The Coastal Alabama Partnership hosted the fifth Annual Meeting and Legislative Send-Off Friday, Feb. 1 at the Daphne Civic Center in Baldwin County.
Attendees included State Sen. Chris Elliot, State Rep. Chip Brown, State Rep. Matt Simpson, State Rep. Alan Baker, Daphne Mayor Dane Haygood, Economic Developer Nicole Jones, Donna Baker of Baldwin EMC, representatives from the City of Mobile, and many other noted members of the public and private sectors.
Economic developer Nicole Jones shared, “The Coastal Alabama Partnership leverages the strength of both Mobile and Baldwin Counties to improve the quality of life for all of Coastal Alabama. The unified approach helps share the message that both Baldwin County and Mobile County are economic powerhouses within the state of Alabama that provide benefits, especially through the Port of Mobile, that affect all of our 67 counties.” Nicole Jones continued, “Infrastructure affects current and future jobs and commerce. Companies rely on adequate roads and bridges to transport goods from one place to another. During the site selection process, infrastructure consistently makes it in the top tier of needs, which is important to note if Alabama is going to continue to attract partners like Airbus and Austal. Because of this, the Coastal Alabama Partnership hopes that the State of Alabama will address the infrastructure crisis we face in the upcoming legislative session.”
The Coastal Alabama Partnership has identified several areas of focus for their Legislative Agenda.
Areas of focus include insurance, Infrastructure & Transportation, Seafood, Environment, and Economic Development.
Coastal Alabama Partnership’s mission is to enable and unify business and political leadership in their pursuits of improving our quality of life by collaborating on improving infrastructure, education, and governmental services.
Coastal Alabama Partnership’s vision is for Coastal Alabama to become a globally competitive destination recognized around the world as THE place to work, live, and play, because of the unique quality of life found in our region. Baldwin County is one of the fastest growing counties in Alabama.
Transportation is a big issue for the group. Building the I-10 a bridge over the Mobile River, traffic along I-10 and the need to improved infrastructure to support the growing economy. There are also plans to dredge the shipping channel so the Port of Mobile can handle the big new super container ships. Right now, Savanah is the closest port that can handle those biggest ships that are crossing through the Panama Canal. The existing shipping channel needs to be deepened and widened to accommodate that traffic,
The partnership announced that they are finally seeing traction with the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project, yet still have several hurdles to overcome.
In a recent TRIP Report for Alabama (2016), 50 highway projects were identified that are needed in order to support Alabama’s economic growth. TRIP, a national transportation research group, listed the Mobile I-10 corridor as the 2nd most critical project to economic growth in the state of Alabama.
“The amount of commerce that travels through our region is massive. Mobile is a key point along the Jacksonville – New Orleans – Texas corridor. If we do not solve this traffic jam soon, companies will find other routes,” says Wiley Blankenship, CEO of Coastal Alabama Partnership.
The pending expansion of the channel in Mobile Bay, means that the Port will see increased traffic. In a letter to the Corp of Engineers, Alabama’s congressional delegation expressed full support of the proposed expansion plan. Improvements are also needed in the road infrastructure to handle that increased freight whn those ships are loaded and unloaded.
The group has expressed support for raising the Alabama gas tax. Both Gov. Kay Ivey and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, have said that raising fuel taxes to pay for infrastructure is their top legislative priorities. Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, recently told the Mid Alabama Republican Club that state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, will introduce the legislation to raise fuel taxes.
State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, told the St. Clair County Farmers Federation that the state fuel tax increase will be 12 cents a gallon with 8 cents of that (approximately $240 million per year) going to the Alabama Department of Transportation. Three cents per gallon (an estimated $90 million a year) will be divided among the 67 counties in Alabama. One cent per gallon (approximately $30 million per year) will somehow be divided among the 169 cities and 291 towns in Alabama. State Rep. Craig Lipscomb, R-Gadsden, told the farmers that the improvements for the Port of Mobile will be part of that package.
The $360 million a year in additional dollars for roads and bridges will allow the state to go to the U.S. Department of Transportation and pull down as much as $1.44 billion a year in federal dollars.
President Donald Trump has asked Congress for a massive infrastructure bill. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives had balked at giving the President an infrastructure bill because it will greatly increase the budget deficit, which has ballooned to $871 billion due to increased spending on defense, the failure to repeal Obamacare, Congresses refusal to address entitlement reform, and the 2011 Republican tax cut which was not offset by spending cuts. It remains to be seen if the now Democratic controlled House of Representatives are more likely to pass Trump’s infrastructure request making hundreds of $billion in new USDOT dollars available to the states for infrastructure projects. Pres. Trump has requested that broadband expansion be part of that infrastructure bill.
When Robert Bentley was governor he used future gas tax dollars to issue a $1 billion bond issue for road and highway spending. If there is a federal infrastructure bill, the legislature could use the $360 million a year in future gas tax dollars to issue $3 billion plus in bonds to pull down $12 billion in federal dollars. The Senate passed such a bond plan in 2017, but the House never passed the gas tax bill to implement that ambitious plan.
The Alabama Political Reporter has not seen the gas tax bill and is not privy to whether or not there will be a bond issue. Some have suggested that the gas tax that actually passes the House will ultimately be smaller than the 12 cents per gallon increase being discussed now. Currently, the state of Alabama collects $18 cents a gallon and last increased that in 1992 when a five cent a gallon increase was passed.
The 2019 legislative session begins on March 5.
Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July
Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.
In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.
“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”
“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”
The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.
Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19
A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.
The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.
All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.
In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.
Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.
Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19
Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19.
The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active.
Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.
18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC.
Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday.
Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.
Still work to be done on an Alabama gambling deal
A grand deal on gambling is possible in Alabama, but there’s still a long way to go.
That was essentially the message that representatives from the Poarch Creek Indians and owners of non-Indian casinos around the state gave Friday to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy. The 12-member group heard presentations, via Zoom, from representatives from all the tracks and casinos in the state, as it continues in its quest to put together a proposal that Ivey and state lawmakers can use to hopefully craft future gambling legislation.
To move forward with almost any legislation will require an agreement of some sort between PCI, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn, the CEO of GreeneTrack. The owners of smaller electronic bingo halls in Greene and Lowndes Counties will also have some input.
The tug of war between these various entities has, over the last several years, prevented an expansion of gambling. It also has left the state in a weird situation in which casinos are operating on a daily basis but there are numerous legal questions and the state is making very little in the way of tax dollars from any of them.
But with public support for lotteries, sportsbooks and even full casino gambling at all-time highs (even a majority of Republican voters surveyed said they support full casinos in the state), and with neighboring states rapidly expanding offerings, state lawmakers seem ready to push through legislation to make it happen.
And now, it seems, the two sides in this fight — PCI and the track owners — are ready to make a deal.
“I feel like there’s a plan out there that would benefit all of us,” said Benefield, who is the son-in-law of Milton McGregor, who passed away in 2018. “I’d like to see us put together something that gets these customers back from surrounding states. I just really feel like we can work together.”
Benefield wasn’t alone in those feelings.
“We stand ready to sit down and talk (about a grand deal) with anyone,” said Arthur Mothershed, who, as vice president of business development for PCI, handled the tribe’s presentation on Friday.
Mothershed and Benefield have each said previously, and APR has reported, that the tribe and the non-Indian entities have held several discussions over the last few months in a quest to work out a deal.
There is a new, old player involved, however.
Former Gov. Jim Folsom, now a lobbyist, represented several Greene County electronic bingo entities, including GreeneTrack, during the conference. Folsom and others representing the bingo casinos told the group that bingo is essentially the financial lifeblood for their county, and that without it multiple county services could go unfunded.
Ivey’s study group has met four times with the goal of providing state lawmakers with clear answers on questions of revenue, risks and options for gaming types. Any legislation approved by lawmakers would have to be approved by voters.