The Wire

  • Black Bear Sightings Continue to Increase in Alabama

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    Add Jackson, Limestone, Marshall, Morgan and St. Clair counties to the growing list of black bear sightings in Alabama in 2018. In recent years, bears have also been recorded in Chambers, Elmore, Jefferson, Lee, Macon and Tallapoosa counties. These recent sightings are more evidence of the state’s expanding black bear population.

    Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources say the increase in sightings may be due to a combination of factors including changes in bear distribution, habitat fragmentation, seasonal movement and the summer mating season. However, most spring and summer bear sightings are of juvenile males being pushed out of their previous ranges by their mothers and other adult males.

    Historically, a small population of black bears have remained rooted in Mobile and Washington counties. Baldwin, Covington and Escambia counties on the Florida border host yet another population of bears. In northeast Alabama, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population.

    “While seeing a black bear in Alabama is uncommon and exciting, it is no cause for alarm,” said Marianne Hudson, Conservation Outreach Specialist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “There has never been a black bear attack on a human in Alabama.”

    Black bears are typically secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. Occasionally, a curious bear will explore a human-populated area in search of food.

    “If you are lucky enough to see a bear, simply leave it alone,” Hudson said.

  • Rep. Byrne Releases Statement on Russia

    From a Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this morning in Helsinki.

    Congressman Byrne said: “I applaud President Trump’s decision to start a dialogue with President Putin and I’m glad he is making it a priority. However, we must remember that Russia is not an ally – economically or militarily. They are an adversary. The United States should not tolerate actions by the Russians that intervene in our domestic affairs or pose a threat to our national security.”

  • Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Season Closes July 22

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division (MRD) announces the closure of Alabama state waters to the harvest of red snapper by private anglers and state-licensed commercial party boats at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 2018. The quota of 984,291 pounds issued under NOAA Fisheries’ Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) is expected to be met by the closure date.

    “Alabama anglers fished extremely hard on the good weather days during the season,” said Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “That level of effort, coupled with larger average-sized fish harvested this year as compared to last year, resulted in a daily harvest rate two times higher than 2017, which prompted an earlier than anticipated closure.

    “The purpose of the EFP was to demonstrate Alabama’s ability to establish a season and monitor landings within a fixed quota and I think we have shown we can do that,” said Bannon.

    Anglers are reminded of the following:

    — Possession of red snapper in Alabama waters while state waters are closed is prohibited regardless of where the fish were harvested.
    — Alabama anglers may fish in federal waters off the coast of Alabama (outside of 9 nm) and land in a state that is open to the landing of red snapper, but they must adhere to the open state’s rules and not transit in Alabama state waters with red snapper on board.
    — The season for federally-permitted charter for-hire vessels will close at 12:01 a.m. July 22.

2 years ago

WEEK 13: Comprehensive college football TV guide

Students storm the field following a 23-17 victory over the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in 2014. (Photo: Ole Miss Athletics)

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2 years ago

WEEK 12: Comprehensive college football TV guide

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2 years ago

AMENDMENT 2: Senator Clay Scofield lays out what’s on the line with the state parks

Neverthirst, an Alabama-based ministry, is building wells in some of the world's most impoverished places.

Scott:

So tell me about this Amendment 2 you have going on.

Sen. Scofield:

Well, Amendment 2 is a very important amendment that everybody remembers from last year when the Governor was talking about closing down some of the parks due to the funding crisis. Amendment 2 is a direct result to that and making sure that our parks are going to be fiscally stable and financially stable for years and years to come. Amendment 2 if passed I believe will do just that. The amendment does two things. First and foremost it will keep the legislature from transferring any of the money away from the park system but it does have a $50 million cap so there’s some people who are not real happy with the earmark. This is going to be different from any other earmark in that it is capped. Also, the other point on that is that the parks are a different type of state agency in that they actually make money for the state. You remember very well, Scott, whenever we would appropriate money to certain agencies what would they do with it? They spend it. The parks make money and so the problem has been that because they make money it has been ripe pickings to transfer that money out to anywhere else.

Scott:

And then the parks are not left with the capability to reinvest and then twenty years down the road and everybody says, “Hey the parks are falling in because we spent all the reinvestment money on other projects.”

Sen. Scofield:

That’s right and what does that do? That only drives up and prolongs the cost. The cost is still going to be there but because we don’t maintain it, it’s only going to go up. And so that’s the argument that I’ve been trying to make with this is that you have to understand really how the parks operate and why they operate. The other part has been a little more controversial and it’s really unwarranted. There have been some mistruths spread about it. Essentially what it does is levels the playing field so that all the parks can offer concessionaires. Most parks already are allowing concessionaires but a 1998 bonding issue forbids any of the parks that use that bond money to enter into concessionaires. This is not privatization as some have claimed. Privatization would be that the state is going to sell off the parks. Amendment 2 does not, let me repeat, does not allow for privatization or selling off Alabama state parks.

Scott:

When you say “concessionaires” explain to the listeners what you’re talking about.

Sen. Scofield:

Well a concessionaire is for instance, we now have an attraction at Lake Guntersville State Park that’s a zipline attraction. Now, for us conservatives like Scott Beason this is about as good of a deal that you could ask for. We now have a zipline attraction at Lake Guntersville State Park but guess what? The state didn’t put up any money, the state assumes very little liability but the state gets a percentage of the profit off of it. So what’s that doing? That is another attraction that is available for the customers. It’s bringing more people in to Lake Guntersville State Park, increasing revenues and by the way, a lot of those people are coming from outside the state of Alabama. So what I’m trying to explain to people is this is a way that if we can invest in our state parks, if we can pass Amendment 2 that will allow investment in our state parks we can increase revenues in this state and not raise a dimes worth of tax.

Scott:

Hey Steve my producer has a question for you, Senator.

Steve:

I kind of want to build off of that because there’s just confusion in the wording there because this part that you’re talking about, the part that seems to be causing this confusion it’s talking about the “operation and management of non-state entities, hotels, golf courses, restaurants of any applicable state parks”. So we’re not talking about selling off the hotels we’re talking about allowing a private entity to manage it?

Sen. Scofield:

That is exactly correct. A lot of the people that are misconstruing this information or actually throwing this stuff out are not being truthful to the people of Alabama. Amendment 2 in no way shape or form allows privatization.

Scott:

We can’t get rid of the property but say you had the greatest company ever at running the golf course and they wanted to pay the state something to be able to run the golf course that’s already there is that the kind of situation that you’re talking about?

Sen. Scofield:

That’s exactly right. Now this is where we get into good business management. If the state does enter into concessionaires it has to go through a competitive bid process. There’s no “good old boy here”. I’m looking out for the people of Alabama, not the “good old boys” out there. They will have to submit proposals to the park system to run that golf course. If it’s not a good business plan the state is not going to take them up on it. If the state is making more money on what they could make through that concessionaire they’re not going to take them up on it. However, if the state is loosing money on that, they’re looking to close that and if someone comes forward that wants to operate it they can do so. So I would rather them closing that down that a concessionaire run it. A great example of this right now is Roland Cooper State Park. With all that talk of closing the parks, Roland Cooper State Park was one of the five state parks to close down in Alabama. But guess what? Now it is open and operated by a concessionaire and it is working perfectly and the local people there are continuing to see an economic impact there and are able to enjoy their park without it being closed.

Scott:

That’s a good point and its like everything as long as we have honest people overseeing these things that won’t be abused by a “good old boy” network. And sometimes you have to do what’s right and sometimes you have to trust people to do the right thing. Let me ask you the final question because we’re going to have to go to a break here in a second. What do you think happens if Amendment 2 does not pass?

Sen. Scofield:

I think there’s no question. We’re going to continue to see park facilities in decline. We’re going to continue to see the park system have to make very difficult choices that they do not want to make. In closing some of these parks some of these attractions that the people of Alabama enjoy that has a economic impact. Let me throw this number out at you. The state park system, essentially this money we’re talking about equals about $38 million dollars a year. Do you know what the annual economic impact of Alabama state parks has on the state of Alabama per year? $375 million dollars. So let’s revue that. So for the $38 million dollars we’re investing in our parks we’re realizing a $375 million dollar economic impact. Half of those people that come and visit our parks come from out of state so that is new money being infused into our economy without raising a dimes worth of taxes.

Scott:

Absolutely. Tourism is one of those things that’s like free money for the state. You and I both know that state parks, I wish made more tourism dollars but we’ll talk about that another day. Steve’s got another question.

Steve:

Senator Scofield, when it comes to dealing with state parks can you only do this through constitutional amendments or is there anything that the legislature could do outside of doing any constitutional amendments regarding state parks?

Sen. Scofield:

Well, you know they would have to stop transferring money out, you know? But again, this amendment will prevent that from happening in the future but the problem is you really have to understand how the park system works. We go back to the fact that the park system unlike other state agencies, makes money so it is ripe for the pickings. Because they’re looking at it like, “Oh here’s some money being generated, being created here. Let’s pull that and get some out.”

Scott:

Steve, they have the constitutional amendment to keep the legislators from passing budget items that would take the money from the state parks. It’s the only way to keep the legislators from continuing to dip into that trough and I have been there when after so many years of dipping in they come along and say, “Hey, we need to do a bond issue!”. Which means you and I have to pay the interest and all that kind of stuff because they did not keep up the facility. It’s the same thing for school buildings, etc., etc.. Government’s are lousy at maintaining their facilities because they know sometime in the future they can hit the taxpayers for a new one.

Steve:

I guess the thing that kind of brought up the question here, you had mentioned if the state votes “no” on this, that kind of made me wonder what if anything the Alabama legislature could do. I don’t know whether you happen to know this Senator Scofield, but do you by any chance know what the voting rate was as far as the support for putting this up on the ballot?

Sen. Scofield:

As far as the legislature? It was almost unanimous and it was bipartisan, both republicans and democrats. It had widespread support but hopefully the support is growing in the legislature for the parks which I believe it is. I believe that investment for the people of Alabama who spoke up and said, “We support our parks”. But if we can get Amendment 2 on the ballot then we can be assured that our parks are going to be in better financial shape for decades to come.

Scott:

Good point. Senator, I appreciate the call brother. Thanks for letting us know about Amendment 2.

Sen. Scofield:

Absolutely, thank y’all for having me and I just urge everyone to vote “yes” on Amendment 2 tomorrow. And let’s make Alabama state parks great again.

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2 years ago

WEEK 10: Comprehensive college football TV guide

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2 years ago

WEEK 9: Comprehensive college football TV guide

Flickr user Redbird310

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2 years ago

Exclusive Sneak peak: American sniper co-author to release epic new book

american-commander-slider

Congressman Ryan Zinke’s American Commander is the true story of the man who commanded many of the SEALs you know like Chris Kyle, Rob O’Neill, Marcus Luttrell, Brandon Webb and other decorated heroes. This exclusive Sneak Peek includes the Foreword by former Navy SEAL Rob O’Neill, who fired the shot that killed Osama bin Laden, plus two pivotal chapters.

Written with NY Times bestselling co-author Scott McEwen (American Sniper), American Commander takes you behind the scenes and into the heart of America’s most-feared fighting force. American Commander will be released on November 29, 2016, through W Publishing Group, an imprint of Thomas Nelson.

A 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy SEALs, Zinke is a decorated officer and earned two Bronze Stars as the acting Commander of Joint Special Forces in Iraq. Zinke trained and commanded many of the men who would one day run the covert operations to hunt down Osama bin Laden and save Captain Phillips (Maersk Alabama).

american-commander

In American Commander, Zinke shares what it takes to train and motivate the most celebrated group of warriors on earth and then send them into harm’s way. The book also covers Zinke’s experiences as the first Navy SEAL to be elected to the House of Representatives. His passion for his country shines as he conveys his vision to revitalize American exceptionalism. American Commander will inspire a new generation of leaders charged with restoring a bright future for our children’s children.

This exclusive FREE Sneak Peek is available at www.AmericanCommander.com through October 31st.

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2 years ago

WEEK 8: Comprehensive college football TV guide

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2 years ago

WEEK 7: Comprehensive college football TV guide

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2 years ago

WATCH: Alabama student epitomizes the success of school choice

faith-academy-student
By The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund

Kendri Moore is not just your average wide-eyed student starting her high school experience with tepid expectations. At Faith Academy in Mobile, her teachers and principal say she has found a home. Kendri’s family was desperate to get her out of a troubling situation she was in at the school she was zoned to attend. Kendri doesn’t mince words when talking about her experience at her old school, “It was a bully zone. Everyone got in fights in the Hallways.”

When her family discovered the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund provides dollars to pay for K-12 tuition for low income families, Kendri’s life changed. She enrolled in Faith Academy. “It’s very important to us that they feel loved every day when they walk through that door,” Faith Academy Principal Tim Skelton says. Kendri began to excel in subjects in school that even surprised her. She was chosen as the lead in school plays and has become confident in her studies excelling in her core classes. She’s says she feels safe at Faith Academy, “There’s not anything close to bullying or fighting here. It’s just a calm environment.”

Even in 9th grade, Kendri sees things clearly when it comes to education. “It’s about the environment of course and how safe the kids are. The adults already have their lives figured out. The kids are the ones trying to get a diploma in 12th grade.” This is a philosophy echoed by even the most seasoned professionals. CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, Billy Canary says “There’s a theory that no child should be given an academic death sentence because of his or her zip code. You decide where you go to school based on where you live, that’s not always going to work.”

Results from a PBS investigative series called, Too Important to Fail, show that every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity. Canary says, “The business community cannot sit on the sidelines simply because we are the largest consumer of the product education and we are the largest user of the workforce output.”
The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund helps thousands of children across Alabama reach their full potential by receiving dollars from companies and individuals who re-direct their state income tax liability. Last year, AOSF paid close to 12 million dollars to fund scholarships to students in 126 schools in 36 counties across the state.

Kendri is laying a path for her future, “I’m going to focus on musical drama. I am going to be a singer for people in depression.” Skelton is happy to talk about the progress Kendri has made since enrolling in Faith but sees education in his community as a mission. “It’s not about whether the public schools are good or bad or indifferent or great. It’s about the parent having the opportunity to put their kids in an environment where they can thrive.”

Kendri very simply says, “The teachers have already graduated and stuff so it’s not about them or the school it’s mostly about the kids.”

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2 years ago

WEEK 6: Comprehensive college football TV guide

Students storm the field following a 23-17 victory over the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in 2014. (Photo: Ole Miss Athletics)

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2 years ago

WEEK 5: Comprehensive college football TV guide

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2 years ago

Here are the 10 career fields with the most currently available jobs in Alabama

(Esther Max/Flickr)
(Photo by Flickr user Esther Max)
(Photo by Flickr user Esther Max)

From the Alabama Department of Labor

MONTGOMERY – Data collected and analyzed by the Alabama Department of Labor’s Labor Market Information Division shows that the most online wanted ads were for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, registered nurses, and retail salespersons, with 7,011 ads placed for those occupations in August. Overall ads were up over the month by 1,133.

The Help Wanted Online (HWOL) data is compiled from all online job postings in the state, including those posted on the state’s free online jobs database, www.joblink.alabama.gov, and other sources; such as traditional job boards, corporate boards, and social media sites. There were 42,410 online ads this month, 17,599 of those were new ads.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers earn a mean wage of $19.83 per hour, registered nurses earn a mean wage of $27.88 per hour, and retail salespersons earn a mean wage of $12.92 per hour.

Alabama continues to experience a sharp rise in demand for registered nurses. Online ads see double digit increases every month, and growth in this profession is expected to be more than 1,800 jobs from 2014 to 2024. Registered nurses work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, home healthcare services, and nursing care facilities. Others work in correctional facilities or schools, or serve in the military.

“Three of the most sought after jobs this month pay more than $40 an hour,” said Fitzgerald Washington, Alabama Department of Labor Secretary. “These are highly skilled positions with excellent salaries. It’s important to remember that free vocational and educational training is available to those who qualify through the Career Center System, and we are here to help all Alabamians land their dream job.”

The top three employers posting ads in August were: St. Vincent’s Health System (718), UAB Medicine (644), and Community Health Systems, Inc. (546).

Forty-one percent of all online ads are less than 30 days old, and another 34% of all ads are less than 90 days old.

“We’d like to encourage anyone who needs a job, or wants a different job, to come into one of our Career Centers for assistance,” said Washington. “Our trained staff can assist you in obtaining the career you want.”

A listing of Career Centers can be found at www.joblink.alabama.gov.

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2 years ago

Alabama town spends $43M of taxpayer money on super speed Internet. Gets one subscriber.

Downtown Opelika, Alabama (Photo: Rivers A. Langley / Wiki Commons)
Downtown Opelika, Alabama (Photo: Rivers A. Langley / Wiki Commons)
Downtown Opelika, Alabama (Photo: Rivers A. Langley / Wiki Commons)

By Johnny Kampis / Watchdog.org

If you build it, sometimes they don’t come.

Opelika spent about $43 million to build a broadband network capable of 1 gigabit-per-second symmetrical speeds, financed by a bond issue backed up by the revenue of Opelika Power Services.

Four years later (as of Aug. 26), OPS has one subscriber for its Lite Speed Gig service and none for its next highest tier, Lite Speed Plus, with upload and download speeds of 300 megabits per second.

“You put in this expensive service and people aren’t going to pay $500 a month for a gig,” he said. “All that glitters is not gold. Just because you create the gig service doesn’t mean people are going to use it.”

“How do you justify the costs to taxpayers when one person is using the gig service?” Williams asked.
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Watchdog.org received the subscriber numbers from OPS through a Freedom of Information Act request.

OPS Director Derek Lee, who emailed the numbers, didn’t respond to a request to discuss how subscriber numbers correlate with plans to pay back the bond debt.

Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller told Watchdog.org via email that “we’ll begin our 4th year of operation in October and we are on pace with our five-year plan to be at break even.”

Fuller also told Business Alabama in 2014 he thought the city would break even on its broadband over the next four years, with future profits being sent to the city general fund.

“It takes quite a bit of courage to take a $43 million bite out of that apple,” he told the media outlet.

Voters approved the plan via referendum in 2010.

OPS’s broadband service has 2,717 subscribers overall in a city of about 30,000 residents, with the majority of those subscribing to the $44.95-per-month Lite Choice service.

The breakdown is as follows:

    • Lite Essential – 661 ($34.95 per month residential, 10 mbps download/5 mbps upload)
    • Lite Choice – 1548 ($44.95, 30/15)
    • Lite Ultra – 485 ($64.95, 50/25)
    • Lite Speed – 22 ($99.95, 110/50)
    • Lite Speed Plus – 0 ($249.95, 300/300)
    • Lite Speed Gig – 1 ($499.95 1,000/1,000)

At residential broadband pricing, these numbers would represent about $127,000 in monthly revenue, or about $1.5 million per year, though many subscribers also likely bundle their internet with cable and/or home phone service. Cable packages range from $50 to $80 per month, and phone packages between $20 and $40 per month.

The total gross revenue could also be marginally higher because OPS charges more for business clients and Watchdog.org didn’t request subscriber numbers broken down by customer type.

But these numbers also don’t account for the costs of operating and maintaining the network.

Watchdog plans to file another FOIA to get more detailed numbers of how much OPS reaps in broadband revenue.

T. Randolph Beard, an Auburn University economics professor who has written op-eds opposing expansion of government broadband, told Watchdog that people can easily stream movies — one of the most data-heavy uses of home internet — on multiple devices at minimum broadband speeds.

“I’m not shocked [at the subscriber numbers] because those are enterprise services,” he said of speeds approaching a gig. “There are a very small number of customers who would need something like that.”

OPS marketing manager June Owens previously told Watchdog the utility charges $2,700 a month for business customers of the gig service, which may be pricing them out of the market.

Beard notes that governments say they need to build broadband networks to serve their citizens, but the very threat of a taxpayer- or ratepayer-backed network can easily scare off private providers from entering a market in the first place.

“There’s a kind of ironic self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.

State Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, whose district includes Opelika, is likely to file legislation in 2017 that would allow OPS to expand into rural areas around the city. That bill would apply to any other municipal broadband network that wished to expand, as well.

Beard said that would be unwise.

“The track record is so bad,” he said. “I don’t think making the mistake bigger is a good idea.”

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2 years ago

There are 131 Internet providers in Alabama. Local govts. should stop competing against them.

(Yellowhammer)

Alabama Internet

By: Senator Clay Scofield (R) and Senator Rodger Smitherman (D)

Given the importance of broadband in today’s world, elected officials routinely consider the best way to enhance high-speed internet access. As we have written in the past, we think the best way to achieve this key goal is to work with private sector Internet Service Providers (ISPs), not against them.

A recent report and survey issued by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA), a nonprofit, nonpartisan government watchdog group, outlines the drawbacks of government networks and also makes it clear voters see very little need for them.

Let’s take a look at the poll first. When it asked 800 voters nationwide, the TPA found guaranteeing access to high-speed internet ranked dead last in terms of the issues voters want elected officials to prioritize. Public safety, public education, addressing crime and drug abuse and fixing crumbling roads and bridges all ranked higher. And, only 26 percent of those surveyed said they’d call access to the internet a “serious” issue facing government leaders.

Additionally, voters don’t see government networks as an economic cure all. Only 11 percent thought the government would do a better job of providing internet than the private sector, and just 23 percent said they’d want their local government to take on debt in order to provide internet directly to consumers.

These results make sense given municipal broadband networks are incredibly expensive to build, maintain and operate. In a report accompanying TPA’s poll, the organization outlined $2 billion in government internet failures. From Memphis, Tenn. to Provo, Utah, cities have suffered millions in taxpayer losses when they’ve failed to sell fast, reliable internet service directly to consumers.

Last year, officials in one of the most connected and tech savvy cities in the nation, Seattle, Wash., rejected a government internet system because they worried the investment was too costly and too risky.

Auburn University’s T. Randolph Beard also opposes government ISPs. Dr. Beard has said, “History has shown the government’s direct provision of broadband networks often becomes a burden to those it was meant to serve. Like it or not, government-owned networks require subsidies paid for by taxpayers (or, when operated as part of a municipal electric system, captive ratepayers). These government networks have a very poor track record of success; many are eventually sold to private sector providers for pennies on the dollar.”

As the TPA survey showed, Americans understand there also are opportunity costs to government internet—that is, investing tax dollars in public broadband could put other priorities at risk. When our cities and state face increasing budget pressures and public safety, education and traditional infrastructure challenges, it’s not prudent to spend tax dollars on a service that can be and is provided by the private sector, with 131 broadband providers offering service in Alabama.

For the sake of local and state taxpayers and the overall health of our economy, we will continue to voice our concerns when it comes to government-owned broadband.

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2 years ago

SGA president from the height of racial tensions at Woodlawn is jumping back into politics

Woodlawn-Team

Over 30 years ago, Anthony Montalto had the opportunity to take on a leadership role that would change the course of his life and the lives of the young adults around him. He stepped up and made a decision to run for 1973-1974 SGA President of Woodlawn High School.

His year as SGA President was unlike any other in school history. The school was in embroiled in racial tension as described in the ‘Woodlawn’ movie, which tells the true story of football-great Tony Nathan’s high school career and recruitment by Coach Bryant in the 1970s.

Montalto recalls the summer of 1973, when the Woodlawn football team had a week long football camp where they stayed the entire week in the high school gym and had three-a- day practices. It was during those days, alongside Tony Nathan and the rest of the team, where Montalto says his coaches truly emphasized the importance of having faith, the courage to work closely others and leadership skills.

“I had an opportunity to lead the student body in a movement to change what was happening in Birmingham and around the south,” said Montalto. “We were young but we built a tight bond and friendships that are still strong to this day.”

Filmed in the Magic City by Birmingham natives Andrew and Jon Erwin and produced by Pure Flix and Provident Films, ‘Woodlawn’ depicts the 1974 Banks vs. Woodlawn football game at Birmingham’s Legion Field, which holds the record for most attendees of a high school football game in the Alabama to this day.

Anthony-&-Hank-Erwin

The Erwin brothers first heard the story of Woodlawn as a bedtime story. Their father, Hank Erwin, was the chaplain for Woodlawn’s football team, and he would often tell them the story as they got ready for bed. Hank Erwin, several decades later, ran for the Alabama Senate and was elected to represent portions of Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb and Chilton Counties from 2002- 2010.

“Hank Erwin had a major impact on my life,” said Montalto. “As a young adult, the words of faith he shared with impressionable students gave us direction and the wisdom to stand up for what we knew was right.”

After graduating from Woodlawn, Montalto received his degree from the University of Alabama and began a career in education. He served as Principal and Assistant Principal for several local schools, including Hewitt-Trussville High School and Hewitt-Trussville Middle School. He also played an instrumental role in the forming of the local school system, Trussville City Schools.

Anthony-&-Tony-&-team

“Anthony has been leading students his entire life, beginning with his leadership at Woodlawn during the time of the spiritual awakening that began with the football team,” said Erwin. “His impact on others is immeasurable.”

Montalto said that running for Mayor in one of Birmingham’s fastest growing suburbs, Trussville, has been something that has been tugging at his heart for quite some time. “I have lived in Trussville for almost 30 years and it is one of those Alabama towns that people visit and never want to leave,” said Montalto. “We have a great school system, great neighborhoods and are poised for economic development opportunities.”

Over the past decade, Montalto said it’s been exciting to see Trussville cultivate into one of the fastest growing cities in the state. He has decided to run for Mayor because he believes the next four to eight years are crucial for the city, especially in relation to strategic planning.

“My position as SGA President at Woodlawn allowed me to see a true spiritual revival at our school which then spread throughout the entire community,” said Montalto. “The lessons I learned during my years at Woodlawn helped drive my thought process behind my priorities, and I hope to bring the life long lessons I learned into the position of Mayor.”

Announcement

Montalto has said it has been a tremendous blessing influencing the lives of more than 10,000 students throughout his career in education.

“I believe this is the next step for me- growing Trussville so that it will be the place my students want to stay and build their families, start small businesses and give back to the community.”

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2 years ago

How an Alabama WWII vet built a tea empire with obsessed fans worldwide

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When Milo Carlton came home to Birmingham, Alabama, after World War II and served the first cup of fresh-brewed iced tea at his new business, he had no idea that 70 years later local fans would be so obsessed with the sweet beverage that it would become a city icon. Nor could he dream that one day his family would be serving his famous tea recipe across the United States. Today, the founder’s granddaughter, Tricia Wallwork, directs the expanding national business as CEO while customers as far away as Alaska enjoy the original Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea recipe along with a variety of others, including a brand new line of organic teas.

Wallwork credits today’s success of teas produced by the family-owned business to the trusted reputation for quality her grandfather created.

“Milo’s was a natural product before it was cool. When my parents started bottling my grandfather’s tea to sell outside the restaurants, they could have taken short cuts by adding preservatives or acids,” explains Wallwork. “They didn’t because it would have compromised the taste and quality of Milo’s. Most ready-to- drink teas on the market today use concentrates or powders for tea “flavor” and add colors, acids, preservatives and other non-food ingredients that can sit on the shelf for months or even years to make it seem like real brewed tea.”

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People often ask, ‘why is your tea so much better?’ she says. “The answer is simple – Milo’s is better tasting and better for you because it is fresh brewed from premium tea leaves without preservatives or acids.”

Recently at the North American Tea Championship in Los Angeles, Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea swept the ‘Ready to Drink Sweet Tea’ category with Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea winning the top spot. Two additional winners were part of Milo’s four new USDA-certified Café Style Organic Teas, available in the refrigerated section of stores across the country.

Packaged in 59-ounce carafes, Milo’s Café Style Organic Teas are fresh brewed from custom-blended organic tea leaves and sweetened with organic cane sugar or a blend of organic cane sugar and organic stevia.

“Listening to our loyal fans is at the core of Milo’s philosophy. It’s what makes developing new products exciting because we know that ultimately it’s the customer we are focused on,” said Wallwork.

The newly introduced Café Style Organic Teas – Sweet, Light Sweet, Green Citrus and Light Green Citrus flavors – are fresh brewed from custom-blended organic black and green tea leaves, containing no preservatives or additives.

Milo’s Café Style new Sweet and Light Sweet Teas are the organic complement to Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea that founders Milo and Bea began brewing and selling 70 years ago. Green Citrus and Light Green Citrus Teas are the company’s first green tea offerings.

The USDA National Organic Program has verified that the ingredients and the brewing and bottling processes all comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic regulations. Milo’s Café Style Organic and Famous Teas are refrigerated, fresh brewed and free of preservatives.

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2016NorthAmericanTeaChampionship

Milo Carlton’s philosophy was simple: “Use high quality, fresh and natural ingredients, listen to your customers and never sacrifice taste.” Today, 70 years later, the same focus remains true and the results are still sweet.

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2 years ago

BAD IDEA: A pointless $30M bridge while Alabama’s budget remains in shambles (opinion)

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By: Patrick Gleason

Alabama is a political hot mess right now. The heads of all three branches of state government are facing legal trouble and removal from office. The state has experienced multiple budget shortfalls in recent years and raised taxes in 2015, making Alabama an outlier in a region filled with states reducing tax burdens and reforming government. Every state bordering Alabama has a superior business tax climate, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation. In fact, most of those neighboring states have recently passed tax policy changes that will increase their competitive advantages over Alabama.

In Tennessee, Alabama’s neighbor to the north, Gov. Bill Haslam (R) recently signed into law legislation making Tennessee a true no-income-tax-state by phasing out the state’s six percent tax on investment income. To Alabama’s west, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) approved a tax reform bill last month that phases out his state’s franchise tax and provides significant income tax relief to individuals, families, and employers across the Magnolia State. To Alabama’s south, Florida has enacted over $3 billion in tax relief during Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) time in office.

Meanwhile, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has pushed his state in the opposite direction by raising taxes and refusing to put expenditures in line with available revenue. Last year, Gov. Bentley signed into law a $180 million tax hike on nursing homes, pharmacies, hospitals, and tobacco. This was the state’s latest attempt to temporarily patch Alabama’s cyclical budget shortfall, which dates back to 2012, when Gov. Bentley borrowed $437 million to address a three year deficit. Since then, Alabama has not done what is necessary to get the state back on sound fiscal footing. In fact – rather than rectify the state’s overspending problem, politicians and bureaucrats in Montgomery are proposing new spending projects that Alabama taxpayers simply cannot afford. An example of this is how Gov. Bentley wants Alabama taxpayers to fund the construction of a new bridge that will allow well-heeled vacationers to get to their beach houses faster.

There has been much discussion in Alabama about the need for a third bridge across the Intracoastal Waterway connecting the mainland to the beach communities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Those towns are currently connected to the rest of the state by two bridges – one is a “free” public bridge, the other is privately owned, operated, and tolled. One might think private investors would be interested in a public private partnership to construct and operate a third bridge like the current Beach Express toll bridge arrangement. But some in Alabama state government are instead calling for a taxpayer-funded bridge with a price tag of $30 million – a number that is likely a lowball figure, given typical cost overruns associated with government infrastructure projects. The Huffington Post’s Paul Alexander explains how this bad idea gained traction:

Plans for the new bridge accelerated after Governor Bentley dedicated $58 million, taken from the $2.3 billion settlement BP was required to pay Alabama for economic and environmental damages caused by the 2010 oil spill, to build a hotel and convention complex near Gulf Shores in Gulf State Park. A road will have to be built to the proposed site of the new bridge — only a mile and a half west of the toll bridge — and, perhaps not surprisingly, some land that will have to be purchased for that road belongs to a company partially owned by Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft. The new road will also run adjacent to land owned by the family of former Governor George C. Wallace. These landowners, no doubt, will benefit financially from the construction of the new road.

If a third bridge to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach is to be built, the best funding method, especially given Alabama’s budgetary troubles, is a user fee model, which is what a privately owned, operated, and tolled bridge would provide. One of the biggest problems with a state government-funded bridge is that it would have taxpayers across Alabama footing the bill for a bridge that many of them will never use. A new government-constructed bridge would also have in-state taxpayers financing a bridge that serves out-of-state communities that are wealthier than most in Alabama.

Addressing Alabama’s existing infrastructure deficiencies is a higher priority than a third bridge to the beach. In addition to the problems that come with having a new bridge paid for by low and middle income households who will never use it, there are more pressing transportation needs across the state. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently looked at Alabama’s transportation infrastructure, assigning Alabama’s roads a D+ rating, while its bridges were scored as a C-.

Other states in the region have passed tax reforms that make them more attractive places than Alabama to live, invest, and do business. After the enactment of more than 20 federal tax increases over the last six years, piling on with more tax hikes at the state level, as Gov. Bentley and Alabama lawmakers did just last year, is bad enough. Yet with its consideration of this new publicly-funded bridge, Alabama officials are demonstrating they aren’t the best at appropriately utilizing taxpayer dollars as it is. As Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist says, no state is a total failure, some, like Alabama is doing now, just serve as bad examples.

Patrick Gleason is director of state affairs at Americans for Tax Reform and a senior fellow at the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free market think tank based in Nashville. Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PatrickMGleason

1
2 years ago

Chief Justice Roy Moore is in the Lions’ Den (opinion)

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

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By State Rep. Rich Wingo (R – Tuscaloosa)

As a child, I, like many of you, learned the biblical story of Daniel, a man who was thrown into a den of lions because of his devout faith but found himself shielded by God’s grace and His angels of protection.

It struck me that Alabama today has its own version of Daniel in the form of Chief Justice Roy Moore, a man whose critics wish to figuratively rip his flesh from bone because of his deeply held beliefs and one who I believe will find similar assurance from his Maker.

Moore was recently suspended from his judicial position by a Star Chamber court of cultural elites who disagree with his actions following rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Obergefell vs. Hodge gay marriage case and by a federal judge in a similar suit in southwest Alabama.

When the opinions overturning bans on gay marriage were released, Moore instructed probate judges in the state to refrain from issuing licenses to same sex couples until it could be solidly determined whether the rulings applied only to the affected counties in southwest Alabama and the four states cited in Obergefell or whether they had a blanket effect.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an ultra-leftist group of extremists whose agenda seeks to purge religion, morals, and values from every facet of our society, filed a judicial complaint as a result. Moore will remain suspended as chief justice until a hearing determines whether he is exonerated, fined, removed from office, or otherwise punished.

It has become obvious that Moore is merely the latest target of the culture warriors working to abolish traditional marriage, allow so-called “transgender” crossdressers to shower and dress with the opposite sex, and praise perversions rather than condemn them.

Some of the top legal experts in the state believe that the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which voted to suspend Moore, has acted outside of its jurisdiction, and they note that Moore was not a named party in any of the involved cases, and, thus, cannot be accused of violating a court order.

If this unwarranted attack on Moore is successful, it will open the door for the politically correct Gestapo to punish any judge whose opinions do not rigidly conform to their dangerous social demands.

But the bigger picture of how this culture war affects the religious freedoms of everyday Christians like me is foremost in my mind. The liberal mainstream media would have you believe that devout followers of Christ are responsible for attacking various “protected” minorities when, in fact, we are the ones under attack.

As the Bible instructs us in Ezekiel 3: 16-19, God has called us to be watchmen tasked with warning those who are lost and who have strayed, but if we refuse to sound the alarm or stand in the gap , the blood of the lost is on our hands, and we will be judged accordingly. Moore is simply doing what all Christians should be doing, but the cultural elites bludgeon anyone who speaks out or stands up for decency and devotion.

I ran for the Alabama House to ensure that our state’s public policy decisions, laws, and legislation included Godly principles, good morals, and Christian values. I am sure that the same leftists targeting Moore will denounce me for those words, but I, too, refuse to remain silent.

Just like Daniel, Moore faces what most would consider to be an insurmountable threat, but with our continuing prayers and unwavering support, he can escape the danger that surrounds him. Faith like Moore’s should not be punished – it should be praised and honored and emulated.

Christians can win the culture war that rages in our nation, but we must each be willing to join the battle, no matter what the costs. Are you ready to fight?


State Rep. Rich Wingo, a businessman, represents District 62, which encompasses portions of Tuscaloosa County, in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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2 years ago

How an iconic Alabama institution helped the Space Shuttle log 542 million miles

By the time of the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981, Southern Research’s engineers had already been working on the program for nine years. (Image: NASA)
By the time of the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981, Southern Research’s engineers had already been working on the program for nine years. (Image: NASA)

NASA’s Space Shuttle blasted off for the first time 35 years ago, and engineers and scientists from Southern Research made critical contributions to the program during a journey that spanned three decades and a half-billion miles.

In fact, by the time Columbia rose from Kennedy Space Center on April 12, 1981, Southern Research’s engineers had been working on the project for nine years, testing materials that would allow the new spacecraft to withstand the extreme conditions of lift-off and re-entry.

The Birmingham-based organization’s involvement in the Shuttle program didn’t end with the launch that day. In coming years, its engineers remedied a potentially catastrophic rocket nozzle problem and helped NASA prevent a replay of the events that doomed Columbia in 2003, among other things.

Michael Johns is vice president of Engineering at Southern Research.
Michael Johns is vice president of Engineering at Southern Research.

“Southern Research’s work on NASA’s Space Shuttle really started with the inception of the program,” said Michael D. Johns, the organization’s vice president of Engineering. “Over many years, we remained on the critical path for material development and understanding of the complex systems required to get people and payloads to space.”

Johns was on the engineering team that evaluated ablative materials used to protect the Shuttle from the high thermal loads and 5,500-degree temperatures generated by its massive solid rocket motors.

The Space Transportation System (STS), as the Shuttle was officially known, flew 130 missions over 30 years, covering 542 million miles and making 21,000 earth orbits, according to a NASA history. Its missions included a critical repair to the Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror and the launch of the Magellan probe to Venus.

EVALUATING MATERIALS

The Shuttle program was not the first time Southern Research had focused on manned space flight.

Its engineers helped NASA select heat-shield materials used in the Apollo program after exposing material specimens to conditions similar to a fiery re-entry. The tensile properties of these materials were tested at temperatures up to 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

While working on Apollo, Southern Research developed devices to take temperature readings needed to select landing sites on the moon’s surface, and to measure heating rates on the Saturn booster exit. It also operated an engineering materials lab at Kennedy Space Center to provide technical support to NASA contractors.

As the Shuttle program got under way, the ability of Southern Research engineers to evaluate materials in extreme environments once again played a vital role. One example was the carbon-carbon composite leading edges of the orbiter, which experienced temperatures ranging from –150 degrees to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit on every flight.

Other divisions at Southern Research also worked on the Shuttle program leading up to the first launch.

Analytical chemists, for example, conducted tests that identified compounds in charred insulation, while chemists and toxicologists determined the harmful properties of burned insulation.

In one case, Southern Research’s analytical chemists were able to steer NASA away from using a polyurethane insulating foam with a flame-retardant additive because tests showed it produced toxic fumes when burned.

RECOVERY REMEDIES

Southern Research’s engineering team also made important contributions in post-flight incident investigations.

After the STS-8 mission in 1983, an inspection of the boosters revealed that a three-inch lining protecting the rocket nozzle had almost burned away, leaving just a few seconds of firing time before a catastrophic rupture would have occurred.

NASA’s Tim Lawrence presents Southern Research’s John Koenig with an honorary award for his contributions to space flight.
NASA’s Tim Lawrence presents Southern Research’s John Koenig with an honorary award for his contributions to space flight.

A group of Southern Research engineers led by John Koenig studied the unexpected event. They identified why the rocket nozzle erosion occurred and provided guidance for material design and process changes to prevent the defect. They even developed a unique laser screening test to ensure there was no repeat.

NASA again called in Koenig and the Southern Research team after Columbia broke up on re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.

Koenig and the team helped determine how the disaster occurred and modeled the impact event that damaged the Shuttle’s wing, allowing in super-heated gasses that destroyed the support structure. Koenig’s group also developed approaches to repair a wing in space if damage occurred on a future mission.

“The unique talents of Southern Research’s engineers were integral, and, in some cases, enabling for the design, operation and recovery from the flight anomalies and accidents that occurred during the Shuttle program,” Johns said.

In addition, Southern Research developed technology to help the Shuttle program return to space two years after the Columbia accident.

Its Airborne Imaging and Recording System (AIRS) turrets, mounted on WB-57 high-altitude research aircraft circling above Cape Kennedy on July 26, 2005, captured full-motion video of Space Shuttle Discovery’s launch to well beyond booster separation at 146,000 feet. The video provided new insights into conditions at lift-off.

Today, Southern Research is making contributions to NASA’s Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever developed.

Johns, who serves on NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Technology, Innovation and Engineering Committee, said Southern Research is well positioned to participate in the nation’s space program for decades to come.

1
2 years ago

Yellowhammer Scholar of the Month: Keona Jenkins

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Keona Jenkins is a senior at Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School in Birmingham. She came to Holy Family in 2012 as a freshman. Keona is a member of the Mu Alpha Theta Math Club, Junior National Honor Society, Vice President of the Student Ambassadors, and Co-Captain of the Girls Varsity basketball team. She enjoys writing short novels and poetry and hopes to become a foreign correspondent or print journalist. She plans to attend Tennessee State University in the fall and major in journalism. Following undergrad, Keona plans to further her education in a Master’s program at Samford University.

With most of her senior year behind her and a graduation date set for next month, Keona has become quite the expert on how to have the best senior year. Recently, she shared with us her tips for rising seniors.

Here they are in her words:

“School can be tough, but challenges shape us as individuals. I suggest high school students take at least one AP class in a subject they enjoy. These classes offer a preview of college and are eligible for college credit. It is invaluable to start before senior year with test preps, AP classes, and college visits. Finally, it is imperative to be active in one’s high school and community. Being a part of something bigger than yourself will help you grow and learn to work together with others. These are my tips for having a memorable and transformative senior year.”

Thanks Keona. We wish you all the best as you realize your brightest future.

Since 2014, Keona has attended Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School with an Alabama Opportunity Scholarship. To learn more about how you can support low-income, K-12 students like Keona at no cost to you, visit alabamascholarshipfund.org.

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2 years ago

The Fight for Pension Reform in Alabama

House money tax

By Representative Lynn Greer and Katherine Green Robertson on April 25, 2016

Like many pension funds across the country, the State of Alabama’s public pension system faces significant funding challenges. Alabama’s pension costs have doubled over the last ten years, despite the fact that the legislature has never missed paying the steadily increasing annual required contribution. In the past, this payment was made with little fanfare, but ongoing budgetary woes have demanded a higher degree of scrutiny.

Last year, in the face of a $200 million shortfall for the state’s general fund, every program or service was on the chopping block. Alabama’s Republican governor tried to raise over $500 million in new taxes, but vehement opposition from the general public left the proposal dead on arrival. Without new revenue, the Alabama Legislature spent nearly seven months struggling to cut its way to a balanced budget. State parks and driver’s license offices were closed, road projects were threatened, and law enforcement offices braced for lay-offs. All the while, Alabama’s public pension system received nearly $1 billion from taxpayers.

While state leaders have begun to pay more attention, Alabama’s taxpayers have not yet come to grips with the high cost of the state’s public pensions. The haze of misinformation surrounding the debate often obscures the reality: the state has at least a $15 billion funding gap that will not be closed until 2050, at the earliest. Over the next twenty-five years, the projected amount of the state’s yearly contribution—the cost of paying for new benefits earned and a portion of the existing unfunded liability—as presented on a bar graph looks like a steep staircase, topping out at over $2 billion in 2044. That staircase only leads to full funding by 2050 if the state does not accrue any additional unfunded liabilities between now and then.

To avoid amassing any new debt, the system will have to steadily hit its 8% target investment return. If the S&P 500 is any indication—it is down by .48% over the last year and up only 4.9% over the last ten years—this will be a difficult task. A recent report from the PEW Charitable Trusts estimates that if Alabama’s pension investments return 6.25% rather than 8% over the next 40 years, Alabama’s funded ratio would dip below 60% while the annual contribution would top out at $5 billion around 2050. By comparison, Alabama only collects around $10 billion per year in state taxes.

Still, plan administrators maintain that 8% is an appropriate assumption and that present underfunding will work itself out. As evidence, they cite average returns of 8% or better over the last 30 or 35 years. But past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, nor do average returns tell the whole story, since the state accumulated massive unfunded liabilities during the same time period. Volatility is the curse of traditional defined benefit pension plans—and that’s the foundational problem for many states, including Alabama. Even if investments return 8% or better on average, just one down year (especially if during an early year) can substantially impact the plan’s funding level and take years to recover from. Down years can also lead to risky investments. The more that pension investors stretch to achieve higher returns, the higher the risk of generating additional unfunded liabilities.

In spite of these sobering facts, pension reform in Alabama faces an uphill battle. In Montgomery, lawmakers are bombarded with thinly veiled threats from groups and associations who don’t want anyone to “touch their pensions.” Representatives of the public pension system insist that nothing needs to change. Every academic from inside or outside the state who has dared to question the shaky trajectory of Alabama’s pensions has been publicly maligned. The few politicians who have shown a willingness to lean into the problem have been vilified in newspapers and accused of trying to “raid the retirement system.”

As is often the case, the groups fighting pension reform in Alabama represent the very individuals who will be badly hurt if the state cannot keep its promises. Though it may not be an easy lift politically, state leaders have a duty to ensure a solvent pension system for public employees and retirees. They also have a duty to protect future generations of Alabamians from inheriting a fiscal catastrophe. Will taxpayers be willing to double their investment—or even, according to some projections, triple or quadruple their investment—in the pension plans of state employees and retirees, pension plans that are likely better than their own? Should they be asked to do so? The people who will be called upon to either pay up or go without certain government services may not be the constituents of current politicians, but they will be their children and grandchildren.

One thing is certain: pension reform will come to Alabama. Responsible reforms can be adopted now, or the state will be forced to make hasty, draconian changes during the next severe economic downturn. The involuntary, reactive option will present a much uglier scenario for retirees, taxpayers, and politicians alike.

1
2 years ago

Dianne Bentley, my friend, we are in your corner

Alabama's former First Lady Dianne Bentley discusses her domestic violence initiatives with Yellowhammer News (File Photo)
Alabama’s former First Lady Dianne Bentley discusses her domestic violence initiatives with Yellowhammer News (File Photo)

By Muriel Farley

My husband, Allen Farley, is a member of the Alabama House of Representatives. On August 28th of 2015, we received news that Alabama’s First Lady Dianne Bentley was divorcing Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, her husband of fifty years.

Needless to say we were shocked and saddened.

You see, we had been hearing rumors about the governor and his senior advisor, Rebekah Mason, for some time. But, we thought they were just rumors. The day after the divorce was announced Allen’s phone started ringing like crazy. Television anchors and news media reporters were calling to get my husband’s reaction to this unbelievable news the entire world had just received. Alan Collins from Fox 6 News came to our house to interview Allen. At the end of the interview my husband told Alan Collins that he would write a letter to Attorney General Luther Strange asking for an investigation. My husband said there could have possibly been a misuse of state funds that could include the governor’s state trooper security detail, state cars, state planes, and state helicopters.

That being said, my husband wrote the letter and we delivered it to the Alabama Attorney General’s office the very next day, September 1,2015. The AG was not in, so Allen gave the letter to a member of his staff. We believed the AG’s office immediately began looking into this matter, but we’re not sure.

When more allegations came to light about the governor, media outlets once again started contacting my husband for an interview. Not only were they asking about the letter to the AG, but now they were also very interested in a telephone call Allen received the night of August 31, 2015 from the governor. You see, when the governor called my husband, the world had not heard the audio sext tapes. And, during the governor’s telephone conversation with Allen, he told my husband he had not been involved in an affair and he didn’t believe Allen needed to get Luther involved in it personally.

Last week my husband received a call from a New York magazine wanting an interview to discuss his opinion of Alabama’s governor. I was sitting in Allen’s office in Montgomery during the interview. Jason Zengerle of “GQ Magazine” was the interviewer. I mentioned that I was a member of the Alabama Legislative Spouse’s Club, and Dianne Bentley had hosted a monthly bible study that I enjoyed attending. I explained that Dianne would invite members of the Legislative Spouse’s Club to a monthly bible study along with other lady friends from Tuscaloosa and around Alabama. (I also mentioned that I considered Dianne Bentley my friend.) Jason asked me if I had reached out to my friend Dianne Bentley during this devastating time. I said no. (I actually hung my head in shame and said no.) This stayed on my mind the rest of the day. How could I have not contacted my friend. This lady who lead me in prayer month after month. The sweet grandmother (our First Lady) who would walk the halls of the State House bringing her granddaughter to page, as I had also done with two of our granddaughters and a grandson.

Sitting in the gallery of the Alabama State House last Thursday, I asked my friend Danna Standridge if she had reached out to our friend Dianne Bentley. (Danna is the wife of State Representative David Standridge.) She is also a member of the Alabama Legislative Spouse’s Club. She said no, but she wanted to. I believe she and I both just didn’t know how or what to say. We were both hurting . But, we decided right there we were going to find out how to contact our friend, and we did.

I met Danna in her husbands office Thursday afternoon while our husbands were in session. Before calling Dianne, Danna and I prayed and cried. We prayed for the Lord to give us the right words to say to our friend. On the second ring she answered. Oh what a sweet sound. This was the sweet voice that prayed with us at her bible studies. I could picture her in my mind standing in front of us at The Hill House next to the governor’s mansion in Montgomery. Her eyes sparkling when she smiled. (I read somewhere that she is shy, but I never saw that side of her.) She greeted each guest at the front door and mingled with whomever showed up for her one-of-a-kind bible study. (She always introduced the bible study speaker with such enthusiasm.)

Dianne Bentley and guests at the Governor's Mansion bow their heads in prayer. (Photo: Murial Farley)
Dianne Bentley and guests at the Governor’s Mansion bow their heads in prayer. (Photo: Muriel Farley)

That was 2011 through 2014. I did not attend any bible studies in 2015. I wished I had. (She always said that I was so faithful to come.) Even in the summer of 2014, Allen with our youngest grandson, drove me to The Hill House for Dianne’s bible study. Allen and our grandson hung out at the State House.

Toward the end of our 2014 Legislative Session my husband had a private meeting with Governor Bentley. Allen soon began to understand that the man he had reached out to as a fellow Christian and friend was not who he had believed him to be. And, within a few weeks, Allen’s private meeting with the governor was being absolutely misrepresented on a weekly political talk show. That did it for Allen, he stepped back from the governor he once trusted. Something was definitely different inside the governor’s office and my husband did not want anything to do with someone he knew he could not trust.

I know, that is no excuse for me to stop attending Dianne’s bible studies. But, I saw how Governor Robert Bentley had hurt my husband, and I did not want to be in a position to see him and have to pretend everything was alright. However, knowing what I know now, I should have been there. Maybe, just maybe, I could have picked up on something different about her and been there to help. Maybe, just maybe, her eyes didn’t glitter like they had in previous years. Maybe, just maybe, she needed a shoulder to lean on. So, I now regret my poor decision.

In Legislative sessions past, Dianne Bentley would host a luncheon for The Alabama Legislative Spouse’s Club. Our club president would go over activities we were involved in. Our club gave money one year to the tornado relief fund for the April 27, 2011 tornado that ripped Alabama apart. Another time we donated money to the mansion to update a room that could be used to store dishes. Dianne worked tirelessly on trying to update the old Alabama Governor’s mansion.

I could write for days. But I’m not. Writing this was therapy for me. My heart is very heavy. I can tell you one thing for sure. The State of Alabama has lost a “First Class” First Lady. I miss her. I am confidant that wherever Dianne goes she will be the classy lady that we all came to know and love. It has been hard for me to go with Allen to Montgomery this session and not think about my friend.

Dianne Bentley, I want you to know that we are in your corner. We are on your side.

The Alabama Legislative Spouse’s Club at the Governor's Mansion. (Photo: Muriel Farley)
The Alabama Legislative Spouse’s Club at the Governor’s Mansion. (Photo: Muriel Farley)

Muriel Farley is the wife of state representative Allen Farley (R-Bessemer) and a personal friend of Dianne Bentley’s. This article originally appeared on her personal blog.

1
2 years ago

WHOA: All the work Alabamians did in 2016 prior to this week went to pay taxes

(W.Miller/YHN)

YH Tax Freedom Day

By Courtney Michaluk

Happy Tax Day! Whether you began the pencil pushing months ago, or prefer to file last minute, April 18th means the majority of Alabamians have finished the annual paperwork headache. But, did you know that you’ve actually just finished making enough money to pay your tax bill for the year?

April 8 was Alabama’s Tax Freedom Day®—the day, calculated each year by the Tax Foundation, when Alabama taxpayers have collectively earned enough money to pay their federal, state, and local tax bill for the year.

If it shocks you to learn that every dime you’ve worked for so far this year has gone straight to government pocketbooks, you might take comfort to know that the Yellowhammer state compares well to the rest of nation, landing 4th best among other states in its tax burden ranking. But the picture is less bright when it comes to comparisons to our neighbors in the Southeast.

Alabama ranks behind states in the region including Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana, which matters because tax policy has direct consequences on the state’s economy and the well-being of individuals and families.

A good tax code is simple to define: It should have a broad base—meaning it spreads the tax burden across range of sources while eliminating loopholes—and it should have overall low rates. A tax code with these characteristics helps attract economic activity to the state: the lower the cost of doing business, the better. More businesses mean more economic growth and more jobs for Alabamians. And, more economic growth means higher incomes for Alabamians. The formula for success is pretty simple.

Unfortunately, Alabama has chosen to reject this approach and, instead, increasingly leans on government to “create” economic growth by selecting certain businesses to receive tax breaks and other subsidies. That’s right, state government bureaucrats tax you and then hand your money out to companies of their choice. These tax breaks and incentive packages have totaled billions of dollars over the last 20 years!

This practice is called cronyism. Businesses with political connections get a nice deal from the state and you, the taxpayer, foot the bill. Multimillion dollar tax incentive packages have most recently been given to high profile companies like Airbus ($125 million in tax credits and cash for locating in Mobile) and Daimler (its total subsidy is valued at $100 million).

This is not a broad tax base – some are shouldering the heavy tax burden so that others can get a break. Not only is this unfair, but the argument that the practice creates jobs and economic growth certainly doesn’t hold water. Government investments have a miserable track record. Take the case of ThyssenKrupp, which received tax abatements in Alabama totaling $600 million in 2011. In the end, each job ThyssenKrupp created cost taxpayers a whopping $300,000!

Our government is taxing some Alabamians excessively in order to distribute that hard earned money to others. This is bad tax policy, and at the end of the day, Alabamians pay for it.

A better approach for supporting growth, opportunity and higher incomes, while allowing taxpayers to keep more of their hard earned money is to spread the tax burden equally and lower tax rates for all—individuals and companies alike.

The bottom line is that the tax burden for hardworking Alabamians is already large enough, and marking Tax Freedom Day® shines a bright light on the situation. Alabamians should ask more of their state by demanding it do less: broaden the tax base, lower corporate and personal income rates, and allow Alabama’s economy to flourish.


Courtney Michaluk is a policy analyst for the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

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2 years ago

How a ‘stealth organization’ in Alabama is quietly solving the world’s hardest problems

Southern Research

By Dana Beyerle

It’s October 1941. Alabama headlines follow the war in Europe and Asia. On Oct. 11, less than two months from U.S. entry into the World War II, the Alabama Research Institute is formed in Birmingham with the challenge to produce innovative research for the South.

An early contract is with the National Peanut Council to develop a way to homogenize peanut butter. But as fate would have it, the war halts everything until 1944 when ARI begins its work in earnest.

Today Business Council of Alabama member Southern Research, as ARI is now known, is celebrating its Diamond Anniversary as a heralded scientific and engineering research organization involved in pre-clinical drug discovery and development, energy and environment initiatives, and engineering research including sensor systems and advanced materials – think space vehicle reentry heat shields.

Southern Research works with clients and partners in the pharmaceutical, biotechnological, defense, environmental, energy, and aerospace industries from its Birmingham headquarters, with additional Alabama facilities in Huntsville and Wilsonville, and laboratories in Frederick, Maryland, Durham, North Carolina, Houston, Texas, and Cartersville, Georgia.

“We’re a broad organization,” said Art Tipton, Ph.D., Southern Research’s president and CEO since 2013.

From its original focus on metallurgy and textiles that were prevalent in Alabama, Southern Research grew as it explored. Probably the best known is Southern Research’s history in cancer drug research and development.

Southern Research

“We had strong chemists in textiles, and they took their skills and developed novel drugs,” Tipton said in a recent interview. “We developed a strong history in the ‘40s and ‘50s just after World War II, as people started to understand the biology of cancer, and that led to the discovery of cancer drugs that help Alabama and people across the world.”

Southern Research has developed 20 drugs to combat forms of cancer, ALS, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s, and tuberculosis, including seven FDA-approved cancer drugs.

Although they’re not household names, those seeking protection against chemotherapy damage during treatment and those with childhood and adult leukemia, brain tumors, Hodgkin’s disease, skin cancers, and sarcomas are familiar with them – Amifostine, Carmustine, Clorfarabine, Dacarbazine, Fludarabine, Pralatrexate, and Lomustine.

“What we’re looking for is to prolong human life,” Tipton said. “Obviously with some of the drugs and combination therapies that are innovative, some people do get cured of cancer. But there’s not a single cure for all cancer, and obviously, there won’t be for several decades.”

Southern Research isn’t entirely focused on cancer. It’s active in studying HIV that causes AIDS, which so far has eluded a cure.

“We’re going at it a little differently helping researchers around the world understand the AIDS virus and how it interacts, making drugs available, and getting information to other researchers,” Tipton said. “We look at how the AIDS virus often gets into cells in latent form, and we develop tools to understand that.”

Southern Research has been involved with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and space exploration since Day 1.

airplanes

“We have a very active history with NASA and manned space flight, initially primarily material science,” Tipton said. “We’ve been an organization that developed materials as man started to break free of Earth’s atmosphere, materials that were not developed until the 1950s and 1960s. We’re still very actively involved with NASA as it looks to reactivate manned space flight vis-a-vis the Space Launch System.”

Southern Research developed material that enables manned rockets to fly safely, but it took on an additional role after the Feb. 1, 2003, fatal breakup of the Space Shuttle Columbia when it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. The shuttle’s destruction was caused by heat shields being knocked off during takeoff, which allowed heat from reentry to destroy the shuttle.

NASA came to Southern Research seeking a way to capture real-time video during shuttle launches. Southern Research responded with the Airborne Imaging and Recording System turrets on WB-57 aircraft that can videotape launches as far away as 20 miles and well past booster separation at 146,000 feet.

“Southern Research also has a business-minded outlook as a major employer, with 500 scientists and engineers working in its four divisions, and believes job development is good for Birmingham and the entire state,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary.

Tipton’s pharmaceutical and biotech background is business startups and growth. He has created companies and has dozens of issued patents. The year he became Southern Research’s president and CEO, he was inducted as a fellow into the National Academy of Inventors.

Tipton is on the board of directors of the Economic Development Partnership Association Foundation, the Governor’s Workforce Development Council, and “anything we can do to help companies locate in Birmingham.”

“We need coordination in workforce development, creating meaningful jobs and venture capital for young startups,” Tipton said.

Serving on the BCA board is Southern Research Director of External Affairs Watson Donald.

Even as Southern Research continues its space exploration role, it stays with its original intent of aiding southern economic development.

Southern Research helps the Alabama Department of Commerce review applications for innovation funds and responds when called upon by the economic development arm of Alabama Power Co., which actually started Alabama Research Institute.

Alabama Power’s president in 1941, Tom Martin, realized that if Alabama and the South were going to grow its industrial base, companies would need science and engineering done, Tipton said.

“There just wasn’t a base here,” Tipton said. “We started Southern Research to help grow the economic development of the region and the South.”

Southern Research’s energy and environmental research led to the technology and procedures to reduce coal combustion. Southern Research has a carbon capture center in Wilsonville.

In addition to NASA, Southern Research works on behalf of the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, hospitals, major aerospace firms, utility companies, and other private and government organizations to solve tough problems.

Tipton admits that Southern Research hasn’t tooted its own horn, but it does plan several events to celebrate its 75th anniversary.

“We’re pretty much a stealth organization and haven’t shined light on ourselves,” Tipton said. “We’re kind of like a public library, no one is disappointed in what we’re doing and we’re not a controversial organization. But we need to get out and tell our story more.”

Look for a book this summer written by Southern Research folks who were involved in specific areas. Southern Research also is planning public and private events later this year for employees, some of whom have been with Southern Research for 40 and 50 years.

In 2005, Southern Research Institute, as it was known then, was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. Eleven years later, it’s not resting on its laurels.

“I think we’re looking at megatrends, looking to the future of the country, better drugs as the population gets older, better energy sources – we’re agnostic to what they are, nuclear, coal, or solar – we’re looking to improve those areas, looking to make us safer,” Tipton said.

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