Connect with us

Economy

Opinion | Heated lottery debate revealed the secrets of the Alabama Legislature

Josh Moon

Published

on

In the debate Thursday in the Alabama Senate over a proposed lottery bill, there was one conversation that stood out.

Yeah, there were plenty of arguments and creative amendments pushed. There were angry senators and accusations of nefarious intentions tossed around.

But the back and forth between Sen. Bobby Singleton and Sen. Greg Albritton, the sponsor of lottery bill SB220 (or PCI220, as some lawmakers and lobbyists have started referring to it), told you everything you needed to know about where we are and where we’re headed.

Before we get to that conversation, though, I need to tell you two things: First, Albritton’s bill — the worst lottery bill in the history of lottery bills — passed by the slimmest of margins, gaining exactly the 21 votes it needed in the Senate to pass, thanks to the surprise votes of two Jefferson County Democrats, Roger Smitherman and Linda Coleman-Madison.

Secondly, I need to give you some background and a little insight into the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that go into the making of a bill.

If you’ve followed along here, you know that SB220 is a terrible bill for the taxpayers of Alabama. It generates a paltry amount of revenue, limits the lottery to paper games that will be obsolete in 10 years and does not describe in any way how a lottery will be administered.

The purpose of SB220 is to protect the Poarch Creek Indians’ gaming monopoly in the state. Sen. Jim McClendon filed another lottery bill earlier in the session, and it would have allowed the state’s four dog tracks to operate video lottery terminals that are similar to the electronic bingo games in the PCI casinos.

The Poarch Creeks didn’t care for this, so they had their attorneys and others draft their own bill — SB220. PCI then dumped a bunch of ad money into various right wing blogs and radio shows to promote their bill as a “clean lottery bill.”

Advertisement

The PCI lottery bill, though, didn’t just benefit PCI. It hurt those aforementioned dog tracks. And it hurt Alabama taxpayers.

It hurt the dog tracks by outlawing all electronic gaming. Much of the charity bingo being played at the tracks and around the state rely on electronic machines, and the pari-mutuel wagering that has been legal in Alabama for 40 years also uses electronics.

It hurt Alabama taxpayers by generating a comically small amount of money. Tennessee’s lottery — which generates the smallest amount of revenue of any lottery in the South — pulled in more than $400 million in 2018.

The PCI lottery, at its peak, will pull in $160 million.

Of that money, none goes to educate and only around $50 million annually will make it into the general fund.

The bill barely escaped Marsh’s Tourism committee on Tuesday, needing the mistaken vote of a democrat on the committee to eek out, 6-5.

And that’s when the real horse trading began behind the scenes.

A number of different compromises were attempted on Wednesday and Wednesday night between the two sides to find some common ground. By early Thursday morning, there were at least four substitute bills that had been discussed and roughly a dozen amendments that would do various things.

Albritton and Singleton were involved in those talks, and before the Senate gaveled in Thursday afternoon, Singleton was under the impression that some progress had been made. That, at the very least, the amendment he was able to get passed in the committee on Tuesday — that only protected the games at VictoryLand and GreeneTrack — would be left in place.

The first thing Albritton did on Thursday, however, was remove that amendment. Singleton was unhappy. Very, very unhappy.

And that’s where we’ll pick up that exchange between the two. Because during that back-and-forth, Singleton did something on the Senate floor that is rarely done — he talked openly about private negotiations among lawmakers.

He gave everyone who was listening a rare glimpse behind the curtain, so you could see how the sausage gets made.

Singleton said one of the substitute bills would have given the Poarch Creeks protection from having their federally recognized status challenged. Other bills would have provided additional locations for the Poarch Creeks to open casinos in the state.

All of these things Singleton offered to Albritton in exchange for amending the bill in a way that protected currently operating tracks and produced millions more in tax revenue for the state. All of them, Albritton shot down.

Which raises one question: Why is an Alabama lawmaker essentially serving as the spokesperson and lead negotiator for a gaming entity that will pay zero dollars in taxes to the state?  

Voters around this state would go insane if a lawmaker was caught acting in the same manner for MGM Resorts or Las Vegas Sands. This situation is no different.   

The Poarch Creeks coerced an Alabama senator into becoming their lead negotiator and protector, and he did it. Openly. And without shame.

And that’s why the Poarch Creeks’ gaming monopoly, and the power and influence it brings over our state lawmakers, should scare the hell out of everyone.

 

Advertisement

Economy

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

Chip Brownlee

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

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.

Continue Reading

Economy

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

Jessa Reid Bolling

Published

on

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. 

Advertisement

“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.”

 

Continue Reading

Economy

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

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

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.

Continue Reading

Economy

The White House and Senate reach deal on a stimulus

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

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.

Advertisement

“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.)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.