2 weeks ago

Ivey in State of the State: ‘Now is the time to Rebuild Alabama’

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey delivered her 2019 State of the State address Tuesday evening, highlighting the record successes of her administration and explaining her vision of taking the state to even greater heights in the future.

Ivey spent a good portion of the address speaking about her continued revamp of the state’s education system, including her trademark “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative. However, perhaps the biggest applause line of the night was for Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program, which has been ranked the nation’s best for 12 consecutive years. The governor is proposing an additional $25 million for expansion of the voluntary program in this year’s budget.

The speech was well received throughout by members of the state legislature, with a clear majority giving the governor a standing ovation after she proclaimed, “I say enough is enough. Now is the time to Rebuild Alabama!”

In addition to speaking about her infrastructure plan, Ivey announced a proposed four percent pay raise for all public teachers in the state and a proposed two percent pay raise for all other public employees.

The governor explained that the state Medicaid agency will require $40 million less in 2020 than compared to 2019, thanks to increased efficiency under her administration.

She is proposing additional state troopers and $7 million more in mental health funding.

Text of Ivey’s State of the State address, as prepared, as follows:

Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth, Pro Tempore Marsh, Speaker McCutcheon, Speaker Pro Tempore Gaston, members of the Alabama Legislature, Chief Justice Parker, justices of the Alabama Supreme Court, distinguished guests – and my fellow Alabamians:

Just over 48 hours ago, Mother Nature’s wrath – in the form of vicious and deadly tornados – ripped through our state, leaving behind significant devastation.

At least 23 innocent lives were lost.

Young children who had barely experienced life.

Mothers. Fathers. Friends and neighbors.

It is during times like these that we turn to the good Lord, asking for His continued comfort and healing hands.

We also give special thanks for the emergency responders and local law enforcement.

Please join me as we observe a moment of silence to remember all those who passed away, as well as many others who were injured.

While there is always uncertainty in what tomorrow may bring, there is absolute certainty in the resiliency of the people of Alabama.

After all, we’ve done it before, and we will do it again.

This is a time for all of Alabama – and our entire nation – to rally behind these good people. Together, we will bring Lee County back to its feet!

In our 200 years of statehood, the men and women of Alabama have always stepped forward when our nation called.

When our country needed defending, the legendary Tuskegee Airmen were born.

When our country was plagued with injustice, it was an Alabama woman that refused to give her seat up on a bus.

When our country sought to do the impossible and take man to the moon, it was Alabamians that built the rocket that successfully launched and returned them home.

The people of our state shaped the past. They are influencing the present, and without a doubt, they are at the forefront of defining our future.

Since this occasion last year, our story in Alabama has continued to evolve with one major accomplishment after another. At the same time, we are managing to fund state government, remaining conservative with the hard-earned dollars the men and women of this state send to us.

Ladies and gentlemen, this evening, I am proud to report that the state of our state is growing stronger each day. Our state’s recent history combined with the willing attitude I sense in the Chamber this evening, will aid in ourquest to overcome our long-neglected issues and will help us achieve even greater prosperity for the entire state.

We will accomplish this together, because we are Alabama, and this is our time.Alabama’s economy is breaking records some thought we would never see.

In 2018, alone, Alabama achieved a historic total of $8.8 billion dollars in new capital investments, which created more than 17,000 new and future jobs for our people!

Major technology companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Shipt are showing the rest of the country what it means to do business in our state.

Alabama is on track to be the number two auto-producing state in the nation, in less than five years. This is remarkable for a state that 25 years ago did not produce a single car, truck or SUV.

Our aerospace industry is, once again, redefining the futures of both our state and nation. With the recent groundbreaking for Airbus’s second assembly line, the City of Mobile is positioned to be one of the top four cities in the world for aerospace manufacturing. And up in Huntsville, construction began on Blue Origin’s$200 million-dollar rocket production facility, further solidifying Alabama’s critical role in putting the UnitedStates at the forefront of space exploration.

Now, just as Alabama has emerged as a powerhouse in the automotive and aerospace industries, our Department of Commerce, under the direction of Secretary Greg Canfield, is working hard to expand project activity in areas like technology, forestry and bioscience.

Members of the Legislature, companies from around the globe want to be part of the gold standard that isknown by the “Made in Alabama” brand.

And make no mistake. The upward trend in Alabama’s economy is a direct compliment to the men and women in Alabama’s workforce. These very men and women are regaining hope because of the good-paying jobs that are pouring into our state.

The Department of Labor, under the capable leadership of Secretary Fitzgerald Washington, is working hard to ensure we fulfill our vision of connecting every Alabamian who wants a job with a job.

Ladies and gentlemen, Alabama has seen a record-breaking year!

Last year, we recorded the lowest unemployment rate in our history: 3.7 percent. That’s a record for our state.

In December 2018, Alabama reported having the most people working in our state’s history. That means 49,000more Alabamians are working today than were a year ago. That’s a record for our state.

When economists predicted we would gain 27,000 jobs in 2018, in natural Alabama fashion, we exceeded that projection by supporting more than 44,000 additional jobs! That, too, is a record for our state!

Even so, there are still some 80,000 Alabamians seeking employment opportunities. And to those across our state who are still searching, I urge you to not lose faith, because we are not going to rest on our efforts, and we will not leave you behind.

Regardless of their own individual situation, every Alabamian must be given an opportunity to provide for themselves and their family, enabling them to climb the ladder to success.

For us to better provide for all of our citizens, it is vitally important that Alabama has maximum participation in the upcoming 2020 Census. We will be launching the Alabama Counts campaign next month, with the goal simply being to secure much-needed federal funds for our state. At the same time, we are ensuring that our representation in Congress remains unchanged, guaranteeing Alabamians a strong voice for the next decade.

As you would expect, the hardworking men and women of Alabama will always come first in the Ivey Administration.

Under Republican leadership, over the past few years, the people of Alabama have experienced major gains. We have seen significant growth in our economy. We have cut taxes on middle-class families, and we are shrinking government.

Sometimes people forget that during the past few years, we have repealed more than 300 obsolete laws and regulations. And since 2010, we have reduced the number of state employees by more than 6,000 people. That means we are operating leaner, smarter and stronger.

And because of the approach taken by Republican leadership since 2010, Alabama has saved literally hundreds of millions of dollars!

As we know, every dollar spent by the government belongs to the hardworking men and women of our state. Last year, I was very proud to sign into law the largest tax break for middle-class Alabamians in more than a decade! In turn, the total impact is projected to net $40 million dollars in savings for our taxpayers over the next decade. All of our efforts are centered on doing what is best and right for the people of our state – and that begins with protecting their hard-earned dollars whenever and however we can.

Doing what is best and right for our people also means giving every Alabamian the opportunity for a qualityeducation. Through ‘Strong Start, Strong Finish’, we are making important strides to improve Alabama’seducation system.

For a child to reach their fullest potential later in life, they must first build a strong educational foundation. Under the nationally-recognized leadership of Secretary Jeana Ross, the tremendous efforts of the Departmentof Early Childhood Education have enabled Alabama’s First Class Pre-K to be ranked as the nation’s highestquality program for the 12th consecutive year!

Most importantly, our efforts are giving more of Alabama’s children a strong start.

Last year, we increased funding by $18.5 million dollars, which was the largest, single-year increase ever approved. And because of that historic investment, 107 new First Class Pre-K classrooms were added last fall, which led Alabama to officially break the 1,000-classroom mark.

Additionally, our P-3 pilot program aimed at building upon the gains made in Pre-K, grew by 75 classrooms this school year.

As we anticipate the rising demand of the computer science field, we are continuing our efforts to enhance computer science education in Alabama.

Last year, I signed legislation establishing the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering. We also secured additional funding to create the Alabama Math and Science Teacher Education Program, which provides a better pathway to certify future computer science teachers.

Today in Alabama, women and minorities make up well over half of the population. Yet, they are underrepresented in the STEM professions.

Tonight, I am pleased to have with us a young woman who is the face of changing this disparity, specifically in the area of computer science. Arrington Harper is currently a senior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham.

In her ninth-grade year, she had her very first computer science class.

Since then, Arrington has excelled. She is a recipient of the Aspirations in Computer Science Award for Alabama. She is an advocate for computer science education and girls in computer science. She wants to use her passion to help address the gender and race gaps that exist in computer science education. Arrington has spoken to numerous groups of parents and educators and was invited by the National Center for Women in IT to share her experiences at large. She plans to major in computer science in college.

Arrington represents my vision for education in our state. It was in a classroom where she discovered her niche, and through the guidance of her dedicated teachers and her own hard work, this young lady is headed into a very promising future. Arrington, could you please stand to be recognized?

Equipping our students with the proper skills and education to fill high-demand jobs is essential to ensure their strong finish.

Part of my mission for the state, is to carve a path for our students to enter the workforce, highly-skilled and well-equipped. To further our efforts, I am asking the Legislature to fund our new co-op program for Alabama’sHistorically Black Colleges and Universities.

It is geared specifically toward Alabama’s HBCU students interested in pursuing careers in the science,technology, engineering and mathematics fields. It is not only a win for these students; it’s a win for these colleges and universities. And it’s a win for our employers who are gaining qualified individuals to strengthen the work of their company.

Each year, uses for the internet grow more dynamic. Delivering high speed broadband access is absolutely necessary. Last year, through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act, we connected broadband in seven counties.

One notable example is in Choctaw County. Within the next two years, more than 700 residences and businesses will have access to high-speed internet service.

Thanks to this grant program, living in rural Alabama does not mean being cut out! This is a major step forward for education, for economic prosperity and for the entire state of Alabama!

In our efforts to meet the current and future needs of business and industry, I have established the Governor’sOffice of Education and Workforce Transformation. The focus will be solely on aligning our workforce development funding streams to create the most effective workforce development programs for Alabamians across the state.

Since we met last year, we have been ambitious in our efforts to improve Alabama’s education system and are now on our way to providing all our students a quality education.

Each of us has our own story to tell.
My own story began in the public schools of rural Wilcox County, Alabama.

I graduated from high school in a class that had 35 students. My surroundings at Auburn University would look a whole lot different, though. Instead of a class of 35, I would be one in a college of more than 12,000. My Wilcox County upbringing would be put side by side with some of the smartest young people from bigger schools in larger cities.

However, I would not allow these challenges to hinder me from achieving success.

So, in the summer before my first semester, I spent a week on campus to walk the grounds to know exactly where my classes would be located and try out for the Auburn University Marching Band.

Benjamin Franklin said it best, “If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”I worked hard and planned for success.

My journey from Wilcox County also brought me to where I stand this evening. Despite the heavy challenges that lie ahead, we in Alabama must plan for success.

Part of planning for that success is ensuring that we have a robust economy and ample public safety. We can help tackle both of these issues with a reasonable increase in the investment we make in our state’sinfrastructure system.

Almost three decades have gone by, and Alabama has not made one change to our infrastructure funding. While our neighboring states are increasing their revenue for their transportation budgets, Alabama has not. We are dead last.

Certainly, motorists are experiencing firsthand the poor conditions of Alabama’s infrastructure.

Each year in Alabama, 69 billion miles are driven on our roadways.

We have urban roads in poor condition. Our drivers are experiencing major congestion on our freeways. County governments currently operate on a 56-year resurfacing schedule; when, in fact, we should be operating on a 15-year rate.

In Alabama, half of our more than 16,000 bridges are older than their 50-year life span.

Bridges should be replaced every 50 years. Yet, county governments are on schedule to replace their bridgesevery 186 years! Folks, that’s almost as long as Alabama has been a state.

From 2015 to 2017, Alabama saw nearly 3,000 traffic fatalities. One-third of those were due to deficiencies in our roadways.

Each year, $436 billion dollars in goods are shipped to and from businesses using our state’s roadways.

The Port of Mobile, Alabama’s only deep-water port, moves approximately 64 million tons of cargo each year. Deepening and widening the Port will increase Alabama’s economic capability. This will enhance our status asa primary industrial and agricultural hub in the Southeast.

Driving on rough roads costs the average Alabamian $507 dollars annually in additional vehicle maintenance –a total of $2 billion dollars statewide, each year!

That is why we are proposing a 10-cent increase in Alabama’s fuel tax. This increase would be implemented over the next three years.

And I want to be crystal clear – this money will be scrutinized and watched over – every single penny. There will be strong accountability measures to make certain these monies are spent solely on transportation infrastructure. Period.

Leading the charge in the Legislature on this issue is Representative Bill Poole. He along with Senator Clyde Chambliss, will guide this legislation over the coming weeks. I thank both of them for their leadership. Additionally, I have listened to leaders make good points about money being diverted from the Alabama Department of Transportation to supplement our court system and law enforcement agency every year.

I believe we should begin to unwind this outdated approach. And, in fact, the budgets I am presenting will cut this annual transfer in half without hurting the court system or our hardworking state law enforcement officers. A renewed investment in infrastructure will lead to safer roads, economic prosperity and an enhanced quality of life.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am willing to call you, the members of the Alabama Legislature, into a special session, if necessary, to focus solely on passing this critical legislation.

It’s time to make our crumbling infrastructure system a problem of the past.

This is a challenge that is felt by every Alabamian, clearly making it a bipartisan issue.

As governor, I say enough is enough. Now is the time to Rebuild Alabama.

Another problem that has gone unaddressed for years and years is that of the horrendous conditions of our prisons. Our next step, however, must be to address the issue of understaffing to improve our recruiting and retention efforts.

Alabama is currently under a federal court order requiring the state to roughly double the number of corrections officers over the next two years. If we fail to resolve the apparent issue of understaffing in our prisons, federal courts will dictate what needs to happen in our own state.

I am proposing we include an additional $31 million dollars in the General Fund budget. This will allow us to hire 500 new correctional officers and increase the pay scale for all prison security personnel to make their salary competitive. This is an Alabama problem that must have an Alabama solution.

As we move forward, we must continue to wisely use our funds. I am proud that the General Fund budget I am proposing will do just that.

As a positive sign of that progress, Medicaid, under the capable leadership of Commissioner Stephanie Azar, will require $40 million dollars less in 2020 than compared to 2019. The Medicaid program in Alabama is driving efficiency, while being prudent with our taxpayer dollars.

I am also proposing an additional $7 million dollars to fund important Mental Health programs in our state. As governor, I will do everything in my power to make Alabama safer, which is why my General Fund budget includes funding to hire and train 50 additional State Troopers.

I have also included in my budget a 2 percent pay raise for all state employees. These men and women went too long without merit raises, and with the increase last year and the additional increase this year, we are making it right.

Like my General Fund budget, my education budget is practical, while still helping more Alabamians receive the opportunity for a quality education.

My education budget will provide $25 million dollars to expand our nationally-recognized First Class Pre-K program. This significant increase will expand the program by 193 classrooms. It will be the largest investment in Alabama First Class Pre-K to date and takes us even closer to providing more of Alabama’s youngestlearners a strong start.

Alabama’s institutions of higher education are making major research contributions. They generate significantrevenue for our state. They serve as a major part of our identity in Alabama. Most importantly, they are preparing hundreds of thousands of students to enter the workforce.

Because of their significant contributions to our state, my budget provides an increased investment of $75 million dollars to our four-year public colleges and universities. These institutions are essential to the future of our state.

Alabama’s teachers are vital to our students throughout every step of their learning journeys, and they deserveto be the highest paid public employees in our state. That is why, tonight, I am proposing to the Legislature a four percent raise for all teachers: pre-k through community college! Without our teachers, our students cannot achieve success!

The foundation for a strong future for all Alabamians begins in the classroom.

Members, I remind you that our story in Alabama will go long past the time you and I are in office.

When we make improvements to our state’s infrastructure, to our prisons, and to our education system, we are planting a seed of opportunity for Alabama’s next 200 years.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a governor looking beyond the next four, the next eight or even 10 years. I am a governor leading our state into the next century.

I am all in! And the people of our great state need you, legislators, all in as well.

Democrats, republicans, progressives and conservatives.

To achieve a better future in Alabama, all of us must be willing to build on our successes. We must be willing to overcome our long-neglected issues.

We must be willing to take the next step, because we are Alabama, and this is our time! May God continue to bless each of you and the great state of Alabama!

You can watch a replay of the address here.

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

1 min 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.

18 mins 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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1 hour 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

Byrne: Supporting state and local government

Last week, I was honored to host some of our local mayors, city council members and city officials from Southwest Alabama in Washington to hear about what they do every day for our communities.

I am a firm believer that the best people to run our towns and our communities are not the bureaucrats in Washington or the federal government. The best people to do that are the people who live, work, and play in the same place as the neighbors they represent. That is why I come home to Southwest Alabama every weekend, to be in touch with the people I serve in Washington.

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Everyone wants a great quality of life. Part of that comes down to having good roads and bridges, having high-quality schools, knowing that the fire department, police, EMS and other first responders will be there when we call, and countless other things that happen on a local level.

The federal government is not the best place to regulate those things. Heavy-handed government mandates and rules that impose “we know best” policies on our local communities don’t work. What works in Robertsdale, Brewton or Chatom might not work in Nashville, Boston or Anchorage.

One of the things that has always worked best is to have a strong partnership between our local, state and federal officials. My mission has always been to assist our local leaders on projects when they need our help, but it is not my place to tell our local mayors how to do their job or what will be best for their community. I want to be a part of their team.

This teamwork approach has worked incredibly well when it comes to bringing new jobs to our area. When a prospective business is looking at locating in a new place, they want to know that officials at every level of government are willing to work with them to support their business and their employees.

A good example of this is saving our rural hospitals. In most places, these hospitals are the bedrock of a community. No major business will locate in a town that doesn’t have a hospital. So, that’s why I have been working with our local and state officials to do everything in my power to save our rural hospitals from closing. But, this requires a total team approach from all levels of government.

Another prime example of giving more power back to the local level is Alabama’s Red Snapper recreational fishing season.

In years past, the federal government has put stringent regulations on Gulf Coast fishing that has ended up hurting local fishermen. Those of us in Alabama best understand Alabama issues, and after years of continuous advocating, this year we received great news that the 2019 Red Snapper season for recreational fishermen will take place on three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) from June 1st through July 28th, including July 4th.

As I have said repeatedly, this issue is about more than just fishing. A full Red Snapper season helps boost our coastal economies due to everything from fuel sales to hotel and condo rentals. We must continue pushing for greater state control over our fisheries.

Fixing our Red Snapper season wasn’t done by just one person. From the city councils to the state Department of Conservation to the halls of Congress, it took a total team effort to make a positive impact for our residents.

As long as I have the honor of representing Alabama, I promise to always be a part of the team to make life better for people in our communities. I am dedicated to doing what is best for Alabama through policies that give back to, not take from, our communities.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

Leaders deliver results for a stronger Alabama

Thank you to the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate for your bi-partisan support of the Rebuild Alabama Plan. Because of your leadership, this historical effort will result in safer roads, thousands of new jobs, and a stronger Alabama.  Finally, it’s time to #RebuildAL.

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