7 months ago

Alabama’s lagging infrastructure could hurt economic development efforts

In economic development, companies consider three key elements as they look to locate or expand in an area. When it comes to business climate and workforce development, Alabama is tops. When it comes to reliability and access to infrastructure, not so much. Shashi Nambisan, executive director of the Alabama Transportation Institute at the University of Alabama, said statistics show the state’s infrastructure needs action now.

“Over the last 25 years, there has been a tremendous increase in population, about 20 percent, (an) increase in the number of registered vehicles across the state and, most importantly, the vehicle miles driven across the state,” Nambisan said. “At the same time, we have had just a nominal 14 percent increase in the capacity, the number of new lanes or new lane miles that have been added.”

The reason is funding. Alabama hasn’t raised its gasoline tax, the primary source of roadway funding, in more than 25 years. In the years since, fuel efficiency has risen in cars and there has been a rise in hybrid and electric vehicles.

Jim Page is chairman of the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure and president of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce.

“We have not adjusted what we pay at the pump since 1992 and, certainly over a generation, inflation and construction costs, the dollar doesn’t go as far as it did back then. So, we’ve really been declining,” Page said.

“We do think a comprehensive package needs to be introduced where we need to take in technology considerations, the changing way vehicles are being made, all need to be on the table. But, for right now, and we think for the foreseeable future, paying at the pump is still the primary way for us to get revenue for road projects in this state. So a nominal tax increase, at the very least, has got to be introduced for us to be able to catch up.”

Page and Nambisan were on a panel that talked about the infrastructure needs in the state at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s 2018 Summer Conference. They said Alabama suffers in safety, quality of life and economic development due to capacity and maintenance issues on roads and bridges, and the problem is only going to get worse.

“We have had a tremendous increase in the number of crashes, fatalities related to roadway crashes and, over the last couple of years, we’ve had about 1,100 people who have died from crashes on the roadways in Alabama,” Nambisan said.

“The other part is in terms of economic development,” Nambisan said. “If you do not address the capacity constraints, you will have congestion and, based on congestion, what we project is over the next 20 years, you’re going to see about a 300 percent increase in the delays on roadways. It is not only for us as individuals, but if you look at the freight and commerce activities, that’s a tremendous amount of delays that they encounter.”

Page said his organization and others will push for legislation this year that begins to address the needs in the state.

“Nobody likes the thought of paying more,” he said. “Nobody likes the term ‘tax increase’ or ‘revenue generation’ or ‘revenue enhancement,’ however you want to frame it. But this is a consumption fee that we pay based on our usage. So, while nobody likes that, we have seen numbers that bear out that Alabamians understand that we have to pay our fair share to get the high-quality roads and transportation system that we all want. So, while there is not a great appetite for having to do this, we do know there is an appetite for finally addressing this issue and not kicking the can down the road anymore.”

Page said Alabama is already behind other states that have addressed the infrastructure funding issue. Those states compete with Alabama in economic development and now have an advantage, he said.

“This is such a major topic for Alabama for us to maintain our economic competitiveness, but in the future, we’ve got to be competitive with our sister Southeastern states, many of whom have already addressed this issue,” he said. “We think it’s imperative in the 2019 legislative session that we finally address this issue for the first time since 1992.

“This is a critical component for being competitive for economic development projects and maintaining what we have now, but also being able to recruit new jobs, new industry to this state for the future,” Page said.

The gas tax also is beneficial because others contribute to help maintain and expand our roadways.

“We have such a high percentage of motorists from around the country that use our roads and our bridges to go to the beach or to get from one place to the other,” Page said. “So, really, the only way for us to capture their fair share, so to speak, is paying at the pump when they stop at our gas stations.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

27 mins ago

Bipartisan bill to regulate vaping set for House committee hearing

MONTGOMERY — Alabama is currently one of only three states to not regulate vaping, but that could soon change.

HB 41, sponsored by Republican Rep. Shane Stringer and Democrat Rep. Barbara Drummond, both of Mobile County, is on the House Judiciary Committee’s agenda for Wednesday afternoon.

The bill would regulate the sale, use and advertisement of vaping – or “alternative nicotine products” – in the state.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, both Drummond and Stringer emphasized that their bill is intended to protect the health and wellbeing of Alabama minors.

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“The motivation is simple,” Drummond emphasized. “We are trying to safeguard the teens in the state of Alabama.”

She outlined, “Vape shops, as it stands right now, are not regulated at all… And the bill came about because our drug education council locally brought it to our attention, but [Stringer and I] have both seen ourselves, as well as throughout the whole state, the rise of vape shops. They’re popping up everywhere in the state of Alabama.”

While it is too early to tell what vaping is directly doing to users’ health, Stringer and Drummond emphasized there is an objective gateway effect from vaping use and to smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Right now, there is no data that says what is the [direct] effect that these products are having on our young people. What we are seeing, and this is a national trend, is that you’re seeing smoking not going down, but increasing, among young people,” Drummond explained.

Stringer, a career law enforcement officer with stints as chief of multiple local police departments, said educators from every corner of Mobile County have voiced their concerns with the lack of state oversight on vape products and retailers “saying this is an epidemic and a problem what we need to address.”

“The products haven’t been out long enough to know the problems we could face in five, ten, 15 years from now,” he said. “It’s pretty similar to when smoking came out. There was basically no risk at that time, according to everyone. Now, look at all the data that we have to go with smoking… this is a new product we’re learning every day about.”

Stringer said statistics they were shown from the drug education council show an approximately 34 percent increase in children under 19-years-old that tried smoking after vaping.

“In Alabama, we don’t want to wake up one day and see the effects, negative effects on our kids,” Drummond added. “Right now, we’re trying to be responsible legislators to make sure that we look out for the welfare of our children.”

The two lawmakers also stressed that not only do vape shop operators have no restrictions on them, but the state has no way to even keep track of them currently.

Their bill would make it illegal to sell or give vape products to anyone under 19-years-old. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would regulate retail sales of the products, just as they do tobacco products. Retailers would have to obtain an annual permit, which includes an application fee of $300. Retailers would also have to comply with relevant FDA regulations and post signage warning of the dangers of nicotine usage.

Using vape products in certain places, including schools and child care facilities, would be prohibited.

‘This is something that is nonpartisan, it’s not anything that is about Republican or Democrat. This is something about our young people,” Drummond said. “Because if you look at the amount of nicotine that is showing up in these products, when they first hit the market, the nicotine levels were very low – like five percent. Now, it’s gone up to about ten percent. They’ve got other chemicals in there, like formaldehyde. What is the effect of that upon the brains of our kids? So, this is more of a public wellbeing bill for us.”

Stringer advised that he foresees widespread support in the legislature for the bill.

“Everyone agrees that there has to be some checks and balances [oversight] in place,” he concluded.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

60 mins ago

House Majority Leader Ledbetter predicts Alabama to ‘move to number one’ nationally in automotive production after Port of Mobile expansion

Tuesday on Huntsville’s WVNN radio, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said he did not think it would be very long before Alabamians started to see tangible benefits of the Rebuild Alabama Act.

The legislation that was recently signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey after she called a special session will raise the gasoline tax six cents in September, then add an additional two cents in 2020 and 2021.

According to the DeKalb County Republican, road projects could start as early as the summer given the bill will allow for counties to bond half of the revenue the additional tax will generate that is distributed to the counties.

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“I really think it will be this summer,” Ledbetter said. “I think we’ll see it immediately, and the reason I say that is inside that bill there is a mechanism that the counties can use half of their money to bond with. So, I know there’s mine – I talked to the president of my county commission, and we’re looking at bonding half of that money. So if that happens, you’re going to see a lot of paving going down, and I think it will be significant, especially on those roads we can’t get buses across, or you know, the transportation has been limited due to the fact of the road conditions.”

Ledbetter also predicted one of the aspects of the law, which is to expand the Port of Mobile, will generate a positive impact statewide, especially with regards to the automotive industry.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” he said. “The thing I think we’ll see – Alabama rank third as far as automotive manufacturing in the country. I think we’ll move to number one. I really do. I think this is that big of a game changer. I think aerospace engineering, and some of those jobs going to the port, building airplanes and building the ships – we’re going to move up the ladder because we got availability in the port to bring the ships in and out, the post-Panamax ships we hadn’t seen.”

“You know, the sad part about it is we build all these automobiles in Alabama – a lot of those were being shipped out of Savannah because we can’t get them out of our port,” Ledbetter added. “I think once this happens, we’ll see the roll off-roll on where we’ll be carrying cars to Mobile from Huntsville, from Lincoln, from here in Montgomery to see them delivered, or shipped out from Mobile.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

1 hour ago

7 Things: ‘Clean lottery’ bill may not be clean, Trump says Democrats can’t ‘pack the court’ which they are saying they want to do, bills to ‘Build the Wall’ and end Common Core are introduced and more …

7. President Donald Trump and conservatives vs. social media giants

— Earlier this week, Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) sued Twitter and some users over harassment, shadow-banning, censorship and facilitating defamation. Part of his claim is that their content-based moderation makes them responsible for what is on their platform. President Trump has also jumped into the fray, saying Twitter and Facebook are targeting Republicans for censorship and Congress needs to get to the “bottom” of it.

6. A new potential candidate emerges in GOP primary race — She’s a former Miss America

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— The race to face Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in the 2020 general election is on and former Miss Alabama, and Miss America, Heather Whitestone McCallum is reportedly polling the race, which most see as a potential prelude to entering the contest. The weak incumbent is already attracting big names like Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Mobile), who is in the race. Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) and failed 2017 candidate Roy Moore are possible candidates as well.

5. The U.S. Supreme Court says crime-breaking illegal aliens can be held after their sentences are complete

— The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could detain non-citizens who have committed crimes that would make them deportable. The law says the government must arrest these illegal immigrants when they are released from custody and then process them through an immigration court. The problem arose when the individuals were not held instantly and instead were picked up years later. Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that “neither the statute’s text nor its structure” spoke in favor of the ACLU or illegal immigrants’ positions.

4. Information that led to the raid on Michael Cohen’s office was part of a long-term investigation

— The unsealed warrants and documents that have been released give everybody something to hang their hat on. We already know Cohen pleaded guilty to tax crimes, campaign finance violations, false statements to a bank and lying to Congress, but the search warrants show federal prosecutors also suspected that Cohen could have violated foreign lobbying laws and committed money laundering. He was not charged with those crimes. Nothing released shows any collusion, which is really what everyone really wants to hear about, yay or nay.

3. Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is offering two pieces of  legislation conservatives will love 

— You may be able to help “Build the Wall” by checking a box on your tax return after the Senate leader proposed a bill that would allow a taxpayer to voluntarily send a portion to of their state income tax refund to an organization called We Build the Wall, Inc. Marsh is also offering a bill to repeal Common Core in Alabama. More interestingly, the bill would forbid the state board from taking on any national standards in any subject. As Senate pro tem, Marsh is in a good position to get his bills on the floor of the Alabama State Senate.

2. Democrats are advocating to expand the Supreme Court; President Donald Trump says it is not going to happen

— Multiple Democratic candidates for the presidency and one “conservative” talk show host have made it clear that they would like to fracture some of the norms that our society has held dear for centuries. They want to undo the Electoral College and “pack the Supreme Court.” The president has made it clear he is not interested in the game, saying, “I wouldn’t entertain that.” Trump added, “I can guarantee it won’t happen for six years. We have no interest in that whatsoever.” While the media pretends this isn’t what Democrats are saying, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) and South Bend Mayor Peter Buttigieg have all suggested some form of it.

1. Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) has officially filed a lottery bill that he called a “clean bill”; The Poarch Band of Creek Indians don’t agree

— The next controversial bill for the Alabama legislature has finally been filed, and a lottery is going to get its day in the legislative body. There are two bills that really do one thing: One bill allocates the revenue from any lottery into a clean split with 50 percent for both budgets, and the other bill creates a constitutional amendment that would legalize a lottery that would put the amendment up for a vote of the people in the 2020 primary elections. McClendon says this is a “clean bill” that would keep casino card and table games illegal in Alabama. It would also protect facilities that are running questionable electronic bingo and allow them to run virtual lottery terminals, which is essentially a slot machine with extra steps.

 

5 hours ago

Del Marsh files bill to give immunity for saving animals from hot car deaths

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) announced Tuesday that he has filed a bill that would give immunity to any person in Alabama who rescues an animal from a car if they believe that the life of that animal is at risk.

“This is a simple bill, but one that is critical especially as the weather begins to warm up here in Alabama,” Marsh said in a statement. “As I travel around my district and even across the state, I have heard from many people that this is an issue that is very important to them.”

If enacted, this bill, SB61, would only allow for immunity from prosecution if a person believes the life of the animal in a hot car is in danger and breaks into the car to rescue them. Before attempting the rescue, a person must contact police or animal control to inform them of the situation and remain at the scene until authorities arrive to investigate.

“This bill is to protect people who are doing the right thing and trying to rescue an animal whose life is in danger,” Marsh added.

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The bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

RELATED: Marsh’s bill to help build Trump’s wall receives committee approval

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

19 hours ago

Del Marsh moves to end Common Core in Alabama

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) filed a bill Tuesday that would repeal Common Core in the Yellowhammer State.

In a video, Marsh explained his bold move, which had not been anticipated by state political observers.

He said the bill would “eliminate Common Core in the state of Alabama.”

Marsh said, “In the past, I have let our [state] school board, who dictates education policy, have Common Core in place. But after ten years, the state of Alabama is 49th in math and 46th in reading. We can’t keep going in that direction. So today, I will introduce this bill and ask my colleagues to support it so we can eliminate Common Core and start a new direction for education in the state of Alabama.”

Watch:

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Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn