Connect with us

Governor

Ainsworth opposes Mobile River toll bridge plan

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth became the latest Alabama elected official to announce his opposition to a controversial new Alabama Department of Transportation plan to build a bridge over the Mobile River and pay for it by tolling motorists who use I-10 for the next 55 years.

“A state that built the rockets that sent men to the moon should be able to find a way to build a bridge without extorting the citizens it seeks to serve,” Ainsworth said in a videotaped statement he posted to social media.

Ainsworth has a seat on the nine-member Alabama Toll Road and Bridge Authority that has to approve the project. He said that if the plan comes before the board “I will proudly be casting a no vote and standing with the hardworking families of Baldwin and Mobile Counties.”

Toll bridge opponents have been writing and emailing the nine members of the toll authority, including Ainsworth urging them to be no votes on the plan.

Ainsworth says that the plan “quite frankly violates every conservative belief and principle that I hold.”

The lieutenant governor said that he can not support a plan that makes a working family in Baldwin and Mobile Counties spend $2,200 a year that could be used on food or other necessities of life just to get back and forth to work.

Ainsworth said that tolling the existing Wallace Tunnel that has already been fully paid for makes an already outrageous plan completely unacceptable.

Advertisement

Ainsworth joins other state constitutional officers, Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill and State Auditor Jim Zeigler, in opposing the ALDOT proposal to turn I-10 into a toll road to improve travel speed and reduce traffic congestion.

ALDOT’s plan is to form a public private partnership (P3) with a multi-national conglomerate in order to build an I-10 bridge over the Mobile River. The bridge will have 210 feet of vertical clearance so all manner of oceangoing traffic, including the new bigger cruise ships, can easily pass underneath en route upriver to the Alabama State Docks. The bridge and replacement of the existing Bayway is projected to cost a staggering $2.1 billion. ALDOT claims the Bayway needs to be replaced with a new taller eight-lane roadway.

The private corporate partners would get their money back, as well as profits, by tolling both the bridge and the existing Wallace tunnels for the next 55 years to pay for the project. Frequent travelers between Mobile and Baldwin counties would be able to purchase unlimited toll bridge access for just $90 a month. An annual membership would cost $1,080 per car. For a family with two cars, unlimited use of the toll bridge would cost $2,160 a year. Other travelers on I-10 would receive a bill in the mail for $6 for every time they crossed the bridge of used the tunnel and Bayway. There will be higher tolls for large trucks and for vehicles towing a trailer, and there likely will be an administrative fee applied. Motorists who do not pay their toll bills would lose ability to purchase vehicle tag renewals.

Advertisement
Advertisement

The bridge is in a federal Opportunity Zone, so the international investors bidding on the plan could potentially receive $hundreds of millions of tax breaks from federal, state, and local taxes.

While I-10 users would be tolled, under the ALDOT plan, the Mobile Causeway, the Cochran-Africatown bridge and the Bankhead Tunnel would continue to allow free travel in and out of Mobile for motorists who are unable or unwilling to pay the expensive tolls.

Recent polling of Mobile and Baldwin Counties show that 77 percent of the people in the area also opposing building the bridge, if it is going to be tolled.

Zeigler has been leading the grassroots opposition movement to the project. 51,908 people have joined his Facebook group opposing the toll bridge plan.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) has asked Governor Kay Ivey to pause the plan so that the state can explore other options. U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D) similarly has announced his opposition to ALDOT’s plan.

Many toll bridge opponents have said that until the state can afford to pay for the bridge no bridge should be built. Ivey has said that the cost of not building the bridge and accepting traffic congestion in and out of Mobile going forward is unacceptable.

“I am sensitive to those legitimate concerns of what a toll would do to working families, lower and middle-class citizens, small businesses, students and the elderly,” Ivey recently wrote. “However, there are also countless individuals who would like the option of choosing a safer, less congested route across the Mobile River and Bay – even if it means that route will come with a toll. Keep in mind, there will always be ‘toll-free’ options for anyone who wants or needs to cross Mobile Bay for free. To those who say the bridge can be built without a toll, I simply ask you to show us how.”

The Mayors of both Spanish Fort and Fairhope are opposing the plan to toll the bridge.

There is a meeting of the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization on Wednesday. The Mobile MPO is scheduled to vote on its transportation improvements priority (TIP) list for 2020 to 2023. Delisting the bridge as a local transportation improvement priority would effectively kill the bridge because federal law prevents the federal government from providing any funding to projects not requested by local regional planners. Toll bridge opponents are calling on members of the Mobile MPO to vote to reject the toll bridge. Bridge opponents are similarly asking the same thing of the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization, where the Baldwin County Mayors opposed to the project have seats on the board. That group meets on August 28 and could consider the measure then.

There will be a public meeting of the nine-member Toll Bridge and Road Authority on October 7 to discuss the project and whether or not to move forward on awarding the P3 contract.

Ainsworth’s defection means that there is at least one no vote. Pressure is being put on the other members of the Toll Authority, including Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and State Representative Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), to also vote no. ALDOT director John Cooper has been an outspoken proponent of the toll bridge plan so is almost certainly a yes vote if this project gets that far.

(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group contributed to the report.)

Advertisement

Governor

Speaker McCutcheon standing with governor on gaming workgroup

Bill Britt

Published

on

During her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey said she would be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group to gather all the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. She also asked the Legislature to give her time for the group to come back with an answer.

Whether lawmakers would grant Ivey’s request for time has been an important question swirling around the halls of the State House.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon answered that question on Wednesday when APR reached out to his office with a request for clarification.

APR’s email wrote, “Speaker McCutcheon recently made the statements quoted below.”

“I am not a big gambling guy; but if you are going to vote for a lottery, that’s gambling, then don’t be a hypocrite and let’s get the biggest bang for the buck,” McCutcheon said. “Let’s address a lottery, the Poarch Creek Indians, and these counties that want a one-armed gambling. Put them all in a room and hammer out a deal.”

The Speaker warned, though, that if he cannot get a grand deal between all the parties on gambling, then there likely would not be any gambling bill brought forward in 2020.

“Does he still stand by these statements?”

Advertisement

The following is the response APR received from the Speaker’s office:

“Since the Speaker made the statement, the Governor will be signing an Executive Order to bring people together to evaluate the facts on how much money the State could gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred. The Speaker will be working with the Governor in her efforts.”

Ivey said once the working group had completed its task, she would “bring these facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue.”

Advertisement
Advertisement

That McCutcheon is in  alignment with the governor should signal to all interested parties that no further movement on gaming legislation will happen until the working group has completed its evaluation.

Some have been slow to hear Gov. Ivey’s entreaty.

Even after Ivey’s call for more time to gather facts, the Poarch Creek Band of Indians continues to flood television, internet and social media with a massive advertising campaign touting their billion-dollar plan in exchange for a tribal-state compact and exclusive right to Vegas-style casino gaming in the State.

PCI lobbyists, including tribal council vice-chair Robbie McGhee, are being very pro-active at the State House.

On Tuesday, Madison County Republican Rep. Rex Reynolds said, “We’re gonna move forward on a lottery. We clearly got that message during our conference meeting yesterday. I think it’s the right thing to do. The people want to vote on a lottery and I think we need to give them an opportunity to,” according to a report by WAFF.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, the House budget chairman, recently said that he planned to file legislation that would create an education lottery in Alabama.

Clouse’s bill would create a paper lottery with scratch-offs and PowerBall options only.

Opinion | Prepare for more gambling debates in the 2020 Legislative Session

A day after Ivey issued her State of the State request to the Legislature to stand down on gaming, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh held a meeting with representatives of the Poarch Creeks and two of the State’s dog tracks to discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.

Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming

These various statements and actions have added confusion as to what is happening with gaming this session.

Now that McCutcheon has made his position known, maybe it will put to rest the rumors, activities and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that go against Ivey’s wishes.

 

Continue Reading

Education

Business, community leaders call on lawmakers to support Gov. Ivey’s push for more Pre-K funds

Staff

Published

on

By

Governor Ivey’s push for a $25 million statewide expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program was endorsed today by business and community leaders from across the state. If approved by the state Legislature, the proposed funding increase would add at least 160 new classrooms next year and help enroll at least 2,889 additional four-year-olds.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force included its support for Governor Ivey’s budget request in its 2020 Legislative Recommendations. The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities.

In addition to increased funding in FY2021, the Task Force’s plan proposes a series of recommendations to fully fund the state’s First Class Pre-K program by the 2022-23 school year while maintaining the program’s benchmarks for quality and accountability. The Pre-K Task Force’s Recommendations are available in their entirety at https://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/asra-pre-k-task-force-recommendations/.

“We are not there yet, but the state is moving in the right direction to provide high-quality, voluntary pre-k to all families that want it,” said Mike Luce and Bob Powers, business leaders and co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force. “The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force is pleased that Governor Ivey is once again prioritizing additional funds to add more pre-k classrooms across the state. We stand with Governor Ivey and encourage lawmakers to appropriate the $25 million increase outlined in her proposal.”

For 13 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom – regardless of demographics, zip code or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.

The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. It allocates funding for the First Class Pre-K program through a competitive application process. Public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, nonprofits, universities, and other community-based providers are all eligible to apply. Potential providers can apply for three different levels of funding: an excellence classroom (up to $50,400), tiered funding (ranges from $86,904 to $100,008), and a new classroom (up to $120,000). Applications for First Class Pre-K classroom funding are due March 13 on the Department’s website, www.children.alabama.gov.

The ASRA Pre-K Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $122.8 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2019-20 school year, nearly 40 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.

Advertisement

 

Continue Reading

Governor

Marsh holds meeting with gaming interests day after Ivey calls for the Legislature to stand down on gaming

Bill Britt

Published

on

Despite Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for the Legislature to give her “time to get the facts,” on a lottery and gaming before proceeding with legislation, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh summoned representatives of the Poarch Creek Band of Indians and two of the state’s dog tracks to sit down and discuss moving ahead on a proposed lottery and gaming bill.

Ivey seizes gaming issue

A day after Ivey’s State of the State, Marsh, along with Senators Bobby Singleton and Steve Livingston, held a conference with Robbie McGhee, PCI’s Vice-chair, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn from Greenetrack to try and reach an agreement among the three gaming entities.

Marsh, at the Wednesday meeting, informed those gathered that they needed to come up with a compromise on the gaming issue so that legislation could proceed with a constitutional amendment on a lottery and gaming package this session.

Participants in the closed-door meeting declined to speak with APR about the content of their discussions. However, those who have knowledge of the conversation did relay some of the details to APR.

According to those sources, the group discussed what a compromise might look like, what tax revenue the facilities would be allotted to the state and locations sought by PCI.

Reportedly, the discussions were generally cordial and productive while lawmakers were present, but that the tone changed dramatically once the lawmakers left the room.

Advertisement

Two sources with an understanding of events said that McGhee turned arrogantly defiant after the legislators left, telling the track owners that PCI didn’t need to compromise because they already have the votes necessary to pass their desired legislation. Benefield, Winn nor PCI would confirm APR‘s sources’ account.

Any lottery or gaming legislation requires an amendment to the state’s 1901 Constitution, which must be approved by a vote of the people. The governor plays no direct part in legislation that involves constitutional amendments.

PCI is demanding Class III Vegas-style gaming, which would require a tribal-state compact that must be negotiated under the authority of the governor.

Advertisement
Advertisement

There is a way to bypass Ivey, although it is fraught with complications.

If the Legislature passed a constitutional amendment that includes a comprehensive gaming solution plus an authorization for the governor to negotiate a compact with PCI, then a potential federal-state showdown could occur.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act requires that tribe request the negotiation of compacts with states in which they intend to conduct Class III gaming. “States, in turn, must negotiate with tribes in good faith to develop such a compact,” according to a report in Indian Gaming Lawyers. “If the state refuses to do so, the federal government may intervene and potentially impose a compact if all other efforts to secure a compact have failed.”

In a report titled The Tribal Trump Card, Patrick Sullivan explores several cases in which tribes have sued various states under IGRA’s good faith clause.

If the tribe has the vote to pass its legislation, that is not publicly known at this time.

Others close to the tribe say McGhee’s remarks to the track operators should be ignored as he is still smarting from the billion-dollar “Winning for Alabama” campaign that is a bust for PCI.

A recent survey conducted for Alabama Republicans found that an overwhelming majority of likely Republican primary voters disapprove of any legislation giving the Poarch Creeks a monopoly. Those numbers skyrocket in the areas where PCI casinos currently exist.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon has stated publicly that he wants to push for a grand gaming package that puts the issue to rest once and for all and also brings in a lot of money for the state. He has indicated that anything short of a grand plan will not get a hearing.

Do the Legislature and PCI want to challenge Ivey? That’s a daunting question for anyone who has watched her operate the levers of power over the last few years.

Whether Marsh’s meeting was meant to undermine Ivey’s call for time to “get the facts,” or a last attempt at a compromise is unclear. But what is certain is Ivey’s intentions to seize gaming issues and bring a solution to the Legislature in the best interest of the state.

Continue Reading

Governor

Ivey seizes gaming issue

Bill Britt

Published

on

Toward the end of her 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Kay Ivey snatched the issue of a state lottery and gaming from the hands of the Legislature.

“I will be signing an Executive Order to establish a small working group of some of Alabama’s most distinguished citizens, to begin working, to gather all the facts on how much money we could really gain if some form of gaming expansion occurred,” said Ivey.

Not only did Ivey take ownership of the gaming debate, she asked the Legislature to stand down.

“My challenge to the Legislature is: give us some time to get the facts and then, together, we will give the people of Alabama the information they need to make the most informed decision possible,” said Ivey. “Once they have done so — I will bring these facts to the 140 members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama. And we will then, once and for all, be in a position to determine whether or not this is a path we want to pursue.”

Not since Gov. Don Siegelman’s failed attempt to bring a lottery to the state in 1999, has any governor dared throw weight behind a lottery bill much less try to untangle the Gordian knot that gaming has become as a result of former Gov. Bob Riley’s bingo wars.

Riley and his compatriots upended years of established law that allowed electronic bingo in Macon, Lowndes and Greene Counties, which resulted in the Poarch Band of Creek Indians gaining a virtual monopoly over gambling in the state. Despite federal rules that prohibit the tribe from operating any games that are illegal in the state, the Poarch Creeks have thrived.

Over the last several months, the Poarch Creeks have engaged in a statewide advertising campaign to promote a billion-dollar payday for the state in exchange for a state-tribal compact and a guaranteed unfettered monopoly over Vegas-style gaming.

Advertisement

Ivey’s announcement has put an end to any hopes of an immediate compact or other gaming legislation for now.

Lottery legislation requires an amendment to the state’s 1901 constitution, which must be approved by a vote of the people. The governor plays no direct part in legislation that involves constitutional amendments. However, any state-tribal compact must be negotiated under the authority of the governor.

For the last several years, the Poarch Creeks have blocked all attempts to pass a lottery and have resisted calls to negotiate in good faith with owners of the state’s dog tracks.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Even as there was hope going into the 2020 session that PCI might come to the table for a comprehensive gaming solution recently, those hopes have been waning because there doesn’t seem to be any indication the tribe is backing down from its demands for an advantage over others players in the market.

There is also apparently no leader in the House and Senate strong enough to bring all sides together in a compromise.

Ivey has shown she is powerful enough to bring disparate groups together for a common solution as she did with the 2019 gas tax.

When it comes to the issue of gaming, the Legislature will most likely follow Ivey’s lead as it would be foolish to buck a governor with her approval and influence.

It is doubtful even the Poarch Creek’s money can stop Ivey.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.