3 weeks 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

3 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?”

65

“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.

1166

“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

4 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.

72

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.

4 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.

223

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)

Sign-up now for our daily newsletter and never miss another article from Yellowhammer News.

5 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.

281

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