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Opinion | State revenues up as Legislature prepares for Session and crafting of state budgets

Steve Flowers

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The Governor has been inaugurated and the Legislature has had its organizational session. The quadrennium has begun. Therefore, it is time for our state officials to get to work.

Among the three branches of government, Legislative, Executive and Judicial, our 1901 Alabama Constitution renders our Legislative Branch as the most powerful.

Some of you who witnessed the Wallace Era may disagree and point to the Executive Branch. That was a unique Era. Wallace had basically become “King” of Alabama politics from 1963 through 1986 with a couple of interlopers taking four-year residency in Wallace’s Governor’s Home on Perry Street. They left all of the wheelchair accessibility aspects and Wallace features designed for his paralysis and his cigar smoking bedroom in the Mansion alone. They probably assumed he would return after his constitutionally mandated hiatus. There will never be another politician that will control the reins of state government for five terms like Wallace did. He essentially established himself as “King of Alabama” in pretty much the same way as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did as President from 1932 until his death in 1945. Ironically and coincidentally, both ruled from wheelchairs.

Wallace simply owned the State Legislature. He was like a dictator and legislators were his puppets. As a young legislator, I watched as Wallace’s lieutenants simply sent the Agenda for the day down from the Governor’s office, bypassing the Rules Committee completely. The Governor’s budget became the budget. If there was any pork in the budget, it went to Wallace’s loyal legislators. Thankfully, I represented Wallace’s home county of Barbour. Therefore, my district was on the pork list. In essence during that 20-year Wallace reign, the Legislature was simply an appendage of the Governor’s office.

That is not the case today. The Legislature has assumed its inherent power. That power is derived from the power of the purse. The Legislature controls the appropriation of the state’s dollars, the ways and means of State Government if you will. It is the most powerful branch because it controls the purse strings. Thus the old political Golden Rule, “Those that control the gold make the rules.”

Governor Kay Ivey and the State Legislature have a golden opportunity to have a successful four years. They are all of the same party and have a close working relationship. As Lt. Governor and presiding officer of the Senate for over six years, Kay built an excellent rapport with the Republican leadership in the State Senate. She understands the workings and machinations of the Legislature and she has built excellent relationships with members of both the House and Senate. She is especially close to the Senate leaders like Del Marsh, Jabo Waggoner and Greg Reed.

The Legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. The Senate has 27 Republicans and only eight Democrats. There is an equally supermajority in the House. The numbers there are 77 to 28.

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The Legislature and Governor are also the recipients of outstanding financial news as they begin their first regular legislative session this week. Alabama is seeing the strongest tax growth since the Great Recession a decade ago.

The tax dollars that makeup the Educational Trust Fund have grown by 6.9 percent over 2017. That is a whopping $428 million more dollars to work with in the crafting of the next fiscal year’s budget. The primary sources for funding the Education Budget are income and sales tax. Income taxes, the biggest source of school funding, grew by more than $300 million this past year.

It appears that President Trump and the Republican Congress’ passage of a tax cut package last year has been the stimulus for the growth in revenue for Alabama’s tax coffers. Even the beleaguered General Fund Budget is in better shape than was first thought. Our General Fund reaps its revenues from different taxes and tends to grow much more slowly than the Education Fund revenues. However, it grew by $76 million. This is a 2% gain, which puts the General Fund Projection close to $2 billion.

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The good news for Legislators as they prepare the budgets for next year is that both fund’s revenues have exceeded projections.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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Opinion | Not sure what it was, but it was no debate

Trump and Biden both interrupted each other throughout the debate, but Trump did it more, and did it as the bully he is.

Joey Kennedy

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President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden, right, at the first presidential debate of 2020.

They called it a debate, but what we saw from Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday night was, as one television commentor said, a “s–tshow” instead. It was an awful performance, mainly instigated by an awful man, Trump.

Of course, in Alabama, Republicans saw something else altogether. The responses were predictable, of course, but how in the world do Republican leaders justify their response? They can’t; they simply lie, and lie again, just like the desperate leader of their party.

Trump and Biden both interrupted each other throughout the debate, but Trump did it more, and did it as the bully he is. As with all bullies, though, when somebody stands up to him, he backs down because he is all bark and little bite.

Too bad Joe didn’t just walk over there, with fists clenched and ready. Trump would have stumbled off the stage in fear; that’s how bullies are.

A lot of observers are blaming moderator Chris Wallace for losing control of the debate. That’s unfair. Nobody could have controlled Trump’s continuing violation of the debate rules, allowing each candidate to have two minutes uninterrupted to make his case.

Trump regularly Tweets “LAW & ORDER,” but he couldn’t even follow the law and keep order in a 90-minute head-to-head with his opponent. That’s because Trump knows he’s on thin ice: The pandemic has killed 205,000 Americans and made many thousands more permanently sick; the strong economy left to him by the Obama-Biden administration is shattered from Trump’s failure to act fast enough to check the plague, yet to Trump “it is what it is”; unrest in major cities continues because police continue to injure and kill African-American men and not be held accountable.

This is Trump’s America, and he certainly didn’t want to give Biden a chance to highlight these failures before the huge debate audience.

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Yet Republicans, here and elsewhere, defended Trump’s bad behavior, as usual.

“President Trump swiftly demonstrated that his ‘Promises Made, Promises Kept’ record will continue for four more years,” said Terry Lathan, the chair of the Alabama Republican Party. “The comparison between the two agendas couldn’t be starker. The President’s record in 47 months compared to Joe Biden’s 47 years in office is monumental. President Trump highlighted many of his policies. Joe Biden shared none of his.”

Lathan is right that the difference in Trump’s 47 months and Biden’s 47 years is monumental. In Biden’s 47 years, he has never mismanaged anything he’s been involved in as badly as Trump has mismanaged the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy, or the unrest that continues since four Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd on Memorial Day.

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Americans want someone who will fight for them to keep our country safe and great,” Lathan said, presumably with a straight face. President Trump showed tonight he’s a heavyweight fighter who has been putting America first.”

Seriously? The mess we have in this state and nation today are directly the fault of Trump and the Republicans. But you wouldn’t know that from listening to Trump and his enablers, because they refuse to take responsibility, yet, they run the Senate and the White House.

Whose fault is it? Certainly not Biden’s. When Biden and Obama left office, the nation’s economy was booming. It seems Lathan and other Republicans consider Trump the challenger. He isn’t. He’s the incumbent, and his chaos has destroyed millions of jobs and America’s reputation.

Barry Moore, a Republican candidate for Congress from the 2nd District, said this: “The president’s personal style is confrontative, and I understand that some people don’t like that. But, I also know many, many people who welcome Donald Trump’s standing up to the bullies of the Left, and he did a great job confronting Joe Biden with Biden’s own statements and record.”

Wait a second. Are people on the left “bullies” or “snowflakes”Like his idol Trump, Moore has also had his run-in with the law. He was arrested in April 2014 on felony perjury charges, but was later found not guilty. That was no open-and-shut case, though; the jury needed a judge to clarify the charges before finally voting to acquit Moore.

Meanwhile, Perry Hooper, a member of the Trump Victory Finance Committee, said Trump was just being Trump. That’s “why we like him,” Hooper said. I think the president killed Biden when Biden could not denounce violence and antifa. He hasn’t even called the Democrat governors and asked them to stop the violence. It’s plain and simple that Biden is beholden to the Left Wing.”

Antifa is “anti-fascist.” It’s not an organization, but a philosophy. Hitler was fascist. We all should be antifa.

As for Trump, he once again refused to denounce white nationalists and white supremacists – you know, racists – who the FBI claim are the largest organized groups of domestic terrorists in the United States.

But most Republicans apparently admire their racist leader. It’s comfortable for them, because it’s what they know. They should just own it. It’s who they are.

They can’t run away from that fact, even as they awkwardly defend Trump. They have no choice, because they left themselves without one.

Fortunately for the nation, many Republicans and independents are supporting Biden. That, in 32 days, should ensure a huge victory for the Democrats.

Republicans have nobody to blame but themselves, but, then, they’re really lousy at taking responsibility for anything. We won’t hold our breath waiting for their concession.

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Opinion | Alabama’s budget year begins this week. COVID-19 has played havoc

The coronavirus pandemic has left a half billion dollar cut to Alabama’s state budgets for the upcoming year, but the debacle has decimated other states much worse than Alabama.

Steve Flowers

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(APR GRAPHIC)

The new fiscal year begins this week for Alabama government. We have two budgets, a General Fund and an Education Budget. Both budgets have seen devastating havoc to their revenues due to the coronavirus. The Education Budget was drastically destroyed from what was originally expected at the beginning of the calendar year in January.

The Education Budget receives the revenues generated from our sales and income taxes in the state. Therefore, the downturn in the economy is especially heartbreaking for educators, teachers, schools, and universities.

The Education Budget was poised in January to be by far the largest and robust in state history. There was money for a 6 percent increase over the $7.1 billion 2020 Education Budget. However, that was eliminated and the budget is level funded.

Altogether, the coronavirus pandemic has left a half billion dollar cut to Alabama’s state budgets for the upcoming year.

The pandemic debacle has decimated other states much more than Alabama. Indeed, our legislative budget committees have done such a good job as stewards of our tax spending and of budgeting that, unlike other states that are deficit spending and headed towards bankruptcy, there is a slight increase in our two budgets.

In fact, all surveys nationally rank Alabama in the top five of the 50 states when it comes to how well states are handling and are able to absorb the staggering blow to state’s budgets.

Our state budget chairmen, Reps. Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa and Steve Clouse of Ozark and Senators Arthur Orr of Decatur and Greg Albritton of Escambia, have done a yeoman’s job of keeping Alabama afloat by passing conservative budgets and implementing rainy day funds.

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The Education Budget will be about $7.2 billion. The General Fund will be about $2.2 billion. The difference in what was expected in January is about $500 million.

However, Alabama’s share of the Federal Stimulus money is said to be $1.8 Billion. This is like manna from Heaven.

The General Fund budget still includes increases for the Alabama Medicaid Agency. The Department of Public Healthalso got an increase to cover a larger share of the costs for The Children’s Health Insurance program. The Department of Mental Health got an increase to setup three regional crisis centers for folks with mental illness caused by the epidemic.

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The Department of Corrections will get about a $20 million increase, but it may not be enough to satisfy the feds. Within the Education Budget, the Legislature was able to fund a bond issue for school and capital projects. All-in-all, it could be a lot worse. Again, Alabama is in better shape than other states.

One of the best things the crafters of our 1901 Constitution did was to make it unconstitutional to have a deficit budget. We have a constitutional mandate that we cannot spend more than we take in. We cannot print money in Alabama like the Federal Government does. The amount of red ink that the federal government is stacking up is staggering.

The federal government with the printing of new money sent over $1.8 billion to the state in the 2020 Cares Act bailout. This money was sent to the states to pay for expenses incurred from the coronavirus epidemic.

That is a lot of money and it did not take lawmakers and the governor’s office long to start salivating and feuding over the use of the pandemic relief manna from Heaven from the good old debtor Uncle Sam.

Indeed, the fight over the windfall money caused quite a brouhaha between Governor Kay Ivey and the Legislature. It is a natural spat because it is a gray constitutional interpretation of power between the Legislative Branch, which is given the power to appropriate money, and the Executive Branch which administers state government.

The Cares Act of 2020 passed by Congress, which appropriated a total of $105 billion of which Alabama received $1.8 billion, is different than the federal bailout funds during the Great Recession. This relief money for this year cannot be used to aid in current or long-term expenses. It can only be used for expenses directly related to or incurred for expenses directly caused by the coronavirus.

We are in the waning days of the census count. If you have not been counted, be sure you are.

See you next week.

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Elections

Opinion | For Coach Tub, no thinking required

Joey Kennedy

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Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Has Tommy Tuberville ever had an original thought? It doesn’t sound like it. Coach Tub basically spews Republican talking points and keeps his mouth firmly locked onto Donald Trump. He disrespects Alabama voters so much that he thinks that’s all he needs to do to win a place in the U.S. Senate.

Tuberville recently addressed the St. Clair County Republican Party at its September meeting. As reported by APR, Tuberville is quoted as saying the following, and I’ll offer a short rebuttal. I’m doing this because Tuberville is clearly afraid to death to debate his opponent, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

So here goes:

Tuberville: America is about capitalism, not socialism. I think we are going to decide which direction we are going to go in the next few years.”

Me: We decided which way we were going to go years ago, when the federal government started subsidies for oil and gas companies, farmers and other big industry and business. That, coach, is your so-called “socialism.”

I’m not necessarily opposed to subsidies to boost business, depending on the cause, but I’m not going to let a dimwitted, know-nothing, mediocre, former football coach pretend we don’t already have “socialism” in this country.  

What Tuberville really means is that he’s against “socialism” like Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security or food assistance or health insurance. He’s a millionaire already, so there’s no need for him have empathy for or support a safety net for people who are less fortunate socially and economically. That’s Tuberville’s “socialism,” and the Republican Party’s “socialism,” and Trump’s “socialism.

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That’s a cruel, mean perspective that would cast aside the great majority of Americans for the rich (Tuberville, Trump) and connected and, where Trump is concerned, the fawning.

Tuberville: “I am not a Common Core guy. I believe in regular math. We need to get back to teaching history.”

Me: I would love to ask Coach Tubby, one-on-one, exactly what he thinks “Common Core” is. I’ll guarantee you he can’t explain more than he already has. “I believe in regular math?” There is no other math. It’s math. Does he think there’s a math where 1+1=3? There isn’t one. There are a variety of ways to teach math, but there’s only math, not a “fake” math or a “Republican” math or a “Democratic” math or, God forbid, a “Socialist” math.

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And when Coach Tommy said, “We need to get back to teaching history,” one wonders if he’s ever been into a classroom. We know more than a few of his former players weren’t in many classrooms, if reports are correct. But they always played the game under his uninspired coaching.

Of course schools teach history.

The history Coach T. is talking about is Donald Trump’s “white” history, the one we’ve been teaching in our schools forever. Not real history; you know, the one where the United States was founded as a slave-holding nation, where Native Americans were massacred and starved by the hundreds of thousands, where white supremacy was codified within our laws, where any color but white was subjugated. That history. The history that is finally fading away, so we can really see where we’ve been as a nation—so we know where, as a nation, we need to go.

Tuberville: Tuberville said he supports following the Constitution and appointing a replacement for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday.

Me: Well, of course he does. Tuberville doesn’t have an independent thought in his body, and Donnie told him this is what he’s supposed to think. The big question: How much will a Senator Tuberville be able to function as a member of a minority party in the Senate — with no Papa Trump in the White House to tell him what to do?

Both scenarios are real possibilities, if not likelihoods.

There is no question that Doug Jones is far more qualified than Tuberville. Jones can work across the aisle, which will be vitally important if Democrats take control of the Senate. Jones has his own thoughts, which sometimes go against the Democratic Party’s wishes. Jones is independent, smart and represents Alabama well.

Tuberville is a failed football coach who lives in Florida. That’s about it.

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Opinion | All politics is local. All of Alabama’s mayors races this year

Steve Flowers

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(APR GRAPHIC)

With it being a presidential election year and an election for one of our United States Senate Seats and all of the interest that goes along with those high-profile contests, it has gone under the radar that most of our cities in the state had elections for mayor and city council last month.

Mayors serve four-year terms and to most Alabamians they are the most important vote they will cast this year.

The job of mayor of a city is a difficult and intricate fulltime, 24-hours-a-day dedication to public service.

They make more decisions that affect the lives of their friends and neighbors than anyone else. The old maxim, “All politics is local,” is epitomized in the role of mayor. Folks, being mayor of a city is where the rubber meets the road.

In looking all over the state, it appears that most Alabamians are content with the jobs their mayor is doing.  In almost every contest around the state, the incumbent mayor turned away the challenger usually by a wide margin.  Indeed, a good many of the incumbent mayors in the Heart of Dixie had no opposition.

Many of these incumbent mayors were reelected without opposition. Gordon Stone, the mayor of Alabama’s fastest growing community, Pike Road, will be entering his fifth term as mayor.  Pretty soon Pike Road will have to start calling themselves a city.

Vestavia’s Mayor, Ashley Curry, won a second term without opposition.  This former retired FBI agent has done a yeoman’s job managing this upscale, Jefferson County suburb.

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Jasper Mayor, David O’Mary, who escaped opposition, will begin a second term.  He has run Jasper like a well-tuned engine. Albertville mayor, Tracy Honea, garnered a third term without opposition. Luverne Mayor Ed Beasley was also unopposed.

In the contested races, most of the matchups were no contest. Two of Alabama’s largest and most prosperous cities, Huntsville and Hoover, had mayoral races. Tommy Battle coasted to an easy 78 to 22 reelection victory in Huntsville. If Kay Ivey opts to not run for reelection in 2022, Battle will be favored to win the governor’s race. However, being Governor of Alabama would be a demotion to being Mayor of Huntsville.

Hoover citizens must approve of Mayor Frank Brocato’s job performance. Brocato trounced Hoover City Council President Gene Smith by a 76 to 24 margin.

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Opelika’s popular and effective, longtime mayor, Gary Fuller, turned back his challenger 66 to 34 to win a fifth term.

In Cullman incumbent mayor, Woody Jacobs, won a second term overwhelmingly. Hamilton Mayor Bob Page won a second term. Troy’s 48-year-old mayor, Jason Reeves, won reelection to a third four-year term with 74 percent of the vote. Incumbent Eufaula Mayor Jack Tibbs won an impressive 68 percent victory for reelection over two opponents.

Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie may have turned in the most impressive showing.  He shellacked former City Councilman Dean Argo 70 to 30.  His fellow citizens must approve of frugality with their city finances. Wetumpka’s popular and hardworking, longtime mayor, Jerry Willis, turned back his challenger by a 69 to 31 margin. In neighboring Millbrook incumbent mayor, Al Kelley, won reelection 67 to 33. Mayor Kelley has overseen the growth of his city from 6,000 in population to over 20,000. Tallassee reelected Mayor John Hammock to a second term.

Clanton lost their mayor of three decades, Billy Joe Driver, to COVID-19 this year. His successor will be Jeff Mims, who won the election in the Peach City. Mike Oakley won the mayor’s race in Centreville with a 60 percent margin.  It is proper and fitting that an Oakley will be Mayor of Centreville.

Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley won a landslide reelection garnering 68 percent of the vote. Incumbent Pell City Mayor Bill Pruitt won reelection by an impressive 73 to 27 margin.Longtime Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon won reelection in the Camellia City. Opp’s first female mayor, Becky Bracke, won a second term with 60 percent of the vote.

There were two mayoral upsets on August 25. Scottsboro’s incumbent mayor was defeated by challenger Jimmy McCamy.In the thriving, growing city of Fairhope challenger Sherry Sullivan trounced incumbent mayor Karin Wilson.

There are runoffs for mayor in several major cities, including Enterprise, Ozark, Selma, Tuskegee, Alexander City and Northport.  These cities will elect their mayors on October 6 in runoff elections.

Some of you may be wondering about two of the most populous cities. Tuscaloosa and Dothan have their mayoral races next year in August 2021. Tuscaloosa’s Walt Maddox and Dothan’s Mark Saliba will be tough to beat. All politics is local.

If you have not been counted in the census, you have not got many more shopping days to Christmas.

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