1 year 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

1 hour ago

Tuberville on China, coronavirus: ‘We’ve got to worry about Alabama and this country’ right now

Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville is taking a different stance on China than his Republican primary runoff competitor, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In an appearance on Talk 99.5’s “Matt and Aunie Show” Thursday morning, Tuberville was asked about what he thought was happening with China.

He responded, “Well, we can’t worry about China right now. We’ve gotta worry about Alabama and this country.”

Experts agree that the novel coronavirus originated somewhere around the city of Wuhan in China, and the country spent several weeks trying to obscure the extent of the outbreak. There have since been significant indications that the death toll in China is higher than the country is publicly reporting.

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Sessions has called for an extensive investigation into the communist government that runs China, and blasted the current leadership there, calling it an “evil regime.”

“You know, I hear about all these people hollering for investigations and we always investigate,” commented Tuberville on Thursday, before later adding, “[Congressional committees] investigate and nothing ever comes of it, so right now we’ve gotta worry about this country. ‘Cause right now we’re in trouble.”

In tweets responding to the Tuberville interview, Sessions said, “China’s where the virus is from, and their deliberate lies hid the danger & resulted in a pandemic that never should’ve happened! We must take on China NOW and WIN, not run scared like Tommy Tuberville!”

Later in the interview, Tuberville praised President Donald Trump’s efforts to shift the United States’ economic relationship to China.

“They’re gonna be knocked to their knees, and they should be,” the former coach said.

Paul Shashy, Tuberville’s campaign manager, said in a statement to Yellowhammer News, “If Jeff Sessions was too afraid to stand up to Robert Mueller, how can we ever expect him to stand up to China? Like President Trump, Coach Tuberville believes we should focus all of our resources on ending the Coronavirus pandemic, fixing our economy, and helping the Alabamians who need help now. Once that’s done, he’ll stand with the president to hold the Chinese fully accountable, unlike Jeff Sessions, who voted with Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to reward China with permanent trade status.”

Tuberville and Sessions will face each other at the ballot box on July 14 in the Republican primary runoff.

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

3 hours ago

Ivey issues ‘stay-at-home’ order for the state of Alabama effective Saturday afternoon

MONTGOMERY – Governor Kay Ivey has issued a “stay-at-home” order for the state of Alabama as coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and deaths continue to rise.

The order is effective beginning Saturday, April 4, at 5:00 p.m. and will expire Thursday, April 30, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. CT.

Exceptions apply for essential activities and businesses.

The order can be read here.

An updated supplemental State of Emergency can be read here.

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Ivey made the announcement at a press conference Friday at 4:00 p.m. CT alongside State Health Officer Scott Harris, Attorney General Steve Marshall and the Reverend Cromwell A. Handy of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Reporters were able to attend and ask questions live afterwards while following social distancing guidelines.

In a statement, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said he supports the stay-at-home order.

“I agree with Gov. Ivey’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order throughout Alabama, and though many may find it inconvenient, her action is the best method of combatting and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our cities, towns, and communities,” he said.

“Alabamians have always shown courage in a crisis, so at this critical time, the best way we can stand together is by staying apart,” Ainsworth concluded.

Ainsworth’s full statement can be read here.

Ivey said in her remarks that it became obvious to her Thursday afternoon that more must be done to flatten the curve.

The governor advised she was “convinced our previous efforts to reduce social interaction [had not been enough].”

“That’s why we are taking this more drastic step,” she added.

Ivey cited the jump in confirmed cases the state experienced Thursday, along with location data made available by news outlets, as sources of information she found relevant in making her decision.

“April stands to be very tough, and potentially very deadly,” warned Ivey.

The governor said that Alabama should expect a surge in hospitalizations that she estimates will peak in 2-3 weeks.

Harris noted the the models projecting caseload change every day.

Marshall said that intentionally violating the new order is a class-c misdemeanor.

Marshall urged law enforcement officers around the state to practice restraint in enforcing the order, only using criminal action if someone was endangering others.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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

3 hours ago

Alabama’s budgets will face real issues post-coronavirus

Every American is fixated on the current coronavirus pandemic. It dominates local and national news, daily talk radio and Alabama’s major newspapers three days a week.

The Alabama political press is busy using this to accuse Governor Kay Ivey of wanting Alabamians to die because she hasn’t issued a “shelter-in-place” order. To their credit, usually, it’s Alabama’s budget cuts, low taxes, taxes on food, failure to expand Medicaid or abortion bans that are being used as an implement of murder by their target of the day, so give them credit for creativity.

If we as a state look past this healthcare issue and look at the damage it is already doing to the state’s economy, we will see a bunch of major issues on the horizon.

When State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) appeared on WVNN Friday morning, he talked about budgeting issues that will definitely be of major concern when the state is back open for business and the legislature resumes its budgeting process.

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Orr, who has chaired both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund committees, said that the next legislative session will be a hard one with hard fiscal choices.

Planned pay raises for teachers and other state employees are gone. Orr noted that the budgets that are passed will be “level-funding” — or close to it — and hard choices will have to be made.

But that “pain” may be short-term, not that the reverberation of the coronavirus pandemic won’t last for years. There could be long-term issues as well.

The Retirement System of Alabama has long been a hot-button in this state.

Orr sounded the alarm on the viability of the system, saying, “The RSA is among, if not the most, highly exposed defined benefit, public defined benefit plan in the country to equities or to the stock market.”

He noted, “When the stock market has tanked 30 plus percent, RSA feels a much larger hit than other retirement funds. It’s going to be a concern.”

My takeaway:

With a defined benefit payout and few opportunities to increase revenue. the actuarial tables will take a beating as the stock market slides.

Most expect the market to rebound eventually, but Orr has been talking about the RSA’s vulnerabilities for years. And this will not help.

Even if you aren’t a beneficiary of the Retirement System of Alabama, you will still feel the impact if its finances continue to head south. Orr warned of a stark reality where “taxpayers will be ending up having to pay more for retirement for all the government employees.”

Obviously, no one is thinking about this right now, but we will be revisiting this in the very near future and the impact of this could go on for a very long time.

Listen:

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

4 hours ago

Survey: 50% of small businesses cannot survive more than two months of coronavirus restrictions

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Center on Friday released its latest survey detailing the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on small businesses across the country.

The survey was conducted March 30 and utilized a random sampling of the organization’s 300,000 members. This garnered 1,172 usable responses, all small employers with 1-465 employees.

Unfortunately — but also unsurprisingly, the survey showed continued overall deterioration in the small business sector since the NFIB’s previous similar survey, which was conducted on March 20. A release from NFIB on Friday stated, “The severity of the outbreak and regulatory measures that cities and states are taking to control it are having a devastating impact on small businesses.”

In the latest survey, 92% of small employers said they are negatively impacted by the pandemic, up from 76% saying the same just 10 days prior.

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The latest survey also showed 3% of small employees answering that they are positively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. NFIB explained that these select firms are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods and services. That effect will likely wane in the coming weeks as consumers feel more secure about their personal supply levels, NFIB added.

State-specific survey data was unavailable, but NFIB Alabama State Director Rosemary Elebash said in a statement, “Without a doubt, the coronavirus has taken a tremendous toll on Alabama’s small businesses. Our members are determined to get through this, and they’re working to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans and other forms of financial relief so they can avoid layoffs and having to close the doors for good.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) noted, “We have organized an Emergency Small Business Task Force to identify problems our businesses are facing during this difficult time. We need to bring clarity to issues and government orders that are often confusing and to effectively communicate solutions and direct business owners to resources that can help. NFIB is an indispensable member helping to guide this task force.”

RELATED: State Rep. Whitt on coronavirus restrictions: ‘Our small businesses are getting destroyed’

Among negatively impacted small employers in the NFIB survey, 80% reported slower sales, 31% reported experiencing supply chain disruptions and 23% reported concerns over sick employees.

One other major point in the survey pertained to how long can small businesses can continue to operate under current conditions.

With the pandemic projected to continue for weeks, it is especially concerning that approximately half of small employers said they can survive for no more than two months. About 15% of small employers responded that they cannot last even another month.

Mitigation is ongoing, however. Due to escalating financial stress on the sector, more small businesses are now talking with their bank about financing needs than was the case 10 days ago. Approximately 29% of small employers have talked with someone at their bank or with the Small Business Administration (SBA) about finance options, and another 23% are planning to do so soon. A total of 38% of small employers have not, and do not, intend to do so, per NFIB’s survey.

Read the full survey here.

RELATED: University of Alabama program helps connect small businesses with federal relief funds

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

4 hours ago

Alabama automakers lend a helping hand in COVID-19 battle

Alabama automakers are stepping in to aid their communities in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including support of crucial testing services and production of protective face shields for healthcare workers.

Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory is producing 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals.

In addition, the plant has donated 160 safety glasses to local hospitals, along with $25,000 to the United Way of Madison County to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

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“With our plant idled, Toyota Alabama is eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the equipment needed to combat COVID-19,” the company said in a statement today.

Similar efforts are also happening at Toyota facilities nationwide.

Other Alabama automakers are offering community support as well.

Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand community testing efforts.

The grant will support the existing drive-through testing site in downtown Birmingham and help other sites in Jefferson County provide much-needed screening, said UAB Medicine CEO Will Ferniany.

“Support like this gift from Hyundai Hope On Wheels helps our frontline medical staff understand that they are not alone in this fight,” he said. “This grant will help further UAB’s commitment to providing access to communitywide testing.”

The grant will also be used to expand access for pediatric-specific testing services. About 20 percent of the downtown testing site’s patient population is age 25 and under, and officials from UAB Medicine, the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama hope to continue to expand testing for this group.

Nationwide, Hyundai is donating $2.2 million to support drive-thru testing centers at 11 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels supports families facing pediatric cancer, and the company said the pandemic is a particular risk to children with cancer who have compromised immune systems.

Hyundai operates an auto assembly plant in Montgomery, which has been idled amid the outbreak, as have other auto assembly plants in the state.

Honda’s plants across the U.S. are also helping out during the crisis, including its factory in Talladega County.

Honda has pledged $1 million to food banks and meal programs across North America. Plants also are donating equipment, including N95 face masks, to healthcare providers, deploying 3-D printers to manufacture visors for face shields and investigating ways to partner with other companies in producing equipment.

In Tuscaloosa County, the Mercedes-Benz plant has donated N100 reusable filters,  protective suits and other supplies to local hospitals, as well as $5,000 to the DCH Foundation to help with the hospital’s curbside testing process.

Mercedes is also working with the Alabama Department of Commerce on ways the company or its supplier network can support making parts for the medical industry, and it is providing expertise to other manufacturers that are producing healthcare supplies.

The automaker also hosted a LifeSouth community blood drive that received about 95 donors.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)