5 years ago

Alabama Senate approves budget reforms, raises taxes $86 million

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The word of the night was “compromise” in the Alabama Senate, where Republican lawmakers pushed through two budget reform measures before also raising taxes by roughly $86 million annually.

The Senate approved the transfer of $80 million in use tax revenue from the Education Budget to the General Fund Budget.

The use tax, which is a tax on goods and equipment purchased by Alabamians outside of the state, brings in roughly $225 million annually and increases by a few million dollars each year. It is one of numerous “growth taxes” — revenue streams that increase as the economy grows — that are earmarked to flow into the Education Budget.

Advocates of transferring a portion of the use tax argued that the state’s beleaguered General Fund does not receive enough growth revenue to keep up with the booming costs of Medicaid and prisons. The Education Budget, meanwhile, is enjoying a surplus thanks to the GOP-backed Rolling Reserve Act, which caps the growth of education spending to help the state avoid proration in lean years.

The Senate also approved tweaks to the Rolling Reserve Act that will immediately free up money to make up for the lost use tax revenue in the Education Budget.

On the tax front, legislators passed a 25-cent per pack tax increase on cigarettes, which will bring in an estimated $70 million annually, at least in the short term. Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), who opposed all of the proposed tax increases, noted that cigarette tax revenue is expected to drop off precipitously in the coming years as smoking declines. The cigarette tax revenue will go toward funding Medicaid, by far the largest driver of increased spending in the General Fund.

Lawmakers also increased taxes on nursing homes by $400 per bed and on pharmacies by adding a new 15-cent tax per prescription. Both taxes were supported by groups representing the impacted industries. The two taxes will each raise $8 million in revenue for Medicaid.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told Yellowhammer the reform measures were important to solving the budget shortfall without additional tax increases.

“There was no appetite in the Senate to generate new revenue without structural changes to the budgeting process,” he said. “I believe the use tax transfer does just that. The General Fund will get much needed revenue growth and the backfill bills we passed will ensure that there is very little impact on the Education Trust Fund. In this special session we were able to create sensible solutions that will benefit hardworking Alabamians for years to come.”

The senate rejected two other tax increases passed by the House — one that would have almost doubled the cost of getting a car title and a second that would have increased taxes on car rentals.

The legislature will reconvene on Wednesday to work toward a finalized budget. The reforms and tax increases are expected to allow appropriators to level fund Medicaid, prisons, Mental Health, Human Resources and the court system. Most other General Fund agencies will be trimmed by roughly 5 percent.

Governor Bentley has indicated that he will likely sign the budget, giving the state a finalized spending plan just days before the Fiscal Year deadline October 1.


4 hours ago

How one woman’s resilience through ovarian cancer treatment motivates others

When watching Debby Davis mow her lawn, cook big meals and go to work, it would be tough for anyone to tell the 67-year-old is actively going through chemotherapy treatments. Since 2015, Davis has been battling ovarian cancer and juggling her work, family and chemotherapy regimens at the University of Alabama at Birmingham with unparalleled strength.

Her cancer story began when Davis was mowing her lawn one morning and felt an excruciating pain in her groin area on the left side. She ignored it, only to experience it again when she was at work. She brushed it off as a pulled muscle, but her co-workers knew that something was not right and encouraged her to go see a doctor.

Their skepticism proved to be true when the pain Davis was experiencing was diagnosed as ovarian cancer, after it was discovered by oncologists from UAB’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology. A 20-centimeter tumor was positioned on her left ovary, roughly the size of a volleyball. While symptoms such as bloating or loss of appetite are often linked to ovarian cancer, Davis had experienced nothing of the kind.

“I have never been sick a day of my life. I am a go, go, go person; I never slow down,” Davis said. “When I was told that I needed to see a gynecologic oncologist, I could not believe what I was hearing. I drove to work, but felt like I was driving in slow motion. When I got there, I just fell apart.”

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Care and clinical trials at UAB

Gynecologic cancers are considered particularly rare — particularly ovarian cancer — as there are currently no effective screening tests for ovarian cancer.

For patients who visit UAB for gynecologic cancer care through the Division of Gynecologic Oncology and O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers and physicians are actively involved in paradigm-changing research for patients with different types of gynecologic cancers, including ovarian, endometrial and cervical cancers.

“The Division of Gynecologic Oncology here at UAB has an extremely strong track record of enrolling patients in clinical trials, and these trials are helping to shape the future standard of care for women with these cancers,” said Michael Straughn Jr., M.D., professor of medicine in UAB’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology and Davis’ primary oncologist. “In addition to the paradigm-shifting trials for current therapies, we are involved in early investigations of novel therapies that may become future standard treatments. Clinical trials may offer patients access to therapies they otherwise would not be able to receive and may allow them to receive tomorrow’s treatments today, right here at UAB.”

Davis’ treatment plan began with a surgery to remove her tumor, followed with rounds of chemotherapy and additional surgeries. All the while, Davis continued to fulfill her responsibilities as an employee, mother and grandmother.

Although she received standard care therapy including post-operative chemotherapy, her cancer unfortunately recurred and she received several additional types of chemotherapy. Despite these treatments, her cancer continued to grow.

Following a review of molecular testing on her cancer, she was found to be a candidate for the TAPUR trial, a large, multi-institutional trial that utilizes molecular information from the patient’s tumor to guide treatment decisions, rather than information about where the tumor started. As a result — although her cancer is an ovarian cancer — she was started on a chemotherapy that is approved for treating a type of kidney cancer.

“She has been receiving this therapy for nearly three years, with stabilization of her cancer, and has not experienced significant growth,” Straughn explained. “She continues on this life-extending clinical trial therapy to this day.”

Access to trials and specialized treatments like Davis’ are not possible at all hospitals, but UAB’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center enables constant research and the latest offerings for patients of all cancer backgrounds.

Now, five years after her initial diagnosis, Davis is still seeking treatment, but it is continuing to extend her life expectancy and viability. Davis has come to UAB every single Wednesday since October 2015, missing only two Wednesdays in five years.

For Davis, going through cancer has not been easy; but having strong support from family who moved with her from across the country and her resilience have made all the difference.

“I never paid attention to what chemo drugs could do to my body; I knew they would affect all of my organs. But I had my faith in God and Dr. Straughn,” Davis said.

For anyone battling any life-threatening disease, Davis recommends leisure activities that stop the mind from wandering to places that would lead to negative thoughts.

“Do I get upset sometimes? Sure, I do. Do I get tired of it all? Of course, I do. Cancer is a scary thing; but if you stay positive, stay active and are not afraid to ask for help, you can beat it,” she said. “With the help of the phenomenal medical staff who have directed my health care, the support of my family and fellow patients at UAB who told me that I have inspired them to stay positive is what keeps me going.”

(Courtesy of the University of Alabama at Birmingham)

5 hours ago

Texas A&M wears down Auburn, wins 31-20

Texas A&M came to Jordan-Hare Stadium and ended a three game losing streak against Auburn, prevailing today 31-20.

From the first drive of the game, the Aggies set the tone, driving straight down the field and taking a 7-0 lead. Auburn would actually manage to take a lead that got to as many as six points in the third quarter, although that seemed to come completely against the flow of play. The Tigers were up 20-14  with 4:16 left in the third quarter after kicker Anders Carlson made a 24-yard field goal.

However, Texas A&M would outscore Auburn 17-0 in the 4th quarter, which led to the eventual 31-20 victory for the Aggies. The eleven point margin of victory for A&M was actually probably a little bit closer than the contest actually was. The Auburn defense never came close to stopping A&M, and the Tigers’ offense underwhelmed on the day as well. Overall, it was a well-deserved loss for Auburn.

Take a below at the three factors that ultimately led to Texas A&M’s 31-20 win over the Tigers.

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A&M Offensive line dominates
The Texas A&M offense line was by far the best unit on the field today. The Aggies O-Line cleared the way for backs to rush for 313 yards on 6.7 yards per carry and only allowed one sack on 23 pass attempts. There were multiple run plays where Aggie linemen opened tractor-trailer sized holes for backs to exploit.

Auburn’s defensive front did not come close to stalemating the Aggies on many individual plays, much less on the whole for the day. The reality that A&M could line up and run straight over, around, and through the Tigers’ defense gave very little hope for Auburn to earn a win today.

Auburn’s defensive front was expected to take a step back from last year’s stellar group, but they were the limiting factor in Auburn’s loss against the Aggies.

No answer for Jalen Wydermeyer
Aggies’ sophomore tight end Jalen Wydermeyer was a matchup nightmare for Auburn today. The 6-5, 255-pound phenom was an effective blocker in the Aggies’ big day on the ground and was also their primary target in the passing game. Wydermeyer caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to start the scoring for the A&M and also scored on a tipped pass that put the Aggies ahead 21-20 in the fourth quarter.

Even aside from the touchdowns, Wydermeyer was able to consistently get open against linebackers and safeties to pick up critical catches to keep drives alive all day. There is no easy answer for how to defend a man that big and athletic, but Auburn certainly didn’t provide one today until it was too late.

Wydermeyer is a great example of how big a mismatch a good tight end can be, and hopefully the Tigers took some notes for how to use them effectively in the future.

The big break that wasn’t
The Auburn defense struggled to stop Texas A&M all day. It was apparent from the first drive that the Aggies were able to get positive yardage every time they ran the ball and were planning on giving quarterback Kellen Mond easy, low-risk pass attempts. That plan and formula were extremely effective all day.

That is why what happened with 13:31 remaining in the fourth quarter was so painful. Following a third down conversion for A&M down to the Auburn 20 yard-line (which may have actually been an incompletion but was never reviewed), Kellen Mond finally made the bad decision that Auburn was looking for all day.

Mond tried to force a pass down the seam to Jalen Wydermeyer, only for Tigers’ linebacker Zakoby McClain to step right in front of the ball for a surefire interception. Improbably, McClain merely deflected the ball instead of an interception, and it careened straight into the hands of Wydermeyer for a touchdown.

There is no way to know what would have happened had McClain held on for the interception, but it would have taken seven points off the board for the Aggies and could have led to more points for the Tigers.

Everyone who watches football knows that the oblong-shaped ball takes strange bounces, and today it went in the Aggies’ favor with just over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: zack@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw

8 hours ago

Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator sets first Demo Day Dec. 8

The first class of Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is prepping and finalizing business cases and ideas for its inaugural Demo Day. The Dec. 8 event, at 1 p.m., is an opportunity for the 10 participating startups to pitch their businesses to potential investors across the globe.

“Our first class of companies for the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator has done a tremendous job leaning into the process, refining their respective business strategies and engaging and pulling from the expertise of the vast mentor network the program offers,” said Nate Schmidt, Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator managing director. “There’s a lot of excitement with our Techstars team and the companies around Demo Day. We can’t wait to showcase their innovative and thoughtful solutions for energy and clean tech.”

The event will be held virtually and is open to the public. To register, visit https://techstarsalabamaenergytechdemoday2020.eventbrite.com.

The event also will be available at the link after the live stream for viewing anytime.

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Demo Day will feature the 10 companies of the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator. The companies specialize in technology and business models in the energy sector, including a digital marketplace for the electric wholesale industry, battery storage and microgrid solutions, and smart home software. Here are the companies:

  • Project Canary: Continuous air-quality monitoring and environmental data analytics platform to help solve climate change, from Denver, Colorado.
  • Sync Energy: Simplifies access to artificial intelligence for energy analytics, forecasting and loss prevention, from New York City.
  • Ashipa Electric: Microgrid solutions provider and developer, from Birmingham.
  • Virimodo: Carbon and energy monitoring platform to help building owners go green, from New York City.
  • Con.doit: Platform for electrical systems analysis and failure prediction, from Birmingham.
  • Resilient Power Systems: Building block to reduce grid infrastructure upgrade costs related to electric vehicles and clean energy, from Atlanta.
  • EnergyHawk: A SaaS mapping platform that uses satellite imagery and predictive analytics to generate energy assessment profiles for commercial and industrial facilities, from Boston.
  • TruSpin: Large-scale producer of a rare material used to affordably increase the energy density of lithium-ion batteries, from Birmingham.
  • ShipShape AI: A predictive maintenance platform that integrates smart home devices and connects service providers, from Austin, Texas.
  • Elektrik: Online marketplace for the electrical equipment industry, from Salt Lake City.

Since the program began at the beginning of September, startups have received seed investment, mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders – including Alabama’s business community – and business coaching through the program’s educational components.

The Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA), the Alabama Department of CommerceAltecPowerSouth and the University of Alabama. They have a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing the number of startup companies based in Alabama.

For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at www.techstars.com or contact Partnership Manager Alan Bates at acbates@southernco.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

ACCA’s Brasfield warns ‘big crisis right over the horizon’ for county jails as ADOC blocks inmate transfer to prisons

Since late March, the Alabama Department of Corrections has drastically limited the number of inmates it is allowing into its facilities, an action which was taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

However, as the courts are resuming criminal trials, the ADOC has created a burden for the jails in Alabama’s 67 counties, which have a backlog of state-sentenced inmates sitting in county jails awaiting transfer.

During an interview with Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5 on Friday, Association of County Commissions of Alabama executive direction Sonny Brasfield warned the current arrangement was unsustainable.

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“Certainly in the last nine months, the state of Alabama has significantly limited its acceptance of state-sentenced inmates from the jails into Department of Corrections,” he said. “Today, when we get the report, we fully expect there to be more than 2,000 state-sentenced inmates that are sitting in county jails. And then there are another 1,300 or so who were parole and probation violators that are also awaiting transfer. There is a big crisis right over the horizon.”

Brasfield said the state of Alabama was paying counties out of CARES Act money to help shoulder the burden, but the jails continue to be overwhelmed.

“One of the positive things about the CARES Act is that administration has not turned a deaf ear,” Brasfield continued. “The administration understands that the decision they make to slow down, and in some months, stop intake, has put counties under a significant strain. So counties are receiving $28 per day per inmate from the CARES Act funding to cover costs. What we’ve said to the state all along is that money is only buying us time so that the state can resume a regular intake of inmates. And that money runs out December 30, unless Congress takes some answer, and even so, counties are not able to hold these inmates long-term simply if the state can provide money to do that. Jails are not long-term facilities. They are not constructed for that purpose. And if we move to the rural parts of the state, there are just not enough beds for us to assume the job of the Department of Corrections.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

12 hours ago

Alabama to again host world’s longest annual paddle race in 2021

Paddlers from across the United States will again race each other down 650 miles of Alabama’s scenic rivers in 2021 in the Great Alabama 650 (AL650), the world’s longest annual paddle race.

The third annual AL650 begins Sept. 18 on Weiss Lake in Centre. Racers will have 10 days to reach Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay via the core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, the longest river trail in a single state and one of the most biologically diverse regions of the United States. Laura Gaddy, communications director of the trail, said next year’s race will be similar to this year’s competition.

“The AL650 is the longest annual paddle race in the world, and it is one of the toughest endurance events on the planet,” Gaddy said. “Racers will once again face whitewater, battle tidewater currents and hike around a dozen dams in this 650-mile, adventure-style paddle race.”

This year’s AL650 was won by Atlanta’s Paul Cox, a Youkon 1000 finisher, and Joe Mann, who months before had been one member in the winning boat for the MR340, a well-established race beloved by many highly competitive U.S. paddlers. Bobby Johnson, who won the AL650 in 2019, came in second overall, followed by Salli O’Donnell, last year’s runner-up.

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“Prior to the Great Alabama 650, which was held for the first time in 2019, only about 30 people had been recognized for finishing the core section of the trail, and most took about a month to complete the journey,” Gaddy said. “In contrast, racers only have 10 days to complete the course and the winning boat in 2020 finished in fewer than six days.”

Gaddy adds COVID-19 delivered an unexpected twist to this year’s race.

“The race forced other long-distance races to postpone competitions in 2020,” Gaddy said. “As a result, paddlers who planned to enter the Alabama race in a later year were able to prioritize paddling in the AL650.”

Despite the pandemic, many spectators found places along the route to cheer on racers while maintaining a safe social distance from other spectators.

“Racers recognize this aspect of the AL650 as one of the best parts of the competition,” Gaddy said. “Competitors who returned in 2020 said they were not disappointed.”

Registration for the 2021 AL650 opens Jan. 1 and will be limited to 20 entrants. To compete in the 2021 AL650, racers must prove they competed in one of 18 qualifying races within the past five years. For more information, visit al650.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)