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Economy

Bill would grant Poarch Creeks sole rights over all gaming, defying governor’s call

Bill Britt

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Despite Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for the Legislature to give her gaming study group time to bring her fact-based recommendations, Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, last week introduced a bill that would provide the Poarch Band of Creek Indians a monopoly, eliminates all competition and bind the state to a compact while adding comparatively little to the state’s bottom line.

Not only would Albritton’s bill grant the Poarch Creeks sole rights to Vegas-style gaming, including slots, blackjack, roulette and other table games, it would also provide the tribe exclusivity over sports betting and video lottery terminals to name a few. The bill would also outlaw bingo machines except at tribal facilities and impose new, steep tax rates and new licensing fees on dog tracks that have existed in Alabama for decades.

Perhaps without irony, Albritton brought the bill on the same day that the Governor’s Study Group on Gambling Policy held its first meeting.

Albritton makes no apologies for representing the wishes of the Poarch Creeks, calling them family. Many of his Senate colleagues refer to him as the Senator from Poarch Creek.

For months, PCI has blanketed radio, TV, print, social media and other platforms with their “Billion dollar” plan for Alabama. Albritton’s bill would provide the tribe with everything they have asked for and more.

The proposed constitutional amendment reads in part, “The proposed amendment would provide that casino-style games may be operated only pursuant to a compact between the state and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians on lands held in trust for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and, for an initial period of 25 years, at two additional sites, one in Jefferson County and one in Marshall, Jackson, or DeKalb County operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.”

According to Albritton’s bill, SB282, Poarch Creeks would be granted by law exclusive rights to offer blackjack, roulette and other table games as well as sports wagering in the state’s largest county as well as another county of their choosing. It also stipulates that PCI could open another two casinos in the state at a future date.

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Albritton’s bill would also eliminate any competition to the Poarch Creeks’ other gaming facilities by defining bingo as a game played on cards except at Poarch Creek’s casinos and outlawing bingo machines.

Perhaps most egregious, however, the bill also imposes new licensing fees and a 25-percent tax rate that must be paid by existing dog tracks— a tactic designed to force the tracks out of business.

PCI, in the meantime, would continue paying zero taxes on its three existing casinos, but would pay the 25-percent rate on any new casinos it opens off of trust lands. Two attorneys who asked not to be identified said that the federal government would never approve a compact that requires the tribe to pay such a high tax on gaming revenues. And that the state would be forced to enter an agreement at a lower tax rate than specified in the bill.

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Albritton’s bill will go before the Senate Tourism Committee chaired by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh.

Marsh over the last two months has been trying to bring the Poarch Creeks and the state’s dog track owners together on a compromise measure, but the Poarch Creeks are holding out according to those with knowledge of the meetings.

Senate insiders say Albritton’s proposed constitutional amendment has little chance of passing but that the bill is being introduced at all raises questions.

Albritton and the Poarch Creeks are ignoring Ivey’s request that lawmakers stand down on gaming until her study group can complete its task, but to what end?

Those with knowledge of the Poarch Creeks’ internal discussions say Tribal Chair Stephine Bryan and Vice-Chair Robbie McGhee pushed to have the bill introduced while other members of their team disagreed with the aggressive move that could alienate Ivey and others.

Over the weekend, the Governor’s office did not weigh-in on the issue. However, in a recent appearance on The Voice of Alabama Politics, Ivey reiterated the importance of the gaming policy group and the need to have all the facts before she brings a proposal to the Legislature and citizens of the state.

A survey commissioned by the Republican Legislative Caucus found that a majority of likely Republican primary voters were against the Legislature giving the Poarch Creeks a monopoly over gaming.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Economy

Alabama Farmer’s Federation starts a relief fund for farmers impacted by Sally

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Sally. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

The Alabama Farmers Federation said Monday that it has established a relief fund to help farmers from across the state whose farms were damaged by Hurricane Sally.

“When disaster strikes, I am always impressed by the people of Alabama and their giving spirits,” said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell. “As we started receiving photos of damaged crops, barns and equipment, we also started getting questions from people about what they could do to help our farmers, and that’s why we’ve established this fund.”

All the donations to the relief fund are tax-deductible and may be made online or by check payable to Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation at P.O. Box 11000, Montgomery, AL 36191. Please include “hurricane relief fund” in the check memo line.

“Most of our farmers had as good a crop as we’ve ever seen, and it was so close to harvest for cotton, soybeans, peanuts and pecans,” Parnell said. “It’s devastating to lose a crop that had so much promise. Our farmers are great people who are assisting each other with cleaning up the damage, and we’re so grateful to everyone across the state who is helping in some way, like donating to the relief fund.”

Hurricane Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores as a category two storm Sept. 16 with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. Official reports from the National Weather Service show more than 20 inches of rain in Baldwin County.

The combination of heavy rains and high winds damaged crops, structures and equipment from Mobile and Baldwin Counties in the southwest through Russell County in the east.

It has been a difficult few years for farmers.

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While the general economy had been doing well prior to the coronavirus global pandemic, the farmers were caught in the middle of an international trade dispute over tariffs and fair competition.

Chinese retaliation against Americans farm products depressed commodity markets from 2018 through early this year.

When it appeared that the U.S. and China had come to a trade accord in January, the coronavirus hit along with massive disruptions in the supply chain.

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Farm bankruptcies were already up pre-COVID-19. The loss of the 2020 crop could push some already struggling agribusinesses over the brink.

The Alabama Farmers Federation is Alabama’s largest and most influential farmers’ organization.

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Economy

Applications open for Alabama’s CARES Act Marine Industry Relief Program

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division announced this week that it is currently accepting applications for its CARES Act relief program for fishery-related businesses.

The program was established to provide financial relief for losses suffered by the state’s marine fishing industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information about the program, visit this website.

Congress awarded $3.2 million of CARES Act money to the state of Alabama to address financial losses caused by the pandemic that occurred in the state’s seafood industry between March 1 and May 31, 2020.

To qualify, fishery-related businesses must have experienced revenue losses greater than 35 percent between the dates listed above. The 35 percent revenue loss is compared to the average revenue earned between March 1 and May 31 in the preceding five years of 2015-2019.

Only Alabama residents and tribal members that are licensed as saltwater commercial fishermen — those that possess licenses for fishing, taking/catching of oysters, taking/carrying shrimp, gill net fishing, and “crab catching” — seafood or oyster aquaculture operators, non-retail seafood dealers or processors, live-bait dealers and for-hire vessel owners-operators are eligible to participate in the program.

Qualifying individuals and businesses must be able to substantiate their income reduction and complete the application process to be eligible for loss reimbursement. Alabama residents who participate in eligible fisheries in other states as non-resident licensees may also be eligible to participate in Alabama’s program.

Completed applications and supporting documentation can be mailed, shipped or hand delivered to the MRD office in Gulf Shores, Alabama, located at 999 Commerce Drive.

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The applications must be postmarked no later than Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Completed applications can also be hand-delivered by 5 p.m. that day. Electronic copies including email will not be accepted. For more information about the program, including FAQs and the application form, visit outdooralabama.com/CARES-ACT.

Learn more about the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources by visiting outdooralabama.com.

The coronavirus crisis and the economic shutdowns and business limitations to combat the spread of the coronavirus has been devastating to the American economy. At least 28 million Americans are still receiving unemployment benefits and the S&P 500 index closed on Wednesday at 3,236.9, which is still down 4.4 percent from its February peak of 3,386.

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At least 982,513 people, including 206,598 Americans, have died from COVID-19 and more than 32 million people globally have been diagnosed with the coronavirus including 7,140,137 Americans.

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Economy

Registered nurses, retail salespersons were most sought after employees in August

Staff

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Data collected and analyzed by the Alabama Department of Labor’s Labor Market Information Division shows that the five occupations with the most online wanted ads continue to be for registered nurses, retail salespersons, truck drivers, sales representatives and customer service representatives — with more than 8,000 ads placed for those occupations in August.

The HWOL data is compiled from all online job postings in the state, including those posted on the state’s free online jobs database, AlabamaWorks, and other sources such as traditional job boards, corporate boards and social media sites.

Twelve percent of job ads have salaries of $75,000 and above. Fifteen percent have salaries in the $50,000 to $75,000 range. Eighteen percent have salaries in the $35,000 to $49,000 range, and 55 percent have salaries of $35,000 or less.

The top three employers posting ads in August were UAB Medicine with 992 postings, Lowe’s with 770 and the University of Alabama at Birmingham with 502.

These were followed by the University of South Alabama with 404, Diversicare Healthcare & Therapy Services with 331, Huntsville Hospital with 295, Encompass Home Health with 270, Baptist Health with 246, Advance Auto Parts with 240 and Grandview Medical Center with 236 to round out the top 10 employers with the most online ads.

Software developers are the focus of this month’s in-depth analysis by the LMI division. The median annual salary is advertised as $87,802. This occupation develops, creates and modifies general computer applications software or specialized utility programs.

Software developers also analyze user needs and develop software solutions. They may design software or customize software for client use with the aim of optimizing operational efficiency, analyze and design databases within an application area, and working individually or coordinating database development as part of a team.

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Specialized skills in Java and DevOps offer salary premiums based on job ads analyzed.

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Economy

Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.

“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”

Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found. 

Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama. 

“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”

All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

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Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:

  • Clay County – 3.4 percent
  • Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
  • Blount County – 3.7 percent

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:

  • Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
  • Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
  • Greene County – 10.9 percent

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:

  • Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
  • Homewood  – 3.2 percent
  • Madison – 3.3 percent

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:

  • Prichard – 15.4 percent
  • Selma – 12.9 percent
  • Bessemer – 10.7 percent

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