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Economy

Opinion | If the Albritton lottery bill is so popular, why all of the lies?

Josh Moon

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Del Marsh and Greg Albritton seem to have a serious problem with the truth.

Basically, the two Republican senators don’t know what it is.

In the ongoing debate over bills that would allow Alabamians to vote on lottery games, Marsh and Albritton have told some real doozies in their efforts to push through a bill that would sell out Alabama citizens in favor of aiding the Poarch Creek Indians.

And I don’t mean small lies.

Big ones. Whoppers, you might call ‘em.

Like when Marsh, the Senate Pro Tem, told reporters last week that he was going to bring Albritton’s bill up for a vote in the Senate Tourism Committee that Marsh chairs, because there was a consensus among Senate Republicans that Albritton’s bill was favored. He also plans to kill a lottery bill sponsored by Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, that would bring in billions of dollars more for the state, but that would create gaming competition for the Poarch Creeks.

In saying what he did, Marsh made it seem as though he killed the McClendon bill because it stood no chance of passing, and that the majority of the Senate favors the Albritton “simpler” bill.

But according to multiple Republican senators who attended recent caucus meetings, that’s far from true. In fact, those senators told APR that there was no favorite lottery bill and that they wanted to pass both bills out of committee so that each could be debated properly on the floor.

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Sources told APR that the reason Marsh is killing the McClendon bill actually has zero to do with good governance or the will of the voters, but is instead retaliation for McClendon listening to his constituents and voting against the gas tax bill a few weeks ago.

“Marsh was mad about that (vote) and he ain’t letting it go,” said a source familiar with the behind-the-scenes negotiations. “McClendon believed he had this whole thing sorted out with (Marsh) beforehand and everyone was on the same page, but that apparently wasn’t the case.”

The truth is there is very little support for Albritton’s “paper lottery” bill, because most lawmakers see it for what it is — a gift to the Poarch Creeks that would generate a relatively small amount of money overall for Alabama while ensuring the tribe maintains its gaming monopoly.

I wrote an extensive breakdown of the two bills here last week, but the summation is this: Under the Albritton bill, Alabama would make roughly $150 million per year without a penny going to education or scholarship programs. Under the McClendon bill, which would offer the same amount of gambling, the state would make roughly $500 million per year and much of that would go towards education. McClendon’s bill would also generate roughly 10,000-13,000 new jobs, while Albritton’s bill would eliminate 3,000-plus jobs.

These are not my opinions. The numbers came from economic impact studies.

It is also not my opinion that Albritton’s bill would provide the Poarch Creeks with the right to operate additional games — specifically, video lottery terminals — on their tribal lands. The exact same scenario has played in other states.

Surprisingly, Greg Albritton was aware of this fact, and actually told the truth about it during a recent radio interview on Jeff Poor’s show in Huntsville. After telling people that PCI would get expanded gaming and “other games,” Albritton stopped telling the truth — either because he didn’t dare say it out loud or because he simply didn’t know it.

Albritton, in defending the fact that his bill would give the Poarch Creeks more gaming while shutting down dog tracks around the state that pay in millions in taxes every year, said that the games offered by PCI would “only be at their casinos” and wouldn’t expand, and that they would all be regulated by the federal government.

This is where I sigh loudly.

PCI currently has 16,000 acres around Alabama that it has applied to take into trust. If that is approved, the tribe has the right under federal law to open a casino on any of that land.

In addition, the state would mostly be responsible for regulating any Class III games that are operated at Poarch Creek casinos, along with the tribe. That’s why the feds require that the state enter into a compact with the tribe — so a regulation plan might be put into place. The National Indian Gaming Commission, which regulates Class II games, only regulates Class III games to ensure compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, not to ensure fairness and safe practices.

But why would the guy sponsoring the gambling bill know any of that, right?

Look, you can allow Marsh and Albritton to feed you garbage if you like, but here’s the truth: Under this Albritton plan, the state of Alabama will lose $350 million in tax revenues every year; we will lose 16,000 jobs in the next two years, we will have one of the worst lotteries known to man. In addition, the Poarch Creeks will expand their tax-free empire, ensuring that we have MORE gambling than what is offered under the McClendon bill.

And deep down, you know this is true. You can feel it — that icky, something-ain’t-right feeling about this Albritton bill.

They’re pushing too hard. They can’t explain why. There are too many obvious holes.

And way too many lies.

 

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Economy

Alabama jobless claims soar past 40,000 this week, breaking records

Chip Brownlee

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More than 40,000 people filed a jobless claim to receive unemployment compensation in the first four days of this week, the Alabama Department of Labor says, more than quadrupling the number of claims filed last week when layoffs began hitting the state.

Alabama Department of Labor spokesperson, Tara Hutchison, said Thursday that 40,628 people filed an initial jobless claim from Sunday to Wednesday, according to the department’s preliminary data.

About 9,500 people filed initial claims last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s data published this morning. That was a seven-fold increase compared to the week before when only 1,800 people filed an unemployment claim.

The number of people who filed a jobless claim in the first four days of this week is more than at any point since at least 1987. The U.S. Department of Labor’s weekly unemployment claims data only goes back to 1987 for Alabama.

So many unemployment claims have been filed since businesses began laying off people because of the COVID-19 pandemic that the Department of Labor has been having increasing trouble accepting and processing the filings. WSFA reported this week that some people have not been able to file.

The Alabama Hospitality Association has estimated that some 225,000 hotel and restaurant workers will be laid off during COVID-19 crisis.

The Economic Policy Institute’s conservative projections have estimated that nearly 200,000 people could lose their jobs in Alabama.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that more than 3.28 million people across the country filed unemployment claims last week. That shattered the Great Recession’s peak of 665,000 in March of 2009, according to CNBC.

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Alabama’s total from the first three days of this week, which were not included in the U.S. Department of Labor’s numbers released today, are more than the entire month of March of 2009.

This story will be updated.

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Economy

Virtual tip jars helping service industry workers amid COVID-19 closures

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Communities are coming together to provide some relief to service industry workers who are unable to work due to restaurant and bar closures during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey issued statewide shutdowns of all dine-in restaurants and bars in an attempt to increase social distancing as the COVID-19 epidemic continues to grow in Alabama.

Some restaurants are still offering to-go or curbside pick-up orders but servers have seen their shifts cut down because of the limited options.

Virtual tip jars have been started in cities across the country, including Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, to put some money in servers’ pockets after having their shift hours cut due to the restrictions set during this social distancing period. 

“Many of our friends and neighbors depend on tips to make ends meet,” one donation page read. “This virtual tip jar is for local service industry staff — employees at bars, restaurants, salons, etc — to post their Venmo or Paypal information so that customers, neighbors, and Tuscaloosa community members can continue to support them.”

Using an online spreadsheet, the simple system allows servers to put their name and place of employment, along with their Venmo and Paypal information, online. Those seeking to donate can then send money to the servers directly.

The Tuscaloosa has over 180 servers listed and the Birmingham page has over 740 servers listed to receive tips.

“Many people are scared — and that’s okay. As long as we remember to care for our neighbors and show them love, we will pull through this challenge and look back on it as an example of the greatness of this city. 

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“Bear Bryant said, ‘You must learn how to hold a team together. You must lift some men up, calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat. Then you’ve got yourself a team.’ Communities and teams share a lot of similarities; this “one heartbeat” is one of those similarities. Now is the time to be there for each other to build a Tuscaloosa that has the same unity Bear Bryant built in his team.”

 

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Economy

Simpson tells Mobilians: “My top priority remains your health and safety”

Brandon Moseley

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Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said Monday that Mobile had its third confirmed case of COVID-19.

“Tonight we had our third confirmed case of COVID-19 in Mobile County,’” Stimpson said. “My top priority remains your health and safety, and my team is fully engaged in the effort to protect you from this threat to our community.”

Simpson said that he is continuing the effort to obtain test kits for the City of Mobile.

“There is still a shortage of test kits around the country, but the private sector is stepping up to meet demand,” Stimpson said. “You can count on this: You will see more testing done soon, and more test results being completed by the labs.”

Stimpson said that COVID-19 is a public health crisis. “But it is also an economic crisis.”

“We must protect lives and we must protect livelihoods as well,” Stimpson continued.

Stimpson announced that the City of Mobile and the Community Foundation of South Alabama have launched a Disaster Relief Fund to help those who are hurting as a result of this pandemic.

You can learn more at their website here.

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Stimpson said that he has met with his “Executive team to get an update on city operations, and to make sure that city government is continuing to serve our citizens. It is imperative that the wheels of government keep turning. I am grateful that we have such a dedicated team of public servants working for you at City Hall.”

The mayor also met with Owen Bailey and Dr. John Marymount at USA Health System to review plans for COVID testing.

Stimpson also met with Brad Pitts, the chief executive of Synergy Labs, to get an update on their progress producing test kits.

“I hosted a conference call with leaders from the Mobile Chamber, the Mobile Airport Authority, the Mobile Housing Authority, Downtown Alliance, Coastal Alabama Partnership, Alabama Power and the Mobile County Public School System, along with elected officials from city, county and state government,” Stimpson said. “We are doing our best to keep them apprised of all we do. I conducted a news conference to update the media, answering any and all questions.”

Stimpson said that on Tuesday he would be meeting with the Mobile City Council as well as with area pastors.

“I am grateful to those of you who have responded with prayers and words of support – they are appreciated,” Stimpson said. “The best thing that you can do to help is to follow the recommended CDC guidelines, including washing your hands regularly, practicing social distancing and staying home if you are sick. If we all follow these steps, we will save lives.”

Mobile is Alabama’s fourth-largest city.

As of press time, Mobile has just three diagnosed cases of COVID-19.

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Economy

The White House and Senate reach deal on a stimulus

Brandon Moseley

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Early Wednesday morning, the White House and Senate leaders finally reached a deal on a massive stimulus package they are hoping can keep the American economy from falling into a deep recession due to the government-imposed economic shutdown to deal with the growing coronavirus threat.

The final version of the Senate bill comes with a two trillion dollar price tag. The plan includes tax rebates, four months of expanded unemployment benefits, a $500 billion corporate liquidity program, $100 billion in aid for hospitals, $150 billion in aid for state and local governments, money for education, transit programs, and airlines, as well as checks to families, and a slue of tax rebates and benefits for businesses and corporations. It also authorized the Federal Reserve in conjunction with the Treasury to make up to $4 trillion in loans to corporations.

Americans who make up to $75,000 a year will get a one time check of $1,200. Americans with no or little tax liability would receive the same amount. The original Republican proposal had given them a minimum of $600. The deal was reached following five intense days of negotiations that began on Friday.

“At last we have a deal. … the Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said during a speech on the Senate floor after 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday. McConnell pledging that the Senate will pass the stimulus bill later today.

Senate Minority Leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D-New York) praised the bill as “the largest rescue package in American history.”

“This bill is far from perfect, but we believe the legislation has been improved significantly to warrant its quick consideration and passage,” Schumer said.

The Hill is reporting that McConnell, Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland and incoming White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were all in the final negotiations. Schumer kept Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) closely abreast of what was happening during the discussions.

Pelosi has introduced her own $2.5 trillion stimulus bill that includes Democratic priorities such as ending photo ID for voting, parts of the Green New Deal, higher fuel economy and emissions standards for airplanes, and increased union collective bargaining powers. Republicans point to items like $35 million for the JFK Center for the Performing Arts as pork in the Pelosi bill.

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“With this coronavirus relief package, we’re trying to keep people employed—helping companies, large and small, maintain payroll to prevent massive layoffs,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “This isn’t a corporate bailout. Spoke with KSL News radio this morning about why this is not the time for my Democratic colleagues to stall this package to add unrelated pet projects.”

“With hundreds of thousands being laid off every single day and employers shutting down—some permanently—this is no time for Democrats to dither, hoping to win corporate social engineering points,” Romney added. “Shameful, destructive, and dangerous.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) was an early supporter of a COVID-19 stimulus bill.

“It is my hope that in the coming days, we can pass an additional package that will contain comprehensive funding and protections to mitigate this virus and safeguard small businesses and others that make up the economic foundation of our nation,” Shelby said before deliberations began.

Sen. Doug Jones (D-Alabama) voted against ending debate (and negotiations) on Monday over dissatisfaction with the bill that McConnell introduced.

“You know the old saying: half a loaf is better than none,” Jones said. “But the vote today was not even 1/2 a loaf for hospitals, city & county gov’ts, small businesses & working folks, who would have got just a couple of slices while most of the bread goes to bailouts. That is why I voted NO!”

Jones said in a video statement that his two main sticking points were a lack of support for state and local government and a lack of transparency in the $500 billion corporate stabilization fund.

Republicans conceded both points to Jones.

Republicans hold a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate, but were seriously weakened when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) announced that he was infected with the novel coronavirus. This meant that Paul, as well as Utah Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee who are regularly in close contact with Paul, have to self-quarantine for 14 days so are unavailable for votes on the Senate floor.

According to a source in the administration speaking to the Hill, “The legislation creates an inspector general and oversight committee for the corporate assistance program, similar to what was done for the Troubled Asset Relief Program of a decade ago, according to the senior administration official.

Jones had objected to giving Mnuchin sole power to decide what corporations he gave loans and guarantees to corporations. Jones also demanded and got the $150 billion for state and local governments. Those points were both addressed in this version of the bill. On Monday, Jones co-sponsored legislation giving COVID-19 relief to hospitals. This version of the bill includes $100 billion in COVID-19 relief for hospitals. Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-Selma) cosponsored similar legislation to Jones’s bill in the House.

Jones voted to end debate on an earlier version of the bill after Republicans conceded to his points.

A final key sticking point was bailouts for the troubled airlines, who have seen most of their international business grounded by the federal government. Republicans wanted to aid the airlines while some Democrats objected. This bill contains $25 billion in direct aid for airlines and $4 billion for air cargo carriers. The bill includes hundreds of billions of dollars in buffer capital for the Treasury Department to allow the Federal Reserve to hand out an additional $4 trillion in loans to distressed companies such as U.S. airlines and Boeing.

In a nod to Democrats, the bill bans stock buybacks for any corporation that accepts government loans during the term of their assistance plus one year. Schumer asked for and got a provision to ban businesses owned by the president, vice president, members of Congress and the heads of federal executive departments from receiving loans or investments through the corporate liquidity program. The prohibition also applies to their children, spouses and in-laws.

The bill includes $30 billion in emergency education funding, $25 billion in emergency transit funding, and creates an employee retention tax credit to incentivize businesses to keep workers on payroll during the crisis.

Aides are working on drafting the language for the final bill and a vote is expected later today.

(Orignal reporting by the Hill’s Alexander Bolton and Jordain Carney contributed to this report.)

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