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5 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)

3 hours ago

Aderholt named ranking member of appropriations subcommittee critical to north Alabama’s economy

On Tuesday, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) was named ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, which funds NASA and the FBI, amongst other important economic engines.

In a statement, Aderholt said, “It is a great honor to be named the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science. This subcommittee is certainly important to America, but even more so for North Alabama.”

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“This subcommittee is directly responsible for funding NASA and the FBI, along with the Department of Commerce,” Aderholt explained. “The FBI and NASA are two very important agencies to the economy of not only Huntsville, but also the northern portion of our state. NASA, of course, has a long history in this region and gave rise to Huntsville’s name as the Rocket City. And in just the past few years, the FBI has built a presence on Redstone Arsenal and is in the process of growing to a level of approximately 4,000 jobs.”

The congressman concluded, “With my leadership on this subcommittee, I will work to ensure that North Alabama continues to lead as we return to the moon, put boots on Mars and travel into deep space. And with the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School, and growing footprint in North Alabama, I will also be a voice to let my colleagues know that North Alabama is in a prime position to be a hub for matters concerning our national security.”

Aderholt also serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

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

4 hours ago

Is Doug Jones a foot soldier in the Democrat Civil War for taking a shot at liberal darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

If you are Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) right now, you probably know you have almost no chance of being elected to a full term as a United State senator.

This obviously could change. Roy Moore could continue to crave the spotlight and enter a Republican primary field in 2020, but this is obviously a long-shot for him.

Complicating Jones’ life right now is a number of new Democratic members of the House of Representatives. They are outspoken, silly and contrary to the carefully crafted image Jones wants to sell to Alabama. Jones wants to be Mr. Moderate, a conservative-ish Democrat in the mold of former Congressman Bud Cramer (D-Huntsville), but he can’t do that if he is constantly dealing with a 24-hour news cycle where his fellow Democrats are acting nuts.

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Jones seems to know this, and the clearest way to distinguish himself from members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is to directly scold her to The Hill.

He said, “I think it skews what’s really there for the Democratic Party.”

Jones seems to want to differentiate himself from Ocasio-Cortez’s brand of non-stop Twitter trolling will endear her to the same media that can’t let a Trump tweet go without an analysis of its impact. But Jones didn’t stop there. He also thinks this style of bomb-throwing is ineffective politics.

“When it gets time to get things done, that’s what people are going to be looking at — they’re going to be looking at the middle-of-the-roaders because it’s the only way to get anything done,” Jones stated.

If recent history is any judge, Ocasio-Cortez will not let these comments slide without a response. The fight for the soul of the Democratic Party is on and Jones will likely find himself out-gunned and without many powerful allies.

In response to similar criticism from former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Ocasio-Cortez responded with the following tweet:

Will Jones double-down or will he slink back to his backbench for fear of his party’s base if she hits back?

For now, Jones sounds like he thinks his voters want him to get stuff done, but considering that Jones’ main accomplishment at this point in his Senate career is his vote against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation it is likely most Alabama voters would prefer he enjoys his time in Washington D.C. as a spectator before being sent home in 2020.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN

4 hours ago

Trump AG nominee: Sessions ‘probably did the right thing’ in recusing himself from Russia probe

Attorney General-nominee William Barr on Tuesday said Jeff Sessions “probably did the right thing” in recusing himself from the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign, according to The Washington Post.

Barr previously served as attorney general from 1991-1993. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr was asked by committee chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the probe because he was involved in the Trump campaign.

“I am not sure of all of the facts, but I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself,” Barr said.

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This came the day after Sessions attended Alabama’s Inaugural Day festivities, including the swearing-in ceremony for all statewide elected officials and reception for state Attorney General Steve Marshall.

During Marshall’s event in the attorney general’s office building, Sessions said, “Do the right thing every day and usually things will work out… [well,] not always.”

After the laughter of the room started to subside, he added, “At least in the United States, when they fire you, they don’t shoot you like they do in some countries.”

Sessions’ relationship with President Donald Trump was eroded by the recusal and the president’s public attacks on both that decision and Sessions personally. He resigned at the request of the president in November.

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

5 hours ago

State Sen. Gerald Allen responds to judge striking down Alabama Memorial Preservation Act — ‘Judges are not kings’

On Tuesday afternoon, State Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the sponsor of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, criticized Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

Graffeo made the ruling Monday.

“Under the Constitution, judges are to be neutral umpires who apply the rule of law fairly,” Allen said in a statement. “A judge’s personal beliefs, whether about politics, sociology, or history, have no bearing on how he is to apply the law.”

He continued, “Judge Graffeo has taken it upon himself to know and declare that it is ‘undisputed’ that the majority of residents of Birmingham are ‘repulsed’ by the Linn Park monument, and has thus ruled the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act void. But judges are not kings, and judicial activism is no substitute for the democratic process.”

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“The Memorial Preservation Act is meant to thoughtfully preserve the entire story of Alabama’s history for future generations. The law was vigorously debated for months by the people of Alabama’s duly-elected representatives in the State Legislature, and passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate,” Allen advised.

He concluded, “The Attorney General’s Office is confident that the Memorial Preservation Act is constitutional, and I look forward to the Attorney General’s appeal of Judge Graffeo’s ruling.”

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

5 hours ago

Judge voids Alabama law protecting Confederate monuments

A judge has overturned an Alabama law meant to prevent the removal of Confederate monuments from public property, ruling the act infringed on the rights of citizens in a mostly black city who are “repulsed” by the memorial.

The 10-page ruling issued late Monday by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo said a 2017 state law barring the removal or alteration of historical monuments wrongly violated the free speech rights of local communities.

The law cannot be enforced, Graffeo ruled, but the state could still appeal.

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The attorney general’s comment had no immediate response to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

The state sued the city of Birmingham after officials tried to remove a 52-foot-tall (16-meter)-tall obelisk that was erected to honor Confederate veterans in a downtown park in 1905.

Rather than toppling the stone marker, the city built a 12-foot (3.6-meter)-tall wooden box around it.

Birmingham’s population of 210,000 is more than 70 percent black, and the judge said it was indisputable that most citizens are “repulsed” by the memorial.

He rejected the state’s claims that lawmakers had the power to protect historical monuments statewide.

The law includes a $25,000 penalty for removing or altering a historical monument, but the judge said the penalty was unconstitutional.

The city has not had to pay while the lawsuit worked its way through court.

The ruling came hours after the inauguration of Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who signed the law and opened her campaign last year with a commercial that prominently showed Confederate monuments.

“We can’t change or erase our history, but here in Alabama we know something that Washington doesn’t. To get where we are going means understanding where we have been,” Ivey said in the ad.

Supporters of the law contend it protects not just Confederate memorials but historical markers of any kind, but rebel memorials have been an issue nationwide since a white supremacist gunman killed nine worshippers in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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