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Opinion | Gas tax increase should be “Even Steven” — raise one tax, lower another

J. Pepper Bryars

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Can Alabamians support raising our gas tax for better roads while remaining true to our belief in limited government and protecting a beneficial, low-tax environment for our businesses, our families, and our future?

Yes … if taxes are lowered elsewhere so that the overall amount of money taken from the people doesn’t increase.

The concept is called “revenue neutral tax reform.” It essentially means that if Alabama raises one tax by $100 million next year, then it should have a comparable decrease in something else.

So, if you’re going to pay an extra $400 at the gas station, you should save an extra $400 at the grocery store.

Even Steven. 

A solid majority of Alabamians support the revenue neutral approach, as well.

Nearly 62 percent of respondents said they’d support raising gas taxes if grocery taxes were decreased by the same amount, according to a statewide poll commissioned earlier this month by the Alabama Forestry Association.

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But why shuffle taxes around if it doesn’t ultimately change the government’s total haul?

Because taxes change behavior, encouraging some actions while discouraging others, and they also impact people differently.

Everyone who pays taxes on a gallon of gas uses roads and bridges. Fair enough.

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But the rich man and the poor widow pay the same tax on a gallon of milk. That may not be entirely fair, or at least not kind, especially if that tax is relatively high.

Shuffling things around can also simplify things, making taxes predictable and sustainable for both the citizen and the state. And lowering those that discourage economic growth may actually produce more revenue in the long term.

In our nation’s great laboratory of democracy, Alabamians can look near and far to find examples of how raising the gas tax has worked well in other states.

In 2017, Tennessee raised its gas tax by 6 cents, its natural and liquefied gas tax by 8 cents, and its diesel fuel tax by 10 cents. To balance the scale, it cut the sales tax on food from 5 to 4 percent, decreased certain taxes on its state’s manufacturers, and eliminated taxes on some income from bonds, notes, and stocks.

In one swoop, Tennessee improved its roads, lowered the cost of food, and removed obstacles to job growth and investment.

And in the end, they were Even Steven. 

Americans for Tax Reform, the watchdog group known for its fierce opposition to tax increases, didn’t oppose Tennessee’s plan. Its president, Grover Norquist, found it didn’t violate their popular Taxpayer Protection Pledge that many candidates sign during election season.

Tennessee’s voters were pleased with the result and reelected the Republican majority to the legislature the following year.

Americans for Tax Reform also supported former Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to raise the gas tax in New Jersey in 2016. His plan raised gas taxes there from 14.5 cents to 23 cents per gallon, but eliminated the state’s death tax, lowered its sales tax from 7 percent to 6.6 percent, and increased the earned income tax credit.

Even Steven. 

Same goes for South Carolina. Americans for Tax Reform supported then Gov. Nikki Haley’s plan to combine an increase in gas taxes with a significant decrease in the state’s income taxes on individuals, families, and small businesses.

Again, Even Steven.

Unfortunately, there are other examples of how gas taxes were raised without the benefit of lowering anything else. They either failed to pass or, ultimately, harmed the communities they sought to help. We must remember that high taxes are one of the chief reasons why people and businesses are fleeing places like New York for places like Alabama.

And there are also other reform measures that Alabamians should consider during this debate that were raised in a recent report issued by the Alabama Policy Institute.

Meanwhile, our lawmakers should remember another lesson from Tennessee’s experience raising their gas tax – the need for open debate about the details.

The chairman of the transportation committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives, State Rep. Barry “Boss” Doss, was accused by some of breaking the chamber’s rules so he could “ram” through the gas tax increase. He ended up drawing a challenger in the Republican Primary and ultimately lost his seat, and some say his parliamentary maneuvers were partly to blame.

They say history doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.

If that’s the case, let’s hope Alabama’s lawmakers will be less like Boss Doss by being transparent in the process and more like Even Steven by balancing any increase in the gas tax with decreases elsewhere.

Pepper Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Follow him on Twitter at @jpepperbryars.

 

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Opinion | The New Way Forward Act is an assault on our borders

Bradley Byrne

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A clear warning of how far to the extreme left the Democratic Party has moved is the recently introduced New Way Forward Act.  This immigration bill would totally uproot the rule of law, provide amnesty for illegals here, and import dangerous criminals into the United States.  By allowing foreign citizens who committed serious felonies to stay in our country, all Americans would be at risk.  And by granting new rights to illegal aliens, the New Way Forward Act would prevent our immigration officials from detaining most illegal immigrants.  Shockingly, over forty of my Democrat colleagues in the House have cosponsored this legislation.

We have long known that many on the far left have the goal of global open borders.  They do not appreciate that to keep our country prosperous and strong we must have real, enforceable borders.  Put another way, our country won’t be any different from the rest of the world if we eliminate our borders and let whoever wants here to enter.

Simply put, the New Way Forward Act aims to decriminalize illegal immigration altogether.  It would turn us into a sanctuary nation where anyone who desires entry can come in almost unchallenged.  It grants new rights to illegal border crossers that would effectively shut down our already overworked immigration courts.  For example, those detained for illegally entering would be entitled to an initial custody hearing within 48 hours, and detainees would be entitled to a new bond hearing every 60 days.  This is designed by the bill’s authors to be impossible!

The bill also includes provisions to block local law enforcement from performing immigration enforcement activities.  Why would we not want our law enforcement to actually enforce our laws?  Isn’t that what they are for?  This explains a lot of what some of my more liberal colleagues in Washington think about law and order.

Perhaps most shockingly, the New Way Forward Act removes certain felonies from consideration when considering whether detainees should be allowed entry to our country.  Why would we want to protect convicted felons from being deported?  This legislation would roll out a welcome mat for them.  The bill would even repeal laws that make illegal entry into the United States a crime.  Can you imagine the chaos this would bring?

This bill has one goal – open borders.  That’s why Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf says this bill would “gut the rule of law” in the country.

I have been to our southern border.  I’ve seen firsthand the challenges facing our border patrol agents.  Without question, gutting our immigration laws would make their jobs tougher.  It would erode American safety and incentivize illegal immigration.  Yet Democrats overwhelmingly support sanctuary city laws that allow jurisdictions to refuse to enforce our immigration laws.  These sanctuary jurisdictions go further by stonewalling federal officials seeking to enforce our immigration laws.  But it gets even worse.  States like California have passed laws to grant driver licenses to illegal immigrants.  Shockingly, these laws could even automatically register illegal immigrants granted driver licenses the right to vote in elections!

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Last week I signed on as an original cosponsor of the Stop Greenlighting Driver Licenses for Illegal Immigrants Act.  The premise of this bill is simple: if you are a sanctuary city blocking the enforcement of our federal immigration laws, you should be blocked from receiving federal money.  This bill would prevent states that issue driver licenses to illegal aliens from receiving important federal grants.

Unfortunately, common sense is something lacking in Washington.  I’m proud to be able to serve you by bringing Alabama values to the swamp.  I’ll continue working with President Trump to fight bills like the New Way Forward Act and to ensure our immigration policies serve and protect you, the American people.

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Opinion | We cannot allow Alabama to fall behind our neighbors

Fred McCallum

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As the Birmingham region enters a new decade, it is more important than ever in our increasingly connected world that Alabama’s largest city be equipped with modern wireless infrastructure that provides connectivity that powers opportunities for businesses and residents alike.

That is why the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) supports standardization of small cell deployment statewide – enhancing connectivity today as well as supporting 5G and technologies of the future.

Connectivity is a key issue in creating and sustaining a 21st century economy and workforce, connecting both urban and rural areas to enhanced broadband opportunities. Ongoing advancements in wireless broadband technologies are necessary to keep pace with consumer demand and are crucial to our state’s continued economic success. Without the ability to economically deploy the latest in wireless broadband infrastructure, we put at risk our ability to effectively compete in a digital economy.

The BBA has long supported increased access to broadband technology across the Birmingham region and the state of Alabama through our annual state and federal legislative agendas. Our support is reflected in our 2020 state legislative agenda, which lists this issue as a priority and specifically supports streamlining and standardizing the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, allowing wireless companies limited access to public Rights of Way for the deployment of small cells and establishing permit fee limitations for localities.

We join with key community organizations like the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce in supporting statewide legislation that simply standardizes the permitting process for small cell wireless equipment and services, including broadband; allows entities providing wireless services, subject to existing applicable constitutional provisions, access to Rights of Way for the deployment of small cell equipment; and establishes permit fee guidelines for localities, allowing them to recover reasonable compensation while still encouraging broadband investment.

Small cell deployment is one way to ensure Birmingham and Alabama’s wireless infrastructure remains competitive, allowing both businesses and residents to thrive. More than half of U.S. states have already passed legislation that welcomes investment and removes barriers to deploying wireless infrastructure.

This new decade and the ones after it will require us to be connected to ensure the best for the Birmingham region’s businesses and its residents. Supporting small cell deployment is key as we look towards the future, continually making sure that, as the world becomes more and more connected, we in Birmingham and in Alabama do the same.

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We encourage state legislators to support this effort so we as a region and as a state can stay competitive in an ever-changing world.

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Opinion | “Just Mercy” and Justice do not exist in Alabama

Stephen Cooper

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The chance of there being “just mercy” for Nathaniel Woods—facing lethal injection on March 5 for the killing of three Birmingham police officers—is as good as the chance Alabama will ever reform its dismal, no-justice-to-be-found-anywhere legal system; it ain’t gonna happen.

A Hollywood movie and best-selling book about a legendary lawyer getting an innocent man off of death row can’t change a culture of condemnation on its own. It can’t, by itself, defeat deep-seated hatred and crass corruption that feeds off, subjugates, and disenfranchises the poor in Alabama.

And so I hate to tell my progressive, abolitionist friends: But it is unreasonable and naive to think the undeniably decent call for “just mercy” can push the needle from out of the veins of flesh-and-blood human beings—even old, dying ones—condemned to death in Alabama.

The righteous cry for “just mercy” can’t cool the hot, facile, and feral appeal of vengeance in a state soaked in the blood of slavery and segregation, where hatred for common humanity thrived, and, where it remains, having long ago seeped into its criminal code, its policies of mass incarceration, its entrenched and inescapable poverty for so many, its abysmal prison conditions, and its terrible, twisted addiction to capital punishment.

“Just mercy” doesn’t exist in Alabama, because truth be told, justice doesn’t exist in the state either.

Elsewhere I’ve written how Alabama has been torturing poor people for a long time, how it’s been ducking and dodging death penalty accountability, and, how its sick and shrouded plan to exterminate a substantial portion of its death row population with nitrogen gas is an abomination. But this time let me offer a new, concrete, more personal anecdote to illustrate how unfair and unjust Alabama’s so-called “justice” system is.

Over five years ago, as a “capital habeas” or “post-conviction” attorney, I was involved in litigating a capital case in Alabama; the end result of our Herculean effort was that a man named Christopher Revis had his death sentenced vacated and a new trial ordered—by Marion County Circuit Court Judge John H. Bentley—because of juror misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. 

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Over five years have passed since that magical, momentous, Hollywood movie-like day when Bentley ruled. But, guess what? Christopher Revis still has not had his new trial. 

That’s right: Even though Revis was ordered to have a new trial on capital murder charges over five years ago, he hasn’t had it. Nor has his case otherwise been resolved. Instead, the only thing that has happened to Revis during all this time is he has remained in Holman prison—locked down in a place that is otherwise known as “hell on earth”—where he had already been incarcerated for nearly a decade before I met him.

Last year, after more than four years had passed since Revis was ordered by Judge Bentley to have his new trial, I re-activated my Alabama bar card and traveled to Alabama for a few days to see if I could suss out—as a freelance writer who still cares about my former client, his family, and the rule of law—what the heck is happening. I failed.

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But I am not alone. Because does anyone in the legal community, press, or the public know why Christopher Revis has not had his new—constitutionally mandated—trial yet? Has any competent, conscientious journalist anywhere ever looked into Christopher Revis’s case and this question before?

Nope and nope.

Have I, as Revis’s former lawyer, and after having been contacted and asked to do so at various times by Revis’s desperate family—over the years since I left law practice—done everything possible to alert members of the legal community and the press (both local and national) of the unconscionable passage of time in Revis’s case? Yup. But you can google for yourself to find out just how little that has accomplished.

And so, although I don’t relish being in the role of spoiler and bearer of bad news: In my opinion, based on my own personal experience, before “just mercy” can be anything but a wishful and fleeting slogan on highway billboards in Alabama, the state must first be able to competently and fairly provide justice to its citizens. Citizens like Christopher Revis. So far it hasn’t.


Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveCooperEsq

 

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Opinion | A lesson in civility

Larry Lee

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As already mentioned here, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9, I participated in a League of Women Voters forum in Dothan to debate the pros and cons of Amendment One.  I opposed the measure.  Senator Greg Albritton from Atmore supported it.

I had done my homework and so had he.  We both spoke with passion and conviction.  There was no doubt we were on opposite sides.

However, we were friends when we got there and we were friends when we left.

I respect Greg and the fact that he was duly elected by the majority of voters in his senate district.  He certainly has a right to his viewpoint and his opinions.  I have no doubt he feels the same about me.

Our exchanges were lively and even interspersed with moments of laughter and good will.

In other words, we were civil.

And as I drove back home to Montgomery, I couldn’t help but think of how what had just played out was in such stark contrast to what we see far too often in politics these days, especially in Washington.  Both civility and respect have become four letter words in the nation’s capital where if someone disagrees with you they are usually ridiculed, berated and the object of insults.

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We are destroying what is most dear to this republic. The presumption that as a whole we are better than the sum of all our parts.  That all citizens should be treated with dignity, not chastised because they don’t think like we do.

I understand better than most that 2020 is an election year and that in such times, passion often replaces common sense.  But even so, even that does not condone so much of the junk we see on TV and Facebook right now.

It is shameful.

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Of course, I will vote NO on amendment one.  And Greg will vote YES.

But to me, the larger lesson of this forum was not so much about the pros and cons of this legislation as it was that civil discourse and disagreement can–and should–be conducted with civility.

When it is not, we are all diminished.

 

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