2 weeks ago

Del Marsh: We’ll still have the nation’s lowest cumulative tax burden after Rebuild Alabama passes

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Thursday morning, giving an in-depth interview about the infrastructure legislation set to be considered in the current special session.

While the House needs to finish with the Rebuild Alabama bill – which would raise infrastructure revenue – before it heads to the Senate, Marsh told Jackson that the votes are ultimately there in his chamber to pass the legislation.

He then explained that the special session process will allow ample time for the legislation to be examined and debated, especially considering every member of the legislature has known for months this issue would be coming up as the body’s first priority.

“I don’t think you’ll see debate limited,” Marsh advised. “There was this talk about this thing being done in five days, and I think that’s not going to happen.”

The earliest the Senate could get the bill from the House is Friday. Marsh said he would give the Senate the weekend off to look at the legislation passed by the House if that possible timeline does come true.

“We’re not rushing this thing,” he said, “But by doing this special [session] in the regular [session], it saves the taxpayers money – it is not a big additional cost to do that. It does focus this issue, so the people can focus on it, as well as the legislature. Because this is the issue at hand.”

Building on his comment about saving the taxpayers money, Marsh outlined that the Republican legislature’s diligent work since 2010 in cutting costs, decreasing taxes and increasing government efficiency has put the state in a position to pass Rebuild Alabama without it hurting the average, hard-working Alabamian.

“Why are we even in a position to [be able to] look at infrastructure? One, we need to do it. But let’s look at what’s happened since 2010, since Republicans have controlled the legislature,” Marsh said. “We eliminated a lot of costly programs… 300 obsolete laws we’ve eliminated, we have reduced the size of state government – not talking about teachers, but state employees – by 15 percent. 15 percent. Our median income in the state of Alabama has gone from $41,000 to $51,000+. That’s a 20 percent increase that our citizens are making today under [the Republican legislature]. Unemployment is under four percent. 200,000 more people are working.”

He continued, “And we have, if you look at all 50 states, if you look at all the taxes – state taxes, city/municipal taxes – a citizen pays in Alabama, we are 50th — the lowest in the country in cumulative taxes. And if this [fuel] tax [increase] passes… guess what? We’ll still be 50th.”

Marsh added that if Rebuild Alabama passes, not only will Alabamians “still have the lowest taxes in the country,” but they will finally have a major chance for road and bridge projects in their own communities to get completed.

The Senate leader emphasized that the strong accountability portion of the legislation, especially found in HB 1, will provide significantly increased oversight and transparency to ALDOT. Members of the public will even be able to go online and find the projects slated in the department’s five-year planning.

“Early on in this process, I acknowledged that without strong accountability for ALDOT, we’d have no success,” Marsh said.

The legislature will have the necessary accountability on ALDOT through a revamped Joint Transportation Committee, with the annual legislative budget process as the body’s ultimate recourse. There will also be public hearings where members of the public can make their case for specific infrastructure projects.

“We’ve got it to where if we don’t put the language in the budget, [ALDOT] can’t spend the money,” Marsh advised. “And we want a list every year of every project in the state, county-by-county, of what’s being done, what’s on the plan, to be posted on their [website] for the citizens to see. They can go to it at any time.”

He said that specific road and bridge projects are not included in the Rebuild Alabama plan because that would lead to horse trading, with legislators demanding pork in exchange for their votes.

With the new accountability mechanisms throughout the three bills on the special session agenda, Marsh concluded, “[I]f it’s a project that the state needs, it’s going to have a fair shake in the [joint transportation] committee and with ALDOT.”

Right now, 92 percent of annual state infrastructure funding has to be spent just on maintenance of current roads and bridges.

However, with the much-needed revenue from Rebuild Alabama, the state, counties and municipalities will also finally have the necessary funding to get important expansion projects done.

Listen:

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

4 hours ago

Watch: Doug Jones refuses to answer question on Trump impeachment

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), cognizant that he was being recorded at the time, would not answer a question about the merits of impeaching President Donald Trump.

During a book tour event in Birmingham on Saturday, Jones was addressing questions that the audience submitted on notecards, but when he came to one question, he flat-out refused to answer.

The incumbent from Mountain Brook burst out laughing when he saw the question, and then read it aloud to the crowd: “Would the country be better off if Trump is impeached or beaten in 2020?”

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“Well, I think I’m just going to hold that one for a little bit,” Jones said to laughter and applause. “I’m sure there’s a tracker here recording this.”

Watch:

RELATED: Jones: ‘Doesn’t matter to me who the opponent is,’ ‘I’ll be back here for another term’

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

4 hours ago

Marshall focused on ensuring public safety, defending state law in first full term

MONTGOMERY — Now that Attorney General Steve Marshall has begun a full term of his own, his personal vision and policy priorities are more distinctly evident in driving the office’s work.

At the Montgomery Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon Monday, Marshall explained that since winning election in November, he finally had the chance to implement a long-term, big-picture plan for the attorney general’s office instead of being more “reactionary,” as he had to be after his 2017 appointment to serve the remainder of former Attorney General Luther Strange’s term. Just a few months into a four-year term now, Marshall and his team are already hard at work executing this plan and making his vision come to fruition.

“I’m a prosecutor — it’s how I’m wired,” Marshall explained. “And there really is no greater honor than to be the attorney general [given what I am passionate about].”

He summarized how he sees the role of attorney general into two relatively broad concepts: ensuring public safety and enforcing the constitutionally-enacted laws of the state.

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“My job is to make sure we keep our people safe,” Marshall said, adding this was “one of the fundamental aspects of what we believe in this country.”

The second concept pertains to fulfilling his role in our democratic republic. Legislators enact laws, the executive branch (chiefly through the attorney general’s office) enforces these laws and the courts play their role by interpreting laws when settling challenges or disputes.

“My role is to defend the law of the state,” Marshall emphasized.

He then shared some of the ways his office has recently “embraced” these core duties.

‘I’m an unabashed fan of Jeff Sessions’

First, speaking on public safety, Marshall reflected on the state’s violent crime initiative that he announced last year, which led him to add, “I don’t mind telling you, I’m an unabashed fan of Jeff Sessions. To the extent I have a disagreement with the president, it’s probably chief among them.”

“One of the things Jeff Sessions did was to refocus this country on the issue of violent crime,” Marshall advised.

He reiterated a point that Sessions has also made in speeches over the last six months, including a few in Alabama — violent crime in the United States had dropped steadily starting with the Reagan Administration in the 1980’s, but sharply started to tick up again after President Barack Obama took office.

However, this trend was reversed under Session’s tenure as United States attorney general, with the violent crime rate in America dropping significantly.

“General Sessions really released our federal partners to be working with us,” Marshall outlined. “Particularly ATF, DEA and FBI. [He] told our U.S. attorney offices to start working gun cases again, because that had not been going on during periods of the Obama Administration. And for us to be able to bring people together at the state and local level to be able to work with [federal partners] collectively… Montgomery is one of those places in which we’ve seen successes from this initiative… violent crime was reduced by over 16 percent. And that matters.”

He continued, “Sometimes when we talk about those percentages, we get sort of locked into numbers. Well, y’all, that’s people. That’s lives. And that’s families that are safer today as a result of much of the work that we’re doing.”

Marshall explained that a large part of the recent violent crime focus in Alabama has been on areas in the Black Belt, especially Selma.

“People in this room who may say, ‘Why does this matter to us here?’ Well it matters because what we’re doing is tracing many of the guns that are showing up in Montgomery violent crime cases to Dallas County. We see people that are moving from Dallas County up this way to be able to commit many of their crimes. So, our efforts to be multi-jurisdictional, bringing people from throughout this region and area together, makes an impact throughout many, many communities,” Marshall said.

The attorney general said over 300 people have been incarcerated due to the state’s violent crime efforts in the last year.

Marshall, after more praise for Sessions, then transitioned into talking about digital forensics analysis. This is an area that he has emphasized as a critical focus moving forward, as there are not enough trained analysts in this field, which is one that continues to grow in importance and prevalence as technology advances. This is another field where federal, state and local collaboration is key when it comes to the sharing of resources.

Some priorities this legislative session

When it comes to the 2019 regular session of the Alabama legislature, which reconvenes Tuesday, Marshall mentioned the “right to life” as a matter of both faith and policy he was focused on and would be advocating for.

“[W]e saw our young ladies were showing up to abortion clinics, who were otherwise the victims of a crime that we know as rape second [statutory rape], but law enforcement never knew anything about it,” Marshall advised. “And I’m going to stop that.”

He said the attorney general’s office will be offering legislation to address this issue, which Marshall stressed is tied to human trafficking in many instances.

“It’s an issue of which I’m very passionate about,” he explained.

Marshall also circled overhauling the Board of Pardons and Paroles as a primary concern of his that he would be asking the legislature to address. This is something he has been working with Governor Kay Ivey on, after the board last year was discovered to have been letting violent offenders free too early and too often.

“We saw some things that were simply unacceptable,” Marshall said. “When somebody is doing a life sentence for murder, they’re not supposed to come up for parole after five years. Especially when people like me have sat down with victims’ families to say, ‘Nobody’s going to show up on offenses like that until the expiration of 15 years or 85 percent of their sentence.’ But, yet suddenly they’re getting a notice from the parole board – they’ve been convicted and sentenced for murder for life –  and showing up after five years.”

“I don’t think you believe that’s acceptable,” he told the crowd. “I don’t think you see that as something that enhances public safety.”

“[O]ne of the things that you’ll see coming from us this legislative session would be ways to make sure that never happens again,” the attorney general said. “Because, although I believe there are appropriate paroles that take place, I believe there is a role for pardons in our system, it needs to be done responsibly.”

He added that if the members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles believe it is their responsibility to address prison overcrowding, “they are greatly misunderstanding their role on that body.”

“They are a public safety body,” Marshall advised. “They need to be making decisions that are appropriate for community safety, and then making those for valid reasons.”

Opioids, mental health

Answering questions from the crowd after his remarks, Marshall identified the opioid crisis and mental health care as two key areas that are not only intertwined with themselves and public safety, but with crime, too.

After touching on his personal experience with the issues, he explained that life expectancy in America has gone down the last three years largely due to the suicide and overdose rates.

“We’re the greatest country in the world, with the best access to healthcare, and yet our life expectancy has gone down,” Marshall lamented.

He said when he became attorney general, the state had no strategic plan on dealing with opioids. He made that a priority from the start, formed a task force with the blessing of Ivey, presented her a plan in December 2017 and is now executing that plan through his office and various partnerships.

The plan “has been recognized nationally as one of the most comprehensive” plans out there, Marshall said. And, most importantly, the plan does not just exist, but it is being diligently worked.

“We’re making progress… and I’m encouraged by where we are,” Marshall concluded.

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

5 hours ago

Join Us: Yellowhammer ‘News Shaper’ series kicks off with its 2019 legislative edition

Join the Yellowhammer News team Tuesday, March 19th for a “Yellowhammer News Shaper” event in Montgomery. The gathering will offer a reception as well as a live interview with Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

The discussion will be moderated by Yellowhammer News editor and owner Tim Howe and will cover issues surrounding this year’s legislative session.

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The event will take place at the Alabama Association of Realtors, 522 Washington Avenue, and will begin at 5:00 p.m. with a networking opportunity followed by the moderated interview and questions from the audience.

Several more Yellowhammer News Shaper events will take place across the state this year. The series is non-partisan, on-the-record and designed to localize issues and highlight thought leaders.

Continue to visit Yellowhammernews.com for announcements during the 2019 calendar year.

5 hours ago

Groups across US take in dogs, cats after Alabama tornado

People across the nation are helping to find homes for animals evacuated from shelters in an Alabama community that was devastated by a tornado.

The twister left 23 dead and dozens of people injured as it roared across the community of Beauregard on March 3.

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The Humane Society of the United States contacted several humane societies across the nation to ask for help, Al.com reported.

The Oregon Humane Society says it was asked by the national organization if it could take any of the 150 pets that were being evacuated from Lee County shelters.

In Tennessee, the Nashville Humane Association says it received 21 cats and dogs affected by the tornado. It said those animals will be up for adoption soon.

“They have been through a lot,” said Laura Charvarria , executive director of the Nashville Humane Association.

“One of the shelters, Southern Souls, the tornado touched down actually in their backyard, so they experienced that, on top of, they just went through a 6-hour drive from Alabama to Tennessee, so that is extremely stressful on the animals,” Charvarria said.

Many of the animals from Alabama were flown on a jet to Oregon about a week after the tornado.

Staffers from animal shelters in that region met the dogs and cats when they touched down.

“There was a great camaraderie among the group 7/8— a wonderful testament to the collective compassion in the Northwest.

As the plane touched down the group erupted in applause,” the Oregon Humane Society said in a news release.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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6 hours ago

Failed state House candidate wants to challenge gas tax in court

Former candidate for state House and Republican Executive Committee anti-tax resolution sponsor, Tom Fredricks, is preparing a legal challenge on the Rebuild Alabama Act based on the perceived unconstitutional nature of the Port of Mobile dredging.

When the Rebuild Alabama gas tax increase was being debated, for all of five days, opponents were throwing everything they could at the gas tax.

All of this was for naught as the bill passed both chambers of the legislature and was signed by the governor. Your gas tax will go up over the next three years.

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The state Republican Party Executive Committee went as far as opposing the gas tax with a resolution at their winter meeting. The committee rightly argued very few politicians ran on raising taxes. In fact, many opposed tax increases or ran on keeping taxes low.

Foes of the tax, yours truly included, felt the use of the special session was a nefarious work-around the legislative process.

Lastly, a small group of insurgents pushed the ingenious argument that the portion of the law spending millions of dollars every year on dredging for the Port of Mobile was unconstitutional.

And now, the opponents of this gas tax are moving on to the next level of the battle: the courts

Fredricks appeared Monday on “The Dale Jackson Show” on WVNN in Huntsville to lay out his legal strategy.

“It appears that it’s in direct violation of Amendment 354 … the constitution says that that money shall be used on the construction and maintenance of roads and bridges,” he outlined.

Fredricks has even launched a GoFundMe page to fund this endeavor after one lawyer told him he would need $25,000 to pursue this challenge.

But, former Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville), an anti-tax advocate, believes this is a non-starter after initially thinking there would be an issue in battling the tax increase.

Sanford posted his findings on Facebook.

Fredricks himself believes this is a long-shot, but stated that he believes the people of this state need to continue having a voice on this issue.

Listen:

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