7 months ago

Ivey announces ‘Rebuild Alabama’ plan to improve state’s roads, bridges

MAPLESVILLE — Next to a crumbling rural road and a deficient old bridge, Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday began to make the case for her “Rebuild Alabama” plan.

With key legislative leaders, stakeholders and job creators firmly behind her, Ivey declared, “Y’all, this is an issue felt by every Alabamian. … The fact of the matter is that Alabama must – absolutely must – address this problem, and to be successful, we’ve got to tackle it together.”

The governor is proposing a 10 cents-per-gallon fuel tax in addition to the currently imposed flat excise tax of 18 cents-per-gallon on gas and 19 cents-per-gallon on diesel. The 10 cents would be phased in over three years — six cents immediately, two more cents in 2020 and the final two cents in 2021. After this phase-in, the tax would be indexed to coincide with the rising costs of building roads. The index would raise the tax no more than one cent every two years.

While 37 other states have increased their infrastructure revenue in the past five years alone, Alabama last adjusted its combined fuel tax – which generates 80 percent of Alabama’s transportation funding – way back in 1992. According to a report released Tuesday by a national research group, this has resulted in the buying power of the Yellowhammer State’s fuel tax being less than 50 percent of what it was originally. In Maplesville, this frightening statistic showed.

Located in Chilton County, Maplesville is a quiet agricultural community. However, it has the ability to do big business, with logging trucks constantly coming in and out with valuable Alabama timber.

There are stories just like this across the state, and Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell’s position squarely behind Ivey at the podium spoke volumes. Simply put, farm-to-market roads are big business in the state. And as logging trucks have to go miles out of the way to avoid a 55-year-old bridge that can no longer support their weight, hardworking Alabamians are losing time and money.

The same goes for school buses. After Ivey lamented that they also had to travel daily out of the way to avoid the bridge, burdening local families and costing the school district money that should be used in the classroom, one local resident chimed in, “Amen to that.”

To make matters worse, the road just beyond the bridge abruptly turned from being paved to dirt, and the entire route and bridge would flood over when the area got significant rain – which was not hard to believe looking at the high water levels feet away from the podium.

Legislative support

Ivey stressed that this is not just a rural issue or an urban one; not just a South Alabama project or a North Alabama one; and not just a Republican priority or a Democratic one.

She called it a “bipartisan issue” in the purest form.

“That means an issue we can all get behind,” Ivey explained.

This was affirmed by a united set of state legislative leaders who spoke after her, including Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rep. Kelvin Lawrence (D-Hayneville).

“True leaders do not always do the easy thing, but they do the things that are necessary. Governor Ivey, you have stepped up with this initiative to help us here in Alabama,” McCutcheon said. “And I want to thank you for your leadership. We are supportive of you – the leadership in the House – we’re standing behind this transportation/infrastructure bill and this is truly … an investment in our state.”

He continued, “When it comes to the economy, this produces jobs, which produces a better quality of life for Alabamians.”

Marsh advised that the governor had tasked his office months ago with doing research on the state’s infrastructure needs, as well as possible solutions.

“We had some 31 meetings over the last year to talk about the needs of Alabama and how to craft an infrastructure plan that takes us into the next century,” he outlined.

“I want to thank the governor today for taking a proactive position on this,” Marsh added. “Because I want everyone that’s here today and everyone that’s watching today to understand this: we want to come in and address this issue in a proactive manner and not [have to] be called into a special session because a school bus has [fallen] through a bad bridge.”

Singleton, who represents a district in the Black Belt, quipped, “I represent a district of ‘po folk: P-O, can’t afford the other O-R.’ And when we look in our communities, roads and bridges are just important to us as they are to Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville. That’s why I stand here today with this governor, because this plan is a comprehensive plan to work for the state of Alabama.”

He emphasized that Ivey is committed to the people of rural west Alabama just as much as she is for people in more affluent urban and suburban areas.

“There are hundreds of miles of dirt roads that are in my district,” Singleton advised. “We could have easily found bridges in west Alabama that looked like this, or even wooden bridges that look like this. I know that the governor has the commitment and the heart to [solve this issue]. Because as the Speaker said, it is not the easiest thing to do… but it is an opportunity for us to make it right. It’s time.”

Lawrence, representing the House Minority Caucus, said, “We must do what we need to do to improve our roads and bridges so we can provide a better future not just for [us], but for [our] children and [our] grandchildren. So we thank Governor Ivey for her efforts on this.”

State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) will sponsor the bill and State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) will carry the legislation in the Senate.

Poole, who could not make it to the press conference due to a last-minute hearing that was called for one of his legal clients, released a statement saying, “Today’s announcement is a major step in the right direction to improving Alabama’s infrastructure. I appreciate Governor Ivey for leading the charge and allowing me to help develop this plan. A number of studies have concluded that Alabama’s aging infrastructure cannot continue to operate in its current state without severe consequences; these are simply facts we can’t ignore.”

At the press conference, Chambliss praised Poole’s diligence in studying the issue and listening meticulously to all the stakeholders involved before finalizing the bill corresponding to Ivey’s plan.

Chambliss added, “We are behind … [but] through Governor Kay Ivey’s leadership, Pro Tem Marsh’, Speaker McCutcheon’s, we’re going to solve this problem.”

McCutcheon told reporters after the press conference that he plans to have the bill get its first three readings and enter into debate by the end of the first legislative week. It must pass the House before being considered by the Senate. The regular session starts March 5, with Ivey noting that she is leaving the option of calling a special session on the table. This could even mean a special session within the beginning of the regular session.

Both Marsh and McCutcheon expressed high levels of optimism that the bill would pass their respective chambers, citing that their members were highly informed on the issue and had been expecting it to come up this year.

What the tax revenues would pay for

New revenue generated by the increase will be dispersed between state, county and municipal governments in Alabama.

McCutcheon said the full 10-cent increase is estimated to raise more than $300 million annually.

Ivey emphasized that the funds are to be used exclusively for roads, bridges and improving the Port of Mobile.

“I have worked personally with Representative Bill Poole as he crafted this bill [so] that we have strong, strong accountability in this bill and that the monies will go to asphalt and concrete, not on bureaucracy, not on pencils, not on personnel,” the governor explained. “[A]bsolute accountability – we can track [every cent of spending]… to protect our taxpayers.”

Ten million dollars of the plan’s annual revenues will go to pay a bond to be issued to finance improvements to the ship channel providing access to the facilities of the Alabama State Docks at the Port of Mobile. The port needs to deepen and widen the channel to accommodate more cargo vessels.

Ivey outlined that the port handles “approximately 64 million tons of cargo each year” and has “a total economic impact of $22.4 billion.”

“So addressing our port is also essential to our manufacturing, retail and agricultural businesses in every part of the state, particularly in North Alabama,” she said.

Ivey called her Rebuild Alabama plan “a direct investment in public safety, economic development, and the prosperity of our state.”

“Alabamians will be safer, and Alabama’s future will be prosperous,” the governor said. “Let’s remember that Alabama’s best days are ahead.”

Job creators react

After the press conference, the Business Council of Alabama released a statement commending the plan.

“The road to our future must be paved,” BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt said. “Alabama’s transportation system is the backbone of the state’s economy and is crucial to our economic growth, and I commend Governor Ivey for making this a priority of her Administration.”

“Alabama’s drivers are more likely to be killed in a traffic accident in Alabama than 44 other states. Last year, 282 people lost their lives in Alabama because of our road conditions,” she continued. “Alabama’s current infrastructure challenges create a serious safety concern for all those who travel our roadways while also hindering job creation and eroding our businesses’ bottom lines. An investment in our roads and bridges is an investment in the safety and quality of life of all Alabamians.”

“Economic development and infrastructure go hand in hand,” Britt concluded. “We are on an unsustainable course and can no longer afford to do nothing, and I urge the legislature to pass the governor’s package.”

The BCA also released a fact sheet outlining the dire need for additional investment in Alabama’s infrastructure system.

Watch the press conference:

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

5 hours ago

State Sen. Figures: ‘I didn’t ask’ to be on ATRIP-II — ‘Very ironic I end up’ on it

Last week when State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Daphne) was dismissed by Gov. Kay Ivey from the ATRIP-II committee and was replaced by State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile), it raised a few eyebrows.

The consensus was that Elliott was being punished for his outspoken opposition to the Alabama Department of Transportation’s proposed I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge, which was in part to be financed by a toll.

During an appearance on this weekend’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television “Capitol Journal,” Figures reacted to her appointment by Ivey. She noted the nature of these appointments and that she also lost an appointment when Lt. Will Ainsworth took her off of the Joint Transportation Committee earlier this year and said it was a result of comments she had made “at the microphone.”

579

“He’s not the only one that’s been taken off of a committee,” she said. “It happens all the time. It happens in the House. It happens in the Senate. It goes back and forth, and that is the governor’s prerogative to do such.”

Figures had not taken an outspoken position on the I-10 bridge project but said that she did not think the burden should be put on local residents in Mobile and Baldwin Counties.

“I don’t think it should be the responsibility of the citizens of Mobile and Baldwin Counties to pay for that I-10 bridge,” Figures said. “It is an interstate. I think it should be the state and the federal government that should bear the cost of it. At the same time, if we are to pay for it, let the people decide if that’s what they really want since they say it’s in the very high percentage rates of local citizens using that bridge. It’s a lot to work out. But I’m a consensus builder, and I’m going to work with the governor to try to do that.”

The Mobile County Democrat said she was grateful for the appointment by Ivey, adding that she would bring “diversity” to the ATRIP-II committee.

“I was very humbled and honored when she called and asked me to serve,” she said. “It really was to my surprise that there was not a Democrat nor an African-American legislator on the ATRIP-II committee. Now there’s definitely diversity. Of course, there is an African-American — County Commissioner Tony Cherry from [Cherokee] County is on that committee. So, I was very pleased to add that diversity. I want to take to that committee a voice for the voiceless if you will. We have a number of counties in this state that don’t have the resources or revenues to give that skin in the game, if you will, in terms of matching funds. But then, they have priorities, too. And we are supposed to be about protecting the health, safety and welfare of all of our citizens. So that is the voice I want to bring to that committee.”

Host Don Dailey alluded to the “irony” of Figures appointment, particularly given Figures opposed the Rebuild Alabama Act passed earlier this year, which resulted in a hike of the state’s gas tax. She acknowledged the irony, but said she did not actively seek a spot on that committee.

“I stand by that vote,” she said. “I voted against it. I did tell the governor that I would vote if she would expand Medicaid because this state did not expand Medicaid, therefore they left $1.3 billion on the table along with 30,000 jobs. It chose not to expand Medicaid. Had we expanded Medicaid, we would not have needed this gas tax. And to me, this gas tax is a very expensive and regressive tax, which will be on the backs of people who can least afford it.”

“Let me just say this: I didn’t ask to be on this committee,” Figures added. “And it is — it is very ironic I end up on the committee that decides it. But you know, for me — I’m a very spiritual woman of deep faith. God is in control. I was asked to be on it and although I voted against the tax, I want to be that voice for the voiceless.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

6 hours ago

VIDEO: Ivey punishes toll opponents, ongoing impeachment talks, Madison shows the state how to raise taxes and more on Guerrilla Politics …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Should Governor Kay Ivey be punishing toll opponents like State Senator Chris Elliot (R-Daphne) for their disagreements?

— Why not just admit that Democrats are trying to impeach President Donald Trump?

— Why did 70% of voters in Madison say “YES” to a new tax increase?

85

Jackson and Burke are joined by State Senator Sam Givhan to talk about road projects and how Alabama Department of Transportation and Governor Ivey move forward after their big defeat.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” where he argues that companies banning their customers from carrying weapons in their stores aren’t really doing anything but chasing good press by placating a mob and their media.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=461031881151175

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

8 hours ago

Itty Bitty Bakers makes cooking fun and informative for Alabama kids

It starts with a special ingredient – in this case, registered dietician and educator Jessica Hamby.

Combine with the children willing to learn and participate. Flavor in a mix of art, crafts, reading and hands-on learning. Then top off with the capable hands of proven instructors and assistants, and you have Itty Bitty Bakers.

389

Hamby started Itty Bitty Bakers in 2018 to bring her own love of cooking with healthy and fresh ingredients to children in her neighborhood. The belief was that if the children had a hand in preparing healthy foods, they would be more inclined to try and then enjoy foods that are better for them.

It worked. Hamby, who has a master’s in health education, created a curriculum that reinforces the recipes and helps teach children about where food comes from, how ingredients are used to make a dish and how cooking can be a fun and creative outlet for people of any age.

Itty Bitty Bakers has the recipe for making cooking fun and educational for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

What started as a couple of summer camp classes quickly grew into monthly classes and then multiple classes for students of different ages.

“It really took off,” said Melissa Carden, an instructor with Itty Bitty Bakers. “It seemed to be something that the community really had a need for. There was always a demand.”

Today, the program has two instructors, teaching assistants, a team of youth helpers and even students from the University of Alabama nutrition program who intern during the summer.

At one recent bakers camp, the students picked basil, used it in a recipe, learned about growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables during story time, colored pictures of herbs and even took recipes and basil seeds home with them. The basil was used to make basil-cheddar biscuits, which they got to enjoy during snack time.

Each class and camp teaches children to be comfortable in the kitchen, builds on their understanding of where food comes from and encourages creativity.

“It’s really fascinating how much they enjoy the hands-on – the mixing, the pouring – every child gets to add at least one ingredient to the recipe,” Carden said. “It’s fun to see how capable they are. They’re capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Itty Bitty Bakers offers classes for preschoolers, grade schooler and pre-teens. There are camps during the summer, classes during the school year and special workshops throughout the year. Prices vary and registration is done online. Itty Bitty Bakers will even organize parties.

Itty Bitty Bakers can be found online, on Facebook, on Instagram and Pinterest.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Birmingham’s Alie B. Gorrie puts spotlight on disabled performers in new Amazon series

When Alie B. Gorrie moved to New York in 2015 after graduating from Belmont University, she was not unlike other young performers trying to find their way in the big city.

Armed with a resume that included shows at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company (RMTC), Gorrie taught yoga and worked part-time as a teacher, all the while auditioning for (and getting some) roles at theater companies in the area.

653

But look at Gorrie’s resume, and you’ll see something listed that provided some extra challenges. Under “Special Skills,” she notes that she’s “legally blind/visually impaired,” having been diagnosed at an early age with low vision.

“When I moved to New York, casting directors would say, ‘Why is one of your eyes crossed?’,” Gorrie says. “I didn’t expect to hear that after singing a song. … I’ve faced having to learn how to speak about it and articulate what I needed around it very quickly.”

Gorrie is not alone, and her latest project showcases other performers dealing with their own disabilities in the arts world. Gorrie co-hosts and co-produces, with Kallen Blair, “ABLE: a series,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. There are eight 15-minute episodes, each of which focuses on a performer with a disability, including recent Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, who is in a wheelchair.

The series was conceived after Gorrie saw a musical called “Sam’s Room” off-Broadway.

“I‘ve never been so moved by something,” she says of the show about a teen with non-verbal autism. “I had this impulse to buy 10 tickets and invite people I knew to see the show.”

One of those people was Blair, who has a brother with non-verbal autism.

“After the show, she was weeping, and she said that it was the first time she had seen her brother represented so well in a story,” Gorrie says. “That got us started in these inclusion discussions.”

Later, when Gorrie was working in California and Blair in Boston, Blair sent her an email.

“She pitched a documentary series shedding a light on inclusion in theater,” Gorrie recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, sign me up.’”

Each episode features one guest interviewed by Gorrie and Blair. The guests include Evan Ruggiero, a dancer who lost a leg to cancer at age 19; John McGinty, a deaf actor who starred on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God”; and Danny Woodburn, an actor with dwarfism known best for his role on the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The two interviewed Stroker prior to her Tony nomination and win for “Oklahoma!”

“She is the one who is truly paving the way for disabled artists everywhere now,” Gorrie says.

Gorrie and her family created Songs for Sight, an event that raises money for the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fundraiser, which has included performers such as Vince Gill, Sara Evans and Grace Potter, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a free concert at Red Mountain Theatre Company in October.

Gorrie really found her calling at RMTC, where she performed for a number of years. She counts RMTC Executive Director Keith Cromwell among those who helped her realize she could pursue a performing career while dealing with her vision issues.

“It took me a while to find teachers and mentors who knew how to not make too big a deal out of it while also not ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist,” Gorrie says.

Cromwell is one who recognized Gorrie’s talents early on.

“When you meet ‘special,’ it has no age, it’s timeless,” he says of Gorrie, who is now 26. “As I watch her grow into a magnificent adult and amazing artist who is changing the world, I could not feel more privileged to witness her advancing her cause, her art, her center – the truth of who she is.”

That’s really what’s at the core of “ABLE,” too, as artists talk about embracing their disabilities and finding opportunities to shine, even though it’s still an uphill battle to get casting directors to cast disabled actors.

Gorrie and Blair are already planning Season 2 of “ABLE,” looking to focus less on individuals and more on theaters and other groups that are embracing inclusion of disabled performers.

“We want to go to theaters and film sets and do documentary-style episodes going into the places that are inclusion champions,” Gorrie says.

“ABLE: a series” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

13 hours ago

Alabama Habitat for Humanity chapter builds 14 homes in 1 week

To say Tonya Torrance is happy would be an understatement.

“It feels great. It’s a feeling that can’t be explained.”

Torrance and her family are one of 14 families who received a new home Thursday as part of this year’s Home Builders Blitz from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The chapter chose to celebrate its 14th anniversary by building 14 homes, a new record according to chapter President and CEO Charles Moore and a task that requires a tremendous amount of organizing and planning.

389

“We knew if we followed that plan and stuck to schedule with everybody doing their part, we could complete it on time,” Moore said. “We have hundreds of volunteers helping us, along with skilled tradesmen, professional homebuilders and many more behind the scenes helping with meals and sponsorships. Some of the big corporations in Alabama, such as Wells Fargo and Alabama Power have been with us year after year, as well as the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders — we couldn’t do it without our home builders who volunteer and give us this week of their time and help direct the house that they’re building.”

One of those home builders for this year’s blitz was Danniell Burton, a superintendent and project manager at Taylor Burton Company. Burton grew up helping his dad at Habitat builds, but this was his first year leading a build. He said the experience of building Torrance’s home was awesome.

“It gets stressful throughout the week — tons of subs and your mind is going a bunch of different ways, but to be done with it is awesome,” Burton said. “Seeing the homeowners’ faces walking in and just getting done with it is such a relief.”

Torrance said working with Burton was great.

“He didn’t ask for nothing he wouldn’t do,” Torrance said. “I love him.”

“It really does feel great,” Burton added. “As you make progress every day and seeing their faces is just a great feeling. You work late hours but the drive home at night you realize what you got done for the day and knowing they’re happy is what it’s all about.”

Moore said seeing people come together to help each other is what makes him most proud of the blitz builds.

“There’s no way we could do this without people pitching in to help,” Moore said. “We like to see ourselves as coordinators, as people who bring people together to help make it happen. We recognize that without the volunteers, without the financial support, without all of the folks that make this happen, that this would not happen.”

To learn more about the Home Builders Blitz program from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity, visit habitatbirmingham.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)