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Gas tax takes effect Sept. 1.

Eddie Burkhalter



Sherwood Sparks sure would like to see some of Alabama’s new gas tax increase, set to hit the pumps on Sept. 1,  go toward improving safety on the roads leading to his hometown of Piedmont. 

“Paying the tax doesn’t bother me,” Sparks said. “As long as I can see some results from my taxes for my city.” 

Lawmakers charged with providing oversight for how that money is spent are working to address just how the Alabama Department of Transportation makes those decisions, and that they’re made with transparency. 

The last time Alabama passed a gas tax increase the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had just ended,  and starting Sept. 1 drivers will pay an additional 6 cents a gallon. 

Gov. Kay Ivey in March signed the new 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax into law. The initial increase will be followed by another 2 cents increase in 2020 and 2 cents in 2021. The state currently taxes gas at 18 cents per gallon and diesel at 19 cents. 

The tax is also tied to the National Highway Construction Cost Index, meaning that beginning in 2023 the tax could change by no more than a penny every two years to match possible increases in road construction costs. 

The National Highway Construction Cost Index varies from year to year, but the index grew 4.4 percent from 2003 to 2015, according to U.S. Department of Transportation estimates.  

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According to the bill signed into law, 67 percent of additional funds generated from the tax will go to the state, 25 percent to counties and 8 percent to cities. 

All of the money is to be placed into a separate Rebuild Alabama Fund, and ALDOT is to provide the Joint Transportation Committee with an annual audit report. 

Along with that gas tax increase, lawmakers approved an amendment by Rep. Margie Wilcox, R-Mobile, that strengthened oversight of the Alabama Department of Transportation by requiring ALDOT to submit a report on long-range plans to the state’s Joint Transportation Committee. 


The amendment also allows the Joint Transportation Committee to make changes, with the governor’s approval,  of those ALDOT plans. 

Sarah Stokes, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, told APR on Wednesday that she attended the Joint Transportation Committee’s meeting with ALDOT on July 24 and that lawmakers asked ALDOT how the department prioritizes projects. 

“ALDOT responded that the law sets out these general categories. Safety, maintenance, etcetera,” Stokes said, adding that ADOT told lawmakers that the department prioritizes projects based upon those categories. “And the legislators pushed back and said, no, exactly how do you prioritize?” 

Stokes said many other states rank projects based on objective criteria, grading projects on safety, maintenance, economic development and environmental impact, and that those measurements are quantified and listed to determine which projects need to be tackled first. 

“Virginia does this. North Carolina does this. Georgia does this,” Stokes said. 

Rep. Wilcox told APR by phone on Wednesday that the fact that the amendment that strengthened oversight of ALDOT was approved before the gas tax is a signal of how important the state believes that oversight to be. 

Wilcox is working on a plan to develop ALDOT’s website to make it easier to see what the department is doing with taxpayer money and how those decisions are made. 

“They don’t give us the transparency, and we are the responsible agency to fund DOT,” Wilcox said. “So this committee, if we don’t get the answers and the transparency that we and the voters want, then that is on the table. There’s no law that we have to fund them at the levels they request.” 

Wilcox said ALDOT discussed with the committee much of the department’s funding plans, but members pressed the department on details about the processes used to make those decisions. 

“It’s very important that they spread it around in a manner and with priorities that we can understand,” Wilcox said. 

Tony Harris, a spokesman for ALDOT, told APR on Wednesday that the department will discuss with committee members at the next meeting in October the agency’s views on the criteria used to select projects. Harris said the hope is that ALDOT and committee members will come to a shared view of the definitions of that criteria. 

Stokes said that the danger of not using objective criteria to rank projects is that those decisions can instead be based on “political motivation.” 

“And I think it would be helpful for ALDOT in the end, so that they could show their work,” Stokes said.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.



Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws

Josh Moon



Former State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has been officially arrested. The former state senator from Montgomery, who resigned on Tuesday as part of a plea deal with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was formally charged on Thursday with a single misdemeanor count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act. 

According to a press release from the AG’s office, Burkette’s charge stems from him depositing campaign donations into his personal account instead of into his campaign accounts, as required by the FCPA. The alleged crimes occurred in 2015 and 2016 when Burkette was serving on the Montgomery City Council. 

The complaint alleged that, in 2015 and 2016 while running for the Montgomery City Council, Burkette intentionally failed to deposit $3,625.00 in campaign contributions into his campaign checking account, and instead, deposited or cashed those contributions into or against his personal bank account,” the AG’s release stated. 

The single misdemeanor charge is surprising given the lengthy list of allegations against Burkette submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission. APR obtained a copy of the original report, which was submitted in October 2018. 

In addition to more than $40,000 in allegedly improperly spent council discretionary funds that were flagged by auditors for the city of Montgomery, Burkette was also accused of inappropriately donating tens of thousands more to suspect charities and two sororities, including his wife’s.

The Ethics Commission referred Burkette’s case to the AG’s Office in October 2019.

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Pro-Growth Conference kicks off with Doug Jones, discussions on COVID impact and a living wage

Josh Moon



Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (VIA CSPAN)

What happens if you just give impoverished citizens $500 per month — no strings attached? Good things, it turns out. The people use that income to buy food, medicine and basic necessities for life. They take a day off work if they’re sick and actually get treatment. They quit a second, hourly-wage job that they are overqualified for and instead work towards obtaining a better, higher-paying primary job. 

These are things that the city of Stockton, California, has learned in its year-long living wage program.

The program, while limited in size — only 125 people — has proven to be a larger success than city officials had hoped, and it has opened their eyes to a new, more proactive style of governance, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs told Alabama elected officials. 

Tubbs was the featured speaker on Tuesday at the first day of the Pro-Growth Policy Conference, a three-day forum for Alabama elected leaders with guest speakers from around the country offering tips and best practices. 

The first day of the conference began with an opening talk from Sen. Doug Jones, who pressed the need for Medicaid expansion and how expansion has aided other red states. Jones also highlighted the need for broadband expansion and talked about a bill he has in the Senate that would create a broadband main office and dish out about $20 million in money for affordable access.

“Now (with COVID), we know how needed it really is,” Jones said. “We see the homework gap that we have. We know there’s a need for more telemedicine. My bill would consolidate in one office all of the monies for broadband … and provide affordable access.”

Jones said the current COVID pandemic has highlighted just how badly we need better access to broadband in Alabama, and a major area of concern right now is healthcare. 

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Highlighting that point, Brandon Garrett, the chief operating officer of the National Minority Quality Forum, and Dr. LaTasha Lee, the vice-president of social and clinical research, demonstrated the many ways in which inequality in health care and health care options is harming impoverished communities. 

A number of factors play into that inequality, but a lack of access to updated means of communication and tools is one of the biggest. 

“(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) said that, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane because it results in physical death,’” Lee said. “That’s what we’re seeing currently with COVID-19 and sickle cell disease. These two diseases are affecting the minority community and causing death, and they make a great argument that such health care disparities really are a social justice issue.”


Correcting such issues was one of the goals of Stockton’s living wage experiment. Now, Tubbs said, a working person can afford to stay home or get tested if they’re feeling symptomatic, whereas before that person — scared of missing a paycheck or losing the job altogether — might come to work with the virus and infect an entire workplace. 

That alone, Tubbs said, has restored dignity to a number of residents. 

“This is not easy, especially with budgets the way they are,” Tubbs said. “But I don’t know how we continue to live with the status quo as it is.

“I think part of being a leader, as we are, is having the courage to do something about what we’re seeing. We have to be able to do that.”

The Pro-Growth Policy Conference will run both Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday’s round of conferences will focus on state grants, economic development around the state and what the 2021 legislative session might look like. 

On Thursday, the event will wrap up with talks by the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson and Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.


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Russell Bedsole wins Republican runoff in HD49

Brandon Moseley



House District 49 Republican nominee Russell Bedsole

As of press time, it appears that Russell Bedsole has won a narrow victory over Mimi Penhale in the special Republican primary runoff election in Alabama House District 49.

At press time, Bedsole had a 166-vote lead in unofficial results on the secretary of state’s website.

“We won,” Bedsole declared on social media.

Bedsole is an Alabaster city councilman and a Shelby County Sheriff’s Department captain.

“Sadly, tonight did not turn out in my favor. Despite the loss, I feel like God truly used this opportunity to help me grow in my walk with Him, and gave me the opportunity to increase my testimony,” Penhale said. “I feel so incredibly blessed by the people I have met on this campaign and the experiences I have had. I am disappointed in the outcome, but what an honor it is to have the confidence of 1,183 people across House District 49! Thank you!!”

Russell Bedsole had 1,249 votes, or 51.36 percent, to Mimi Penhale’s 1,183, or 48.64 percent, to win the House District 49 Republican primary runoff.

There were just 2,432 votes cast in the special primary runoff election. Shelby County was the decisive factor in the election. Bedsole won Shelby County with 762 votes, or 71.42 percent, to Penale’s 305 votes.

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Penhale carried Chilton and Bibb Counties, but could not overcome Bedsole’s strong performance in Shelby County.

The provisional ballots will be counted on Sept. 8, 2020, and certification of votes will occur on Sept. 16, 2020.

Bedsole will face Democratic nominee Sheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.


The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Rep. April Weaver announced her resignation to accept a presidential appointment as a regional director in the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement, the Alabama Republican Party thanked “each of the candidates that qualified for offering themselves up for service in the Alabama State House of Representatives.”

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Under ethics investigation, State Sen. David Burkette resigns

Josh Moon



State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has resigned his Alabama Senate seat as part of a deal with prosecutors in an ethics investigation.

The Montgomery Democrat submitted a resignation letter to Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday afternoon, but he refused to reveal specifics to state media outlets. A source familiar with the investigation told APR that Burkette’s resignation is part of a deal that would reduce or eliminate any jail time.

“Governor Ivey is disappointed, but firmly supports the rule of law, and particularly in this situation where there has been a clear misuse of public trust,” said Gina Maiola, a spokesperson for Ivey’s office.

Attempts by APR to reach Burkette late Tuesday were unsuccessful, but he told Alabama Daily News that he couldn’t speak about his conversations with prosecutors because of a confidentiality agreement.

Burkette has been the focus of an ethics investigation for more than a year. A complaint filed against Burkette nearly two years ago alleged that while serving on the Montgomery City Council, Burkette directed tens of thousands of dollars in council discretionary funds to suspect charities and also directed funds to his wife’s sorority.

The Alabama Ethics Commission ruled 4-0 last October to refer allegations against Burkette for prosecution. At the time, Montgomery District Attorney Daryl Bailey said the Alabama Attorney General’s Office would handle the investigation.

It is unclear if Burkette’s current plea deal is limited to only those allegations.

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Burkette’s resignation is a disappointing conclusion to a Senate tenure he fought hard to get. Vying for a seat vacated by former State Sen. Quinton Ross, who left to become president at Alabama State University, Burkette won 11 races over the course of six months, beating out longtime State Rep. John Knight in most of them.

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