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Economy

Ivey unveils infrastructure plan

Bill Britt

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On County Road 17 in rural Maplesville, Gov. Kay Ivey earlier today announced her bold new Rebuild Alabama Infrastructure Plan.

“By increasing our investment in infrastructure, we are not only investing in our roads and bridges,” said Ivey. “We are making important investments in economic development, the safety of our family and friends, our local communities and the future of Alabama.”

Not only did Ivey press the need to revamp the state’s aging roads and bridges, she also put forward a plan to deepen and widen the Port of Mobile, a project that is being championed by U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, as well.

“The Port of Mobile is Alabama’s only deep-water port. It moves approximately 64 million tons of cargo each year and has a total economic impact of $22.4 billion,” said Ivey. “Addressing our Port is critical to our manufacturing, retail and agriculture businesses in every part of the state, particularly in North Alabama.”

Joining Ivey at the announcement were Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, House Budget Chair Rep. Bill Poole and Senator Clyde Chambliss. The four men standing with Ivey sends a powerful message that she has the majority of Republican leadership on her side.

Also present at the event were Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton and other members of the House Minority Caucus. Democrats will play a crucial part in bringing about the plan’s success.

Last weekend, the state’s Republican Party executive committee members voted not to support a fuel tax to invest in the state’s infrastructure. However, the presence of McCutcheon and Marsh means the odds of passing some version of Ivey’s plan is likely.

Alabama’s roads are in such poor shape that they received a D+ grade, according to a report by American Society of Civil Engineers.

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Nearly one-third of Alabama’s roads were rated poor or mediocre according to TRIP, a national transportation nonprofit research group.

Nearly half of Alabama’s bridges are over 50 years old, pushing them to the edge of the safe age limit, according to the administration’s findings. With 10 percent of the state’s bridges already structurally deficient, Ivey noted that without new investments, three-fourths of Alabama’s bridges would be more than 50 years old by 2040.

During her remarks, Ivey emphasized that “27 years have gone by and Alabama has not made one change to our infrastructure funding.”

By law, all gas tax funds must go to roads and bridges and is excluded from other uses, a fact that has been distorted by some critics.

Quoting Federal Highway Administration statistics, Ivey said,” Every $500 million invested in transportation infrastructure supports 14,000 new jobs.”

“In Alabama, $436 billion in goods are shipped to and from businesses each year using the state’s road and bridge system,” Ivey said.

80 percent of the state transportation funding comes from state gas and diesel tax revenues.

Ivey noted that other states are making adjustments in their infrastructure investments, but in Alabama, investment has been stagnant for nearly three decades.

“I am proposing a reasonable 10 cent increase in Alabama’s fuel tax with an index designed to keep us aligned with rising costs of building roads,” Ivey said. “This reasonable increase will also be necessary to keep us competitive with our sister states in the southeast, who have all recently made changes to their infrastructure investments.”

The fuel tax will begin at 6 cents and increase to 10 cents over the next three years.

Poole will carry the governor’s infrastructure bill in the House, and Chambliss will do likewise in the Senate.

 

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Economy

Ag commissioner encouraged by Trump order to DOJ to investigate packers for cattle market manipulation

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate (R) thanked President Donald J. Trump (R) for asking the Department of Justice to investigate the Big Four meatpackers for possible market manipulation of the price that farmers and ranchers get for their beef cattle.

“I want to thank President Trump for asking the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to expand its investigation into allegations that large U.S. meat packing companies manipulated beef prices farmers received for their cattle at market. USDA has been investigating meatpacker pricing activity since last fall, after live cattle prices plummeted following the Holcomb, Kansas, meat plant fire,” Pate said. “On April 6th, I sent a letter to U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones requesting they join fellow U.S. senators calling on DOJ to investigate meat packing companies’ influence on the cattle market.”

U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) was part of a bipartisan group of 19 Senators who sent a letter to the DOJ urging the AG William Barr and the Department of Justice to investigate possible unfair manipulation of the live cattle markets to fix prices in favor of the packers and against farmers and ranchers.

Jones calls for investigation of potential price fixing by meatpackers

“Cattlemen across America seriously question the ability for their children to take over what are frequently multi-generational, family-owned operations that have served as the engines for their communities and our country’s food supply,” Jones and the Senators wrote. “The precarious market situation for feeders and producers could lead to a widespread collapse of this entire industry, making it susceptible to the forces of vertical integration, which may beset the industry far more quickly than once anticipated. It is critical for the DOJ to act expediently to investigate these concerning circumstances and evaluate potential competitive harms.”

“Four meat packing companies in the U.S. control more than 80 percent of the beef supply and there continues to be a tremendous gap between the cash cattle price farmers receive and the price consumers pay at the store,” Commissioner Pate wrote. “Since the coronavirus outbreak, boxed beef prices have more than doubled, while live cattle prices have dropped about 20 percent.”

Pate is optimistic that cattle farmers will benefit from the DOJ investigation.

“I am encouraged that the investigation seems to be moving forward,” Pate said. “It’s important that cattle farmers who work hard to produce the beef we all enjoy receive a fair price for their cattle.”

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The Senators were joined in urging for a DOJ investigation by 11 State Attorney Generals.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) said, “As a third-generation cattleman myself, I understand the stress many in the cattle business have faced for years. Cattlemen and cattlewomen across the United States are simply asking for transparency and accountability from our meatpackers in the beef business. I applaud Attorney General Eric Schmitt for showing leadership on this issue. It is important our farmers and ranchers understand that Missouri supports them.”

The Big Four meatpackers are: Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, JBS Swift, and National Beef.

R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America), a ranchers’ group, filed suit against the Big Four last year alleging illegal market manipulation and monopolistic behavior. R-CALF is urging Congress to bust up the large food processing companies.

Mike Callicrate is one of the co-founders of R-CALF USA and is a farmer-rancher and entrepreneur who owns a boxed beef company in Colorado Springs.

“National security is impossible without food security,” Callicrate told the Alabama Political Reporter. “The security of the State is impossible without food security. Globalization and multinational corporate control of our food systems has left us unable to feed ourselves.”

R-CALF USA believes that the Southeast region should have its own locally owned packing industry rather than being dependent on giant meatpackers located hundreds or even thousands of miles away owned by multi-national corporations.

“Job one should be for Alabama to build local/regional food infrastructure that connects Alabama farmers directly to Alabama consumers,” Callicrate told APR. “This will eventually eliminate the industrial model that is exploiting Alabama citizens and mining the State’s valuable resources. We must make future efforts bomb-proof . . . with a new commitment to antitrust law enforcement, and through support of our food dollars.”

Bill Bullard is the CEO of R-CALF USA.

“Covid19 has magnified a problem that has plagued the industry for years,” Bullard told APR. “We can not go back to where we came from. Restructuring is a necessity! “

COVID-19 exposed the danger of reliance on increasing larger and larger meatpacking plants that slaughter thousands of cattle each day with thousands of workers, many of them immigrants, working literally shoulder to shoulder disassembling animals often at breakneck speeds.

Ranchers group supports president’s order to keep meatpackers operating

Sunday afternoon, the Alabama Political Reporter interviewed Callahan Parrish, a 4th generation Cattle Farmer. Callahan also owns the Cullman Stockyard and is emerging as an Industry Advocate.

“The pandemic has unmasked many fundamental problems associated with the current beef production model. Industry infrastructure, competitive market access for our producers and food security issues top this list,” stated Parrish.

“The skeletonization of the downstream segments of our industry is the result of the packers’ efforts to vertically integrate the cattle industry as they have already accomplished in the hog and poultry industries,” Bullard said. “In a very short time, we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of cattle producers, tens of thousands of farmer-feeders (smaller feedlots), and hundreds of packers, not to mention the loss of local livestock auction yards.”

70 percent of the cattle processed by the big meatpackers is contracted in advance. Prices are determined in the cash or spot market. By hedging against the cash market in livestock auctions the packers are more easily able to manipulate that cash market R-CALF USA contends.

“Without robust competition, the hollowing out of our rural communities will continue,” Bullard said. “It is time we reversed the negative trajectory of our industry by rebuilding our industry’s competitive marketing channels. It is time for Alabama to take a lead in infrastructure overall.”

There are impediments to siting a new regional meatpacker in Alabama. Since John Morrell closed its packing plant in Montgomery in 1992 thousands of Alabama farms and ranches have gone out of business and the state has far fewer cattle than it did a generation ago. Most of the remaining farms and ranches in the state produce 450 to 650 pound feeder calves, not the 1100 to 1500 finished or “fat” cattle that the industry butchers. Order buyers purchase southern calves and ship them out west to Texas, Missouri, or the plains states for growing out and finishing.

That would need to change to support a meatpacker here. While an increasing segment prefers grass finished cattle, most American cattle since the 1950s are finished in feedlots on grain. In 1915 Alabama had 4.5 million crop acres in cotton alone. Today all the crops acres combined in the state are less than 1.5 million acres. Some industry experts say that it is easier to export Alabama calves to the grain than import western gran to Alabama cattle; however Alabama’s poultry farmers grow over a billion chickens a year. Most of the 150 million bushels of corn and 63 million bushels of soybean meal that the chickens eat is imported from out of state. There is also enormous potential for grass finishing in Alabama given the moderate winters and plenty of rainfall.

“In the midst of hardship, Alabama’s Cattle Producers and stakeholders are talking solutions . . . and that is real progress,“ Parrish stated.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents own and operate an Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

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Ag commissioner concerned about collapsing cattle prices

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate (R) is concerned about dropping cattle prices and the impact that that is having on Alabama’s farmers and ranchers.

“We have been very dialed into the crisis Alabama Cattle Producers are up against,” Pate told the Alabama Political Reporter. “We will continue to closely monitor this dire situation and the market impact it is having on Alabama’s cattle farmers . . . as well as consumers.”

“After I was contacted by a number of Alabama’s stockyards and Cattle producers expressing concern with regards to market inconsistencies and increased consumer prices…… I wrote a letter to Senators Shelby and Jones requesting that they join in on a push for an investigation of the meat packing industry,” Pate said. “I am encouraged by the support we are getting from both Jones and Shelby. It’s also great to see Alabama Producers joining in together in an effort to formulate a strategy to address the current situation.”

Commissioner Pate shared the April 6 letter.

“Over the last five days, I have been contacted by many stockyards and cattle producers concerning the seemingly inconsistent drastic reduction in futures prices for cattle while at the same time consumers are purchasing more beef at grocery stores than at any time in recent memory and at the same time grocery store shelves are empty of beef,” Pate wrote the Senators. “There is concern from many in the cattle industry that the large meat packing companies are manipulating markets to put cattle produces and local stockyards at a disadvantage during a national crisis. Due to depressed cattle prices and uncertainty over cattle prices multiple stockyards will not conduct business this week.”

“I understands that Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Mike Rounds of South Dakota have recently asked the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies to investigate whether the large packing companies are manipulating beef markets to fix prices at a level that negatively impacts beef producers,” Pate wrote. “I urge you to join your fellow senators in calling for this investigation to make certain that Alabama cattle producers are not suffering from artificially low beef prices.”

COVID-19 has impacted many areas of our lives. That includes at the grocery store where selection of beef, pork, and chicken products can be a hit and miss proposition for shoppers due to hoarders and to less cattle, hogs, and chicken being killed because of slaughterhouses suffering high absenteeism due to COVID-19. The big four major packers: Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, J.B.S. Swift, and National Beef process over 80 percent of the cattle. When their daily productions dropped there was an oversized effect on cash and futures markets, because of the lack of competition and because 70 percent of the cattle they process are forward contracted. If a feedlot was not forward contracted they often could not sell their cattle at any price.

The spot market or cash market generally determines live cattle prices. Some in the industry have accused the big four meatpackers of engaging in an “allied strategy” to manipulate the spot market so that the four major companies can profit at the expense of farmers and ranchers.

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Sen. Grassley praised President Donald J. Trump’s recent call for an investigation into possible anticompetitive behavior in the beef industry. Last month, Grassley lodged a similar request with the Departments of Justice and Agriculture.

“While consumers are facing record-level prices at the meat counter, America’s Beef producers are being forced to sell their cattle to meatpackers at a loss, if they can sell them at all,” Sen. Grassley said. “Consolidation in the meatpacking industry has exacerbated the market pain on both sides of the supply chain, and producers and consumers need to know whether unfair business practices by packers are to blame.”

“I’ve called on the Trump administration to look into unfair or anticompetitive practices and I’m grateful that President Trump has made this issue a priority,” Grassley added. “USDA is looking into unfair pricing practices. DOJ must also examine if any collusion within the packing industry has taken place in violation of our antitrust laws.”

Grassley has long raised concerns about consolidation in the meatpacking industry and pressed USDA to protect independent producers.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently called for an investigation into the business practices that lead to unfair marketplace for beef producers. R-CALF filed suit against the Big Four packers last year alleging that the four companies are engaging in an “allied strategy” in defiance of U.S. anti-trust law.

Rick Pate is a cattle rancher in Lowndes County. The Pate family has raised Charolais beef cattle in Alabama for decades.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents have a Black Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

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Economy

Talladega will hold GEICO 500 on June 21 without fans in the stands

Brandon Moseley

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The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) has announced that the GEICO 500, MoneyLion 300 and General Tire 200 automobile races have all been rescheduled for the weekend of June 20 to 21.

They will be raced without fans in attendance.

“We are excited that NASCAR has announced the rescheduling of our April race weekend to June 20-21,” said Talladega Superspeedway President Brian Crichton. “While we will have cars on track, in the interest of the health and safety of all involved, including fans, NASCAR will be running our three races – the GEICO 500, MoneyLion 300 and General Tire 200 – without fans in attendance in accordance with the State of Alabama, CDC and public health agency standards and protocols.”

The Cup Series GEICO 500 will be held on Sunday, June at 2:00 pm CST.

The Xfinity series MoneyLion 300 will be held on Saturday, June 20 at 4:30 pm CST.

The ARCA series General Tire 200 will be held on Saturday, June 20, 2020 at 1:00 pm CST.

“NASCAR, like Talladega Superspeedway, prides itself in being fan-friendly, and the fans drive everything we do,” Crichton said. “The decision to race without fans is focused on the long-term health of you and our sport. NASCAR has a great respect for the responsibility that comes with a return to competition, and after thorough collaboration with public officials, medical experts and state and federal officials, NASCAR has implemented a comprehensive plan to ensure the health and safety of the competitors and surrounding communities.”

“For our June 20-21 events, we hope you will enjoy watching and listening to the 3- and 4-wide racing at the sport’s Biggest and Most Competitive track via our broadcast partners FOX, FS1 and MRN Radio,” Crichton concluded. “We will persevere through this together.”

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Ticketholders may elect to receive a credit for the full amount paid plus an additional 20 percent of total amount paid to apply towards a future event, including, but not limited to, grandstand seating, infield, camping, fan hospitality, and Talladega Garage Experience. The 120 percemt event credit can be used in a single transaction during the remainder of the 2020 season and entire 2021 season for a NASCAR sanctioned event at any NASCAR-owned track, subject to availability. Elections for an event credit or refund must be submitted by June 14, 2020.
Ticketholders may apply here:
https://www.talladegasuperspeedway.com/Vanity-Pages/2020/Assistance.aspx

Motorsports are the only major pro sports league that has resumed play after the coronavirus global pandemic struck in mid-March. The NBA is considering a proposal to playout the remainder of their season and playoffs sequestered at the Wide World of Sports complex at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida with no fans present. The NHL is in the process of considering a similar proposal to finish this year’s hockey season. Major League Baseball has not played a single game of their season yet. MLB owners have made a proposal that the league play an 80 game season without fans present. The idea is meeting with skepticism from MLB players due to a controversial proposal capping players salaries for this season in a 50:50 revenue sharing agreement. The proposal that would dramatically reduce MLB players’ salaries for this season. Horse racing and mixed martial arts have held some sporting events in recent weeks.

NASCAR has already held two races at Darlington and one at Charlotte after resuming racing on May 17. Kevin Harvik won the Real Heroes 400 driving a Ford and Denny Hamlin won the Toyota 500 driving a Toyota in the first two Cup Series races since NASCAR resumed racing after a ten week hiatus. NASCAR intends to run a 36 race season this year.

Motorsports are the only major professional sports league played at a major league level in the state of Alabama. In addition to the Talladega Superspeedway, the state is also home to the Barber Motorsports Parks near Leeds. The Barber facility hosts both professional motorcycle racing and the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, a NTT Indycar series event. That event was cancelled due to efforts to shut down the economy to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has already killed 98,705 Americans through Sunday morning.

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Alabama nonprofit hopes federal food aid for children continues through summer

Eddie Burkhalter

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Almost half of Alabamians experienced a loss in income since the COVID-19 crisis began, and more than 13 percent said they hadn’t had enough to eat during the prior week, according to a recent survey, but there is help for families with children struggling with food insecurity. 

Two federal programs combined can help keep Alabamians fed during coronavirus’s continued impact on health and finances, but there’s work to be done to ensure those programs are fully used, and will continue to help during this time of need, according to Alabama Arise, a nonprofit coalition of advocates focused on poverty. 

Celida Soto Garcia, Alabama Arise’s hunger advocacy coordinator, on Friday discussed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s  Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which allows schools with high poverty rates to serve breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of a parent’s income. 

There are still a little more than 100 school systems in Alabama that would qualify under the program, but haven’t yet applied to do so, Garcia said. 

“Schools that had implemented CEP prior to the pandemic made it a lot easier to distribute food. They didn’t have to worry about eligibility and delayed distribution,” Garcia said. 

Garcia said the coronavirus crisis has brought attention to the CEP program and that some school board officials and child nutrition professionals are beginning to identify which school systems could qualify for the aid. 

“So that of course was a benefit prior to the pandemic, and now there’s just an increased need for it,” Garcia said. 

Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst at Alabama Arise, discussed with APR on Friday the pandemic Electronic Benefit program (P-EBT), which gives parents of children who receive free and reduced lunches a debit card loaded with value of each child’s school meals from March 18 to May 31. The cards can be used at any grocery store. 

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Immigrant families with children enrolled in school can also receive the P-EBT cards, Gundlach said. 

“We of course hope that Congress will see their way to continuing pandemic EBT for the remainder of this summer, because of course, children still have to eat, whether school is in or not, and families are still going to have to pay for those extra meals,” Gunlach said. 

Just more than 13 percent of Alabamians polled said they didn’t have enough to eat during the week prior, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, and 43 percent said they’d experienced a loss of income due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“So clearly parents are going to have a very difficult time continuing to feed the whole family through the summer,” Gundlach said. “It’s really a serious crisis and continuing Pandemic EBT would make a really big difference.” 

Many individual school systems across the state are working hard to supply sack lunches to students in need, but without federal aid it will be hard to keep those meals coming all summer, Gundlach said. 

There was an expansion of P-EBT for the remainder of the summer, and a 15 percent increase in regular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, known as food stamps, in the $3 trillion Heroes ACT, which Democrats in the U.S. House passed last week. Gundlach said she hopes the U.S. senators from Alabama get behind the Heroes Act. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentuky, said last week, however, that if the Senate takes up another round of coronavirus relief legislation it won’t look like the House version, according to NBC News. 

Gundlach also wanted those without children to know that there’s additional food assistance available to them. 

The Family’s First Act temporarily suspended SNAP’s three-month time limit on benefits, and Gundlach said that even if a person was denied assistance before because they hit that time limit, they can reapply and receive that aid.

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