of fuel taxes raises about $30 million.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state has only added 90,000 people between 2010 and 2017 why do we need to spend $360 million a year in new tax increases plus federal matching dollars on roads when we really have no significant growth. Yes there is growth in Madison, Baldwin, Lee, and Shelby Counties but 60 of the 67 counties are either flat or in decline?
“I don’t believe those numbers,” Lipscomb said. “We have had more growth than that.”
“My daughter is President of her 4H,” Lipscomb told the farmers.
“I have pre-filed one bill. This is my first bill,” Lipscomb said. It deals with all of the unasked for sales calls that everyone is getting. “It would give the Attorney General the power to criminally prosecute the people who are making this phone calls.” There are some logistical issues with federal law that still have to be resolved.
“I am going to introduce the lottery bill,” McClendon said. “45 states have lotteries.”
“ALFA has always opposed that,” McClendon said. “I personally have not ever bought a lottery ticket in my life, though I might if the revenue stayed here instead of going to another state. I polled my Senate district and that includes parts of St. Clair, Shelby, and Talladega counties. Seventy percent say they want the right to vote.”
McClendon said that it goes directly to the voters if it makes it out of the House and the Senate. McClendon estimated that a state lottery would bring in $200 million. Half of the money would go to the education trust fund (ETF) and half would go to the cash strapped state general fund (SGF). McClendon said that he did not want to earmark the money for a specific purpose in the state Constitution for something like teacher pay raises, because we may not need that in five years.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked: last year the legislature approved a property tax increase vote that was rejected by the voters of St. Clair County. The bill authorizing that was passed in a little publicized local bill is that going to be making a return in this legislative session.
“Yes,” McClendon said. “Jim Hill is working on it.” McClendon said that the new bill authorizing a new vote to raise property taxes will be by school attendance zones and the school board draws those lines. If Moody votes to raise property taxes and Ashville doesn’t then Moody gets to keep those taxes in Moody’s schools and Ashville would not get the new money (as an example).
“We fought hard to defeat that school tax,” Former St. Clair County Farmers Federation President Roland St. John said. “They tried to sneak that in the back door and it seems like that is what they are doing now. I encourage the both of you and the rest of them to put a cap on raising taxes.”
McClendon said that state Representative Jim Hill (R-Odenville) couldn’t be here tonight because he, “Has been working in Montgomery all day on ethics as head of the House Judiciary Committee. That is a never-ending process. We keep messing with it.”
McClendon said that there used to be gas wars in Alabama where gas stations would compete for business by lowering their prices to attract customers. “In 1984 Alabama passed a law that says that you can’t sell gas below cost. We don’t have those anymore because Montgomery changed the law. The big boys come in and drive the Mom and Pops out of business. I bought that when I first went to Montgomery.”
“Now Buc-ees truck stop has come in in South Alabama. They cut the cost and are going to be sued,” McClendon said. “It is illegal to sell gas below cost in Alabama. I don’t think we have any other product like that. It doesn’t seem very capitalistic.”
McClendon said that he is introducing a hands-free bill. The no texting while driving bill was a six-year battle. Georgia passed a bill that became effective July 1. You can still talk on your phone, but you have to use a hands-free blue tooth device. The Georgia sponsor feels like 100 lives can be saved. That is going to be controversial. I hear from people that see we are taking my God given rights away by not letting them talk on their phones while they drive, wear seat belts, have auto insurance, etc. “There will certainly be opposition to it.”
“Enforcement has been a problem with my anti-texting bill,” McClendon said. “It was a good bill, but it has not been effective. Georgia has given out between 9,000 and 12,000 citations for it.”
$100 would be the fine for the first offence and $250 for the second offense McClendon said. The court costs and higher insurance costs is where it hits you.
Will Gilmer announced that he is running for regional Vice President in the Alabama Farmers Federation. He lives in Lamar County where he is a dairy farmer.
“I have been interested in some type of leadership capacity,” Gilmer said. I waited for the right combination of timing and the experience and skill set. I was secretary/treasurer of my county chapter for ten years. I am in my fifth year as county President.
“President Parnell has us on a good footing and headed in the right direction,” Gilmer said. “If you start having cracks at the county level the whole thing can fall down. I bring a new voice and new perspective. I don’t have to be milking cows until about 3:30 am so I have time to hand around and talk to you.”
The St. Clair County Farmer’s Federation meets on the second Monday night of each month at the ALFA building on Highway 411/231 in Ashville.
The 2019 legislative session begins on March 5.
Governor awards $9.5 million in grants to expand internet access
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded 20 grants totaling more than $9.5 million to provide high-speed internet access to numerous communities throughout Alabama.
The grants, part of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund, were awarded to nine broadband providers to fund multiple projects in their coverage areas.
“Availability of high-speed internet has always been vital, but the events of the past several weeks magnify just how imperative it is that all Alabamians have access to broadband,” Gov. Ivey said. “I am pleased to support these projects and look forward to the day when every household, school, healthcare facility, emergency service and business throughout Alabama is afforded broadband availability.”
The fund, which is being administered through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, was created by the Alabama Legislature in 2018 to provide high-speed internet to rural and underserved areas of the state.
“As our day-to-day way of living has been impacted over the past few weeks, it has underscored the value and necessity of high-speed broadband services. That is something that Governor Ivey, the Legislature and ADECA have been working to address through the Broadband Accessibility Fund,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA takes its role in administering this program seriously and is honored to be entrusted with the responsibility.”
This latest round of Broadband Accessibility grants came from applications submitted in late December 2019. Additional awards from this round of applications could also be announced.
Grants awarded and coverage areas are:
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $224,175 to provide broadband services in north Lowndes County including 301 households and 15 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $289,100 for service in southwest Autauga and southeast Dallas counties including 343 households and 38 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $480,200 for service in northwest Autauga, northeast Dallas and south Chilton counties including nearly 500 households and 31 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $682,325 for service adjacent to the town of Billingsley in Autauga County which includes 656 households and 45 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $1.06 million for service in Chilton County south of the city of Clanton and north of the town of Billingsley which is in neighboring Autauga County. The project will offer service to 1,093 households and 41 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $557,987 for service in north-central Autauga County and parts of south-central Chilton County to include service offerings to 743 households and 21 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $531,650 for service in southeast Chilton County, northeast Autauga County and northwest Elmore County including 509 households and 17 businesses.
- Central Alabama Electric Cooperative – $279,300 for service in northwest Chilton County and east Bibb County including 409 households and 12 businesses.
- Charter Communications – $336,830 for service in the town of Autaugaville in Autauga County including 641 household and 14 businesses.
- Comcast of Alabama – $820,750 to service the Town of Dauphin Island in Mobile County including 2,500 households and 24 businesses.
- Hayneville Telephone Co. – $205,705 for service in Lowndes County’s Black Belt and Hicks Hill communities including 258 households and four businesses.
- Hayneville Telephone Co. – $125,671 for service in an area southeast of the town of Hayneville including 187 households and one business.
- Hayneville Telephone Co. – $143,265 for service southwest of the town of Hayneville including 191 households and two businesses.
- Hayneville Fiber Transport Inc. (Camellia Communications) – $90,072 for service in the Butler County community of Poorhouse community northeast of the city of Greenville.
- JTM Broadband – $404,414 for service in Lauderdale County east of the town of Killen including 1,303 households and 247 businesses.
- Mon-Cre Telephone Cooperative – $529,707 for service in north Crenshaw County and south Montgomery County including 350 households.
- National Telephone of Alabama – $357,171 for service in the Red Rock community in Colbert County including 205 households and six businesses.
- Roanoke Telephone Co. – $308,882 – for service in an area of south Randolph County between the municipalities of Roanoke and Wadley including 269 households and four businesses.
- Troy Cablevision – $1.38 million for service in parts of Coffee, Covington, Geneva and Houston counties including 1,190 households and 80 businesses.
- Troy Cablevision – $750,625 for service in parts of Coffee, Crenshaw and Pike counties including 603 households and 38 businesses.
ADECA administers a wide range of programs that support law enforcement, victim programs, economic development, water resource management, energy conservation and recreation.
Legislature returns to a much different Statehouse
The Alabama Legislature will return from their spring break vacation Tuesday, but nothing is the same as it was two weeks ago.
Monday, the press was informed that the corps will be removed from the press rooms behind the chambers. Those rooms are being given to the legislators so that they can sit the necessary six feet apart. The press will move to the gallery looking down on the House Chambers. That will be our space exclusively as the public and the lobbyists are barred. The additional space will allow members of the press to also stay a minimum of six feet apart to avoid transmission of the coronavirus.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked if we would still have access to the fifth-floor lobby where citizens and lobbyists regularly met with members of the legislature who stepped off of the House floor. APR was told that we would not have access to any part of the fifth floor except by appointment and that extended to the entire Statehouse building.
Legislators were told in a conference call that if they feel sick, are showing symptoms of anything that they should just stay away from today’s meeting which is not essential. Legislators will gavel in and set April 17 as their next meeting date.
The reason they have to gavel in is that if they do not the session would automatically end and the constitutionally mandated budgets for the 2021 fiscal year beginning on October 1 have not been passed yet.
State Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, said that the legislator spoke with Gov. Kay Ivey and her team as well as legislative leaders.
Wadsworth said that they were told that conference calls are helpful and that members will receive a letter detailing the procedures to be followed by the members for the rest of this legislative year. There will be no visitors in the State House and all voting will be by voice so there will be no touching of voting machines.
The governor was to participate in a conference call with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence later that day.
Ivey told them that Alabama will test for counterfeit supplies and watch for coronavirus scams and that the state will have an advance web site operating later this week. The state is, “Working with various Alabama companies to manufacture and produce various medical safety products.”
Wadsworth said that they were told that the state had had 831 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 15 reported deaths, though not all had been confirmed by the Alabama Department of Public Health, by that morning and that there were over 2500 deaths already in the United States.
Wadsworth said that the subject of hospitals came up. Hospitals are looking at expanding their ICU (intensive care unit) areas to deal with the demand for intensive care beds by COVID-19 patients. Hospital rooms are freeing up due to the elimination of elective procedures.
Wadsworth said also that the Apple Company, through President Tim Cook, is delivered 100,000 N-95 masks and surgical masks, the schools will not reopen physically this year, and teachers, workers and aides will practice social distancing when they go back into the school buildings on April 6,
Wadsworth said that State Superintendent Eric Mackey told them that the focus will be on graduating and getting students ready for this year. The State Board of Education building is being cleaned.
Legislators were informed that the Alabama National Guard is ready for when they are needed.
Wadsworth said that they were told that teletherapy will be used for mental health patients except for extreme patients. A 24/7 mental health help telephone lines available and that mental health patients are only being discharged when teletherapy is available at home.
Wadsworth said that State Finance Director Kelly Butler assured them that, “All vendors are being paid.” In the first six months of the fiscal year revenue held up good; but that he anticipates a decline though in revenues for the last six months of the current fiscal year. Butler did not anticipate calling for proration due to the strong first six months of the year. $300 million is being moved from the stabilization fund to the education trust fund (ETF) to ensure stable budget.
The 2020 Legislative Session will end by May 18.
Census could cost Alabama a congressional seat
With the 2020 Census underway, Alabama could be at risk of losing a congressional seat due to a slowly growing population.
Census data also determines the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. Congressional and state legislative districts are also drawn using census data.
The census results will also show what communities need certain services like roads, schools, clinics and more.
The results will also determine the amount of federal funds that will be allocated to programs like Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Head Start and others.
Projections from The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) indicate the loss of a Congressional seat and that Alabama is vulnerable to be the state that loses that seat due to a low growing population.
PARCA found that Alabama’s population grew 2.3 percent since 2010 and that every other southeastern state, except Mississippi, has outpaced Alabama’s population growth rate. Nationally, 34 states grew their population faster than Alabama did between 2010 and 2018.
As of March 25, Alabama’s self-participation rate is slightly ahead of the nation at 27.7 percent compared to 26.2 percent. For comparison, the state’s final self-response rate in 2010 was 62.5 percent. Within Alabama, Autauga County leads all counties at 33.4 percent.
“An accurate Census count is now more important than ever as state and local governments will be coping with a very different post-pandemic reality,” a statement from PARCA read.
To ensure all Alabamians are counted in the 2020 Census, an advisory group called Alabama Counts! was formed to promote the census at the state and local level.
“Even if the efforts of Alabama Counts! Are exceedingly successful, Alabama may well lose a congressional seat,” PARCA’s projection read. “Census workers simply cannot count people who are not here. And Alabama is simply not growing as fast as other states.”
Click here to begin filling out the 2020 Census questionnaire.
State ramping up for COVID-19 fight
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, State Health Officer Scott Harris, Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, Public Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear and Alabama National Guard Major General Sheryl Gordon briefed state legislators Monday about how the state intends to address the looming wave of COVID-19 cases as the virus spread across the state of Alabama virtually unchecked.
Ivey said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a team in the Montgomery area currently visiting the six major metro areas in our state studying existing facilities that can be used to provide additional hospital beds. The new hospitals would be in the greater Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Tuscaloosa and Auburn areas.
U.S. Army Major General Diana Holland, who commands the South Atlantic Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will be working with the Alabama Department of Public Health on this effort and will provide a report on their findings later this week.
It was explained that hotels provide the easiest conversion to hospitals as they already have bathrooms connected to each room and are built to handle large numbers of guests and staff.
Harris told the legislators that there were 831 cases of COVID-19 in Alabama as Monday morning, that number has risen now to nearly 1,000, and that there already have been 15 deaths reported, though the ADPH has publicly acknowledged 13 because not all have been officially investigated yet. The United States is up to 2,500 deaths nationwide.
Harris said that clinics are opening in Macon and Dallas counties on Monday, in Wilcox County Wednesday, and Houston on Thursday to provide more testing in the Wiregrass and Blackbelt. There are now 30 pop-up sites in these areas.
Harris said that hospitals are using available space to add additional ICU areas and that hospital unnecessary capacity has been diminished due to a recent health order prohibiting elective procedures.
Harris said that the ADPH has received its third and final shipment of personal protection equipment from our strategic national stockpile allocation. A certain amount of that is going to hotspot hospitals in crisis right now using the same formula based on the size and reported needs of the counties.
Canfield said that his Department is working diligently to identify companies across Alabama that can manufacture PPE or who can quickly learn how to make the items we are most in need of. Canfield said that they have identified 30 companies so far.
Gordon said that the Alabama National Guard is assisting with logistics and warehousing of vital supplies. The Guard’s 12,000 soldiers and airmen are ready to serve. Gordon said that the Guard is abiding by CDC guidelines for the safety of the soldiers and airmen.
State Finance Director Kelly Butler said that his Department’s goal is to continue operations with social distancing and ensure that payments are made to health providers, Medicaid, and vendors that provide services.
Butler said that they implemented plans that allow them to do remote work with employees working at home continuing to process payments and transactions. “All vendors are being paid,” Butler said.
Butler warned that the revenues that are coming in for the 2020 budget will decline; but we have not seen a decline in the first six months of the fiscal year.
“We think that March receipts are based on February economic activity and expect to see sales and income tax decline in April’s numbers,” Butler said.
Butler said that because of the strong first six months, we do not expect to call for proration in the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
Ivey included changes to normal purchasing rules so Alabama can acquire the PPE we need.
Beshear said that the community mental health centers are using telemedicine. Home visits are required only in extreme cases.
President Donald Trump has extended his social distancing order to 30 April, Ivey said.
“Remember the 6-foot rule,” she said.
The U.S. is confronted with an unparalleled health threat.
On Sunday, noted Trump coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper that a lot of Americans are going to die.
“I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, I would say between 100,000 and 200,000,” Fauci said. “We’re going to have millions of cases.”
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