1 year ago

ALGOP talks gas tax at annual meeting – ‘You can’t just say no’

BIRMINGHAM — After a harmonious slate of officer elections Saturday, the Alabama Republican Party’s annual winter state executive committee meeting got heated.

The festivities came to a head when a resolution authored by Morgan County’s Tom Fredricks was brought to the floor. The resolution, aimed at the upcoming state legislative session that begins March 5, concluded that the party “reject[s] any increase to the current state fuel tax.”

However, that is not the conclusion Fredricks wanted people to reach. In fact, he told Yellowhammer News Friday night that he supports Alabama Policy Institute’s position on the gas tax, which explicitly says, “It is possible to be a conservative and still debate an increase in taxes.”

When it comes to his own resolution, Fredricks said, “The intent is to hold the level of cumulative taxation [at 8.7 percent].”

API’s proposal lays out a pathway to a revenue neutral gas tax increase that is premised on finding offsetting tax decreases elsewhere.

Former state Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) had worked with Fredricks to reword his original resolution to better fit the author’s intended result, but Fredricks the day before the meeting scrapped the substitute version the two had agreed to and reverted back to the original.

This led to shouting matches between members of the party’s executive committee Saturday, with many people worried that the resolution as presented was not worded in a constructive way.

The version of Fredricks’ resolution that made it to the floor. (S.Ross/YHN)

For example, in contrast to the version that reached the floor, the substitute resolution concluded, “THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that we reject any increase in the current state fuel tax that is not met with an equal reduction elsewhere in existing state revenue and that does not prevent an increase in the ratio of per capita cumulative state and local tax burden to average income.”

After a lot of back and forth and confusion over what was actually being debated (you can read the live-tweet thread here), the Alabama Republican Party executive committee voted to adopt Fredricks’ original resolution.

Dial Time

In an interview with Yellowhammer News after the proceedings, executive committee member and former state Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) said that he wanted his fellow state executive committee members to trust the governor and the legislators that they helped elect. Dial unsuccessfully tried to substitute Fredricks’ resolution for something expressing just that on the floor.

“We elected them – a supermajority – and the governor ran on that platform. She told everybody, ‘I’m for fixing infrastructure.’ Now we’re telling the governor, ‘Hey, you can fix infrastructure but if you do you’re going to have to let 2,000 prisoners out, you’re going to have to take 200 troopers off the roads, you’re going to have to do away with a lot of the programs that you’ve got out there that the people demand. If you’re going to raise taxes over here, then you’ve got to take it off somewhere else,'” he outlined.

Dial added, “So, I don’t think these people – these people are just hollering, ‘I don’t want taxes.’ They don’t understand: this is a user fee. If you ride a bicycle, you don’t pay a gas tax. If you drive two miles to work, you don’t pay as much as you do if I drive 20 miles.”

“I voted for the tax increase in [1992], and if it wasn’t for that, these people would’ve come down here [to Birmingham] on mud. Most of ’em wouldn’t have gotten here if we hadn’t had that increase,” he said.

Dial lamented a lack of awareness that a large portion of gas tax revenues in Alabama is paid by people from outside of the state just traveling through the Yellowhammer State.

“Twenty-five percent of the people who will pay that tax are out-of-staters,” he explained. “Speaker McCutcheon and I two years ago did statewide roundabout public hearings. We went from Mobile to Dothan to Huntsville to Birmingham and such and we heard the complaints, we heard the industry, we heard the people tell us that the number two thing you look at when you come to a state to do site selection is infrastructure. Workforce is one, infrastructure is two. And [some state party members] just want to throw it to the bottom. But, the legislature will work through it.”

The former state senator also spoke about Trump’s support of raising the gas tax to fund infrastructure improvements. While the state party talked at length about proudly supporting the president during the annual winter dinner on Friday and the meeting on Saturday, Dial saw the state party’s vote on Fredricks’ resolution as opposition to Trump and his policy.

“And the other thing, if we don’t do something, we will not have the state money to match the federal money [that could be made available by the Trump Administration for infrastructure],” he warned. “It’ll go to New York and California, and we won’t get our federal tax dollars back.”

Pittman – “You can’t just say no”

In an interview with Yellowhammer News after Fredricks’ resolution passed, Pittman also emphasized that taxing gas is a user fee.

He mentioned that he and Fredricks view API’s proposal as a good model of what they could support – something that does indeed raise the state gas tax in order to improve infrastructure investments but is offset by tax cuts elsewhere so as to not increase the tax burden on the average Alabamian.

“I think that there is a move afoot that Tom [Fredricks] and I were trying to work on, that API’s doing… and I think that’s what needed to be [put to a vote of the state executive committee],” Pittman outlined. “In the legislature, it’s awful hard when the party sits there and talks about how they just elected a supermajority and how strong they are, then you have to govern. Governing means you have to make tough choices and tough decisions. You can’t just say no.”

Asked why that compromise – a framework or guidelines similar to what API proposed – did not make it to the floor as a substitute to Fredricks’ original resolution as they had agreed to, Pittman responded, “I think that there were powers that be, just people that wanted to draw a hardline position.”

“The fact is that there is a reasonable suggestion in both of these resolutions that says, ‘Hey, if we’re going to increase one, then we’re going to make it revenue neutral,” he said.

Pittman stressed that even in the version of the resolution that ended up passing, the intent was to convey they do not want “an overall increase in the tax burden.” Given this intent, which was put into words in the “whereas” portions of the now-passed resolution, Pittman sees enough wiggle room for legislators to operate and still pass a gas tax increase without going against the ALGOP.

“I think that even though the press is probably going to pick up that the Republican Party objected to the increase, what they really said is that, ‘No increase without an equal reduction somewhere else.’ The press a lot of time just wants to stir debate – what actually passed still leaves the flexibility for the legislature to relocate revenue streams,” he explained.

Pittman specifically pointed to the “regressive” grocery tax as something that could be trimmed, which was suggested in API’s proposal. Pittman also spoke to the fact that gas tax money goes into the general fund while most grocery tax revenue goes into the education trust fund.

“The education budget’s in pretty good shape,” he advised. “They’ve got these surpluses, so there’s a legitimate argument about reducing the grocery tax a little bit, putting it in infrastructure. Which will then increase trafficability, which is an economic improvement, increase safety, save peoples’ lives. You put a lot of people to work…the aggregate – the sand, the asphalt, the equipment – and the people would be a great economic impact – you get income tax, more income tax, more revenue from that. When you improve roads, you improve trafficability, which improves economic activity… so I think the argument can be made if the education budget were to give up a little bit, then they would also – and also because they are flush.”

State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), who is slated to carry the infrastructure bill in the legislature, is chairman of the Ways and Means Education Committee. This committee has jurisdiction over the education trust fund in the House.

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

8 hours ago

Fmr Gov. Don Siegelman appears to be using outrage over George Floyd to sell new book

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to sell his new book is using robocalls that appear to reference the current unrest over George Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody.

On Thursday afternoon, a Yellowhammer News reporter received a robocall from 1 (800) 890-5875, a number listed as “Robocaller” by the phone protection company NoMoRobo. The voiceover of the robocall was apparently recorded by Siegelman himself.

The message began, “Don Siegelman, your governor here. We’ve got to protect people from the abuse of power by police, prosecutors, or presidents.”

“My new book, Stealing our Democracy, is a wakeup call to action. It’s also number one among new releases on amazon.com,” the message added.

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An individual from the Wiregrass told Yellowhammer News that she also received the voicemail.

In addition to that, at least one Twitter user appeared to have received the robocall.

Siegelman was convicted on June 29, 2006, of conspiracy, bribery and fraud.

The former Alabama Democratic governor appeared to lump in his claimed unjust treatment by the authorities with the death of George Floyd.

Listen:

Siegelman is currently promoting his new book “Stealing Our Democracy.”

Yellowhammer News’ request for comment from Siegelman was not immediately returned. A message was left on his personal cell phone number.

He claimed the book is “#1 among new releases on amazon.com”

Yellowhammer News examined the new releases chart on Amazon.com, which revealed that Siegelman’s book is not in the top 100 best selling new releases.

However, the book is #1 in the sub-subcategory “Urban, State & Local Government Law.”

Urban, State & Local Government Law is one of 12 sub-subcategories of the “Administrative Law” subcategory.

The “Administrative Law” subcategory is one of 23 subcategories under the category “Law.”

“Law” is one of 36 categories into which Amazon divides the kinds new-release books that it sells.

As a matter of record, the book is only available for pre-order. It has not been released to the public yet.

The former governor’s book claims that his downfall and conviction of felony bribery were part of a politically motivated prosecution coordinated by Karl Rove.

His book will be released to the public on June 16.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

9 hours ago

Two charged with capital murder in slaying of Moody PD officer

Two suspects have been charged with capital murder in the case of slain Moody Police Department officer Stephen Williams.

The two suspects are 27-year-old male Tapero Corlene Johnson and 28-year-old female Marquisha Anissa Tyson. Both are from Birmingham and will be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

At a press conference Friday, St. Clair County Sheriff Billy Murray described said the investigation is still continuing and described it as “complex and intense.”

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Williams was posthumously promoted to lieutenant at the press conference on Thursday by Moody Police Chief Thomas Hunt.

Hunt said Williams had remarked at times that he would like to achieve the rank of lieutenant someday, and now he will forever be known as Lt. Stephen Williams.

The District Attorney for St. Clair County said the two suspects had been in police custody since the shooting on Tuesday night.

Investigators say they have determined that Johnson and Tyson fired weapons at Williams who was responding to a disturbance at a Super 8 Motel.

A GoFundMe page to help Williams’ family has been raising money in recent days.

Williams served the public as a police officer for 23 years before being killed in the line of duty this week.

Governor Kay Ivey commented on the incident earlier in the week, saying Williams “died a hero.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

10 hours ago

Data shows Alabama nursing homes performing better than national average for COVID-19 cases, deaths

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday released facility-specific COVID-19 data for nursing homes across the United States, and an analysis of the data shows Alabama fairing better than the national average.

The data was collected on a mandatory basis by the CDC and currently covers through the week ending on May 31.

Nationwide, the average number of confirmed coronavirus cases per 1,000 residents in nursing homes was 91.2, while the average number of deaths from the disease per 1,000 residents was 30.2.

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In Alabama, both of those numbers were significantly lower than the national average, at 64.9 and 20.9, respectively.

Alabama Nursing Home Association president and CEO Brandon Farmer issued a statement on the data’s release.

“According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Alabama nursing homes report fewer cases of COVID-19 per 1,000 residents and fewer deaths from COVID-19 per 1,000 residents than the national average,” he confirmed.

“Because we are on the front lines of fighting COVID-19, we expect the number of COVID-19 cases to rise as more tests are administered and the data is added to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) system. The Alabama Nursing Home Association hopes this data will be used to prioritize resources for skilled nursing facilities,” Farmer advised.

“Alabama nursing homes have been transparent from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he continued. “Our members have reported cases to their local county health department and the Alabama Department of Public Health from the start. In May, we began reporting cases to the CDC. Facilities also inform residents and their family representatives and employees of cases in their buildings. We are following the guidelines set forth by the multiple state and federal agencies that regulate our sector. No other business or health care provider reports COVID-19 cases to more government entities and people than nursing homes.”

Nationwide, nursing homes reported 95,515 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 31,782 deaths through May 31. Nursing homes in Alabama reported 1,000 confirmed cases and 335 deaths.

Moving forward, CMS will release the next round of data on June 18. After that date, new data should be released weekly.

“The Alabama Nursing Home Association and its members will continue to work with local, state and federal leaders to address the needs of nursing home residents and employees,” Farmer concluded.

The CMS data can be viewed here.

As of Friday at 2:00 p.m., the Alabama Department of Public Health reported 19,073 total confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, with 672 deaths.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

NFIB survey of Alabama business owners shows ongoing COVID-19 related fears

A new study from the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) showed that an overwhelming majority of proprietors are nervous about several aspects of how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their business.

Yellowhammer News reported in the first week of May that 70% of the NFIB’s membership across the United States was concerned about individuals filing frivolous lawsuits claiming a business had caused them to catch COVID-19.

A poll from the Alabama division of NFIB this week shows that 69% of businesses in the Yellowhammer State remain nervous about lawsuits, and roughly equal amounts are worried whether customers might come back and that it may prove difficult to comply with ongoing regulations.

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The top results of the survey as follows:

  • 70% of owners say they’re very or moderately concerned about getting customers back.
  • 69% are concerned about managing the health and safety of their customers; 66% are concerned about managing the health and safety of employees.
  • 69% are concerned with having to comply with new regulations related to the coronavirus.
  • 68% are concerned about finding an adequate supply of supplies such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant.

NFIB state director Rosemary Elebash told Yellowhammer News Friday that the survey was administered to businesses in every county and every city with a significant population.

“It wasn’t just NFIB members,” Elebash added about the survey, saying the group had worked with a number of trade associations to increase the amount of responses.

The NFIB also continues to strongly support Senator Arthur Orr’s (R-Decatur) bill to grant civil immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits to businesses in Alabama.

Elebash noted in a release that Orr’s bill would be “one of NFIB’s top priorities” if Governor Kay Ivey calls a special session later in the year.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

11 hours ago

Tuberville: Nationwide unrest linked to ‘education and jobs’

Many argue there is much more to the civil unrest across the nation than the lone incident in Minneapolis involving the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the police department. Former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville indicated he agrees with that.

During an appearance on Huntsville WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Tuberville, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said based on his interactions with people on the campaign trail, there is a longing to get back to a sense of normalcy in the wake of the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I speak to eight to ten places a day — groups are worried, obviously. I think they’re getting a little more confident they can go out and be around other people,” he said. “And we’re just hoping we can just put this pandemic, and it is a problem, it is serious — again, you’ve got to protect yourself. It’s not going away. It is still here, especially if you’re having health problems and those things. That will go away — but then all of a sudden we get hit with this civil unrest, and again — we’re all Americans. We’re all in this together. We’ve got to find a solution.”

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Tuberville said he is asked for his thoughts by voters while on the trail, to which he said he points to “education and jobs,” and the erosion of the American middle class.

“I had a group ask me today, ‘Coach, what do you think the problem is?’ Education and jobs. We don’t have a middle class anymore,” Tuberville stated. “There are people out there that don’t have the opportunity to advance in this country like they want to. This is not a black issue. This is not a white issue. This is an American issue. We shipped our jobs to China, bottom line. We’re finding out more and more about that every day, and we’ve got to give the opportunity for young men and women to have a chance to grow in this country, and give them a fair chance. Unfortunately, our middle class has dissipated. We have more drugs in this country, and a lot of people take other options. We got to understand — we’re all in this together, 340 million people. We’re either going to make it together or not make together.”

@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 Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.