3 months 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

12 hours ago

Tuberville backs Alabama legislator’s bill making murder of on-duty first responder a capital offense

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville is backing HB 59, the bill passed by the Alabama Senate on Thursday that would make killing an on-duty first responder a capital offense.

The bill as amended and passed by the Senate names the proposed law in honor of slain Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sunday night.

Sponsored by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), HB 59 passed the House previously. The amended version goes back to the chamber for expected concurrence next week.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Tuberville applauded the legislature for the bill, especially thanking the Senate for the amendment in Buechner’s memory, which was put onto the legislation by State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

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“I commend the Alabama Senate on their bill which makes the murder of an on-duty first responder a capital offense,” Tuberville said. “Murdering a first responder in Alabama should be classified as a capital offense. Not just police officers are covered in this bill all first responders are covered!”

The bill adds on-duty first responders to the list of murder victims that constitutes a capital offense. State law already makes the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer or prison guard a capital offense.

Note the difference between a Class A felony murder charge and a capital murder charge: capital offenses in Alabama are punishable (unless the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime) by life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. Class A felonies are punishable by 10-99 years in prison, with stricter guidelines for offenders with prior criminal convictions.

Sells’ bill would also add on-duty law enforcement officers, prison guards and first responders as victims in the list of aggravating circumstances to a capital offense. This would make the death penalty more likely in the sentencing phase of this kind of capital offense.

In HB 59, first responders are defined as emergency medical services personnel licensed by the Alabama Department of Public Health and firefighters and volunteer firefighters as defined by existing state law.

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes has said he will seek the death penalty if the man charged with Buechner’s death is convicted on a capital murder charge.

Tuberville’s vocal support for the bill came the same day as Buechner’s funeral.

“Today, as Officer William Buechner is laid to rest, we celebrate his heroic life and the ultimate sacrifice he made to protect our citizens,” Tuberville emphasized.

On Friday, Tuberville also visited Auburn Police Department Officer Webb Sistrunk, who was critically wounded in the shooting that killed Buechner.

(T. Tuberville/Facebook)

“It was such an honor for me to visit with Webb Sistrunk, one of the brave Auburn police officers who was shot earlier this week,” Tuberville shared.

Tuberville with Mark Sistrunk, the officer’s father (Contributed)

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

13 hours ago

‘Our hero’: Slain Auburn officer’s neighborhood lights up blue to honor him

Neighbors of murdered Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner are backing the blue in a very visible way, honoring the fallen hero’s life of selfless service.

As reported by WSFA, the Opelika subdivision that Buechner and his family lived in is showing their solidarity en masse.

In a moving tribute, many of the neighborhood’s homes have replaced their regular porch lights with blue lights, shining proudly in Buechner’s memory.

Tracy McDaniel is among those neighbors paying tribute to the officer and beloved community member.

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Tracy McDaniel’s home, as contributed by her. (Sally Pitts/Facebook)

McDaniels’ home is far from the exception. One photo shows an entire street the neighborhood turned blue to honor the fallen officer.

Photo by Samantha Xaysombath Smith (WSFA/Twitter)

“William was a lot of great things. A great man, friend, husband, and father, police officer, neighbor, the list goes on,” Smith explained. “His son will grow up to learn that his daddy was a hero, and we will forever remember that he was our hero too.”

Another woman in the neighborhood, who asked to remain anonymous when speaking with WSFA, said she was aware of at least 15 homes participating in the special tribute but expected that number to increase.

“We all have rallied to find each other more lightbulbs,” the woman said, “and contact those who have been out of town or may need assistance reaching their fixtures. It’s been a true team effort.”

The lights are reportedly expected to remain on at least through Saturday, the day after Buechner’s funeral.

Buechner is survived by his wife of three years, Sara; son, Henry; and step-daughter, McKenna.

“This village we speak of, he knows we will take care of Sara and the family,” Smith added. “After all, it does take a village. We back the blue.”

There has been a GoFundMe set up for Buechner’s family.

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

14 hours ago

Palmer introduces bill to stop federal funding of anti-ICE ‘sanctuary airports’

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) is taking a major stand against airports in liberal strongholds that try to subvert federal law.

Palmer’s office on Thursday announced that the Birmingham-area congressman has introduced the PLANE Act, the Prohibiting Local Airports from Neglecting Enforcement Act (H.R. 2955).

In April, an airport in Seattle, Washington, banned flights known collectively as “ICE Air,” which included flights that deported illegal immigrants or transported detainees to the appropriate detention center.

If passed, the PLANE Act would withhold federal grants from airports that violate grant agreements by attempting similar action, such as imposing unreasonable conditions or restrictions on airplanes operating under ICE or other contracted government agencies.

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“Airports that refuse to cooperate with ICE should not receive federal grants,” Palmer said in a statement.

“The rule of law must not be thwarted by so-called ‘sanctuary airports,’ especially when they potentially delay the removal of people accused of crimes like human trafficking and rape,” he added. “Political posturing cannot be permitted when an airport has agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in exchange for federal funds.”

Palmer is now serving as the chair the Republican Policy Committee, which is the fifth highest ranking leadership role amongst Republicans in the United States House of Representatives.

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

14 hours ago

Rumors and Rumblings, 2nd Ed. Vol. VIII

“Rumors and Rumblings” is a regular feature on Yellowhammer News. It is a compilation of the bits and pieces of information that we glean from conversations throughout the week.

Enjoy.

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1. Hey Arnold! State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) caused a bit of a stir this week when he introduced a request to censure State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) for comments Rogers made during the chamber’s debate of the abortion bill. Numerous GOP House members were upset by the move, not so much for the substance of the request as much as for the timing — and the perceived motivation behind it.

The request came as the body was attempting to address a “ten-minute” calendar of bills. The aim of a ten-minute calendar is to quickly dispose of some of the more mundane pieces of legislation with the idea being that each member gets ten minutes to pass their bill or else the House moves on to the next item. As soon as Mooney introduced his letter of censure, the environment in the chamber became hostile, resulting in an adjournment and the end of the calendar. Dozens of members lost the opportunity, at that point at least, to pass their individual pieces of legislation, including an anti-human trafficking bill and legislation to help feed needy children in the state.

Some members wondered why Mooney waited nine days to introduce his letter. His letter was dated May 13 and not introduced until May 22. This event came on the heels of Mooney previously sending out a campaign letter to supporters questioning the ideological bearings of his fellow Republican legislators. When asked if Mooney had expressed any of these concerns to the GOP caucus at-large prior to his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, one member responded, “No. He had not.”

2. A tale of two cities. As Mooney spent the week trying to burnish the type of outsider credentials attractive to Club for Growth, another one of his colleagues spent his week in D.C. trying, presumably, to lay a similar foundation. State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) was boots on the ground in the nation’s capital this week. Dismukes has let it be known that he was contemplating his own run for the U.S. Senate. He has done a fair job of keeping those cards close to the vest, although his trip to Washington would lend to the notion that he continues to have interest in a federal office.

The mathematical side effect of Dismukes’ absence nearly reached a heightened level of consequence. Consideration of any legislation prior to the passage of both budgets requires a 3/5 vote of those in the body voting. The lottery failed this week because it did not receive the required 3/5 threshold of those voting. In Dismukes’ absence from the state, someone voted his machine on his behalf as an abstention rather than simply not voting at all. He was the only legislator to vote to abstain. This still raises the threshold of required votes.

There were 90 total members that voted — which means the lottery needed 54 votes to proceed. It only received 53. Had someone not voted Dismukes’ machine and 89 members had voted, the lottery would still have needed 54 votes but by a much slimmer margin since 3/5 of 89 equals 53.4. That’s how close the lottery came to advancing to full consideration by the House.

3. Is broadband really a priority for members of the Alabama House? While the state legislature’s budget negotiations have been relatively smooth so far this session, there is one major issue that has seemingly popped up at the last minute.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Senate Finance and Taxation Education Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) put $30 million in the Senate-passed Education Trust Fund Budget for the state’s rural broadband grant program established last year by State Senator Clay Scofield’s (R-Guntersville) landmark legislation.

As the legislature continues to work on beefing up last year’s legislation through Scofield’s SB 90 this year, the House is now seemingly set to slash the broadband funding approved by the Senate. The House Ways and Means Education Committee this week approved an education budget that cut the broadband funding by 73%, dragging the total down from $30 million to only $8 million.

Proponents of the larger number have said that there is not a better use of one-time money than to expand broadband services across the state. Will Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) and the House at-large work with the Senate and restore the important broadband funding?

4. Art of the Deal. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) once again proved his master negotiating skills this week, securing a crucial disaster relief package deal against seemingly insurmountable differences between the increasingly polarized factions in Washington, D.C.

This package will provide much-needed aid to many in the Yellowhammer State, including those in southeast Alabama devastated by Hurricane Michael.

Shelby bridged the gap between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, while even managing to get President Donald Trump to drop his demands to include non-disaster related earmarks in the package — a concession that was key to getting enough votes in the Senate and House. The legislation quickly passed the Senate 85-8 Thursday before a lone House member objected to its unanimous passage on Friday. The House can take the legislation up after Memorial Day on Tuesday, when it is expected to overwhelmingly pass that chamber and then be signed into law.

One keen observer told Yellowhammer News that this type of achievement will not make nearly the number of headlines it should back at home, but once again Shelby has delivered for his state as he continues to cement his legacy as “Alabama’s greatest statesman.”

15 hours ago

Alabama legislature passes bill to ensure accuracy in meat labeling

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday took steps to ensure that the definition of “meat” when applied to food labeling should only apply to products sourced from livestock on farms and ranches and harvested through processing; the bill clarifies that laboratory-grown products may not be labeled as meat, protecting Yellowhammer State consumers from potentially misleading packaging.

In a unanimous vote, the Senators passed HB 518, sponsored by State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens) and State Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay). The bill was previously passed by the House 97-2 and now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

“This is proactive legislation to ensure clarity in food labeling. Around the country, there are more and more companies trying to market lab-grown products as meat, which is misleading since they aren’t derived from actual livestock production,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions pointed out that the nutritional and safety risks of foods developed in labs from animal cell cultures are still unknown.

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“These new lab-produced foods are, at best, synthetic meats, and their nutritional effects are unknown right now. Let’s see how the science develops through further research, and make a clear distinction between meat that is farm-raised on the one hand, and lab-based products on the other,” he advised.

The beef cattle industry represents a $2.5 billion industry in Alabama and is the number two agricultural commodity in the Yellowhammer State, with over 20,000 cattle farms. Beef continues to be a favorite protein among consumers worldwide, with exports of American beef representing an $8 billion industry by itself.

“The Alabama Cattlemen’s Association represents over 10,000 members across the state. As alternative proteins enter the marketplace in coming years, we think it is imperative that the integrity of all meat labels are protected and clear for consumers when they go to the meat case,” Erin Beasley, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattleman’s Association, commented.

She concluded, “The passage of this bill is a win-win for the consumers who love to buy beef, and the cattlemen who work hard to produce a high-quality product. We would like to thank the Alabama Legislature for the support of this bill, and especially Senator David Sessions and Representative Danny Crawford for carrying the bill.”

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