10 months ago

Marsh predicts lottery, infrastructure addressed next session; Rejects Medicaid expansion — Also ‘looking at’ 2020 U.S. Senate run

In an appearance Friday on Mobile’s FM Talk 106.5’s “Midday Mobile,” Alabama Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) discussed some of the issues of the day, including Tuesday’s election, next year’s legislative session and what his plans could be looking ahead.

Marsh told FM Talk 106.5 he expected the statehouse to remain about the same as it is now, a GOP supermajority. He said there were two competitive races to watch: Alabama’s Senate District 6 race between incumbent Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) and his Democratic challenger Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay), and the State Senate District 10 race between Rep. Craig Ford (I-Gadsden) and Cherokee County Republican Andrew Jones, who are both running to be Sen. Phil Williams’s (R-Rainbow City) replacement.

“I think you’re going to see the Republicans hold a supermajority in the Alabama legislature – both the Senate and the House,” Marsh said. “I think the Senate will end up somewhere between 24 and 27 [seats], the House about the same as it was the last quadrennium – both being supermajorities. I just don’t see this blue wave.”

“I may be fooled like everybody else, but we’ve only got two Senate races that we’re watching really close – that the Larry Stutts race up in North Alabama and Andrew Jones running against Craig Ford, who is running as an independent in Etowah [County]. Those are the two that are closest based on our polling,” he continued.

Marsh added they were watching everything else, including Sen. Tom Whatley’s (R-Auburn) race, who he credited for getting out and campaigning in his district to keep it in Republican hands.

He also credited federal issues, particularly Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation and a late-election cycle immigration threat, and the efforts of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) and his campaign. Rogers’ congressional district includes Whatley’s State Senate district and Marsh’s as well.

“I think our base based on that should be fired up,” he added. “But again, you got them fired up on the other side for the same two reasons. The question is who is fired up more.”

With record lottery jackpots making headlines and Democratic candidates running on establishing a lottery, a lottery in Alabama has been an issue at the fore. Marsh predicted there was an “appetite” in the legislature to allow for a public vote on a lottery.

“That’s an odd situation,” he said. “Any polling we’ve done on the lottery in the last four or five years, even among Republicans, 65 percent are fine as long as they get a vote. They’re fine with it on the ballot. For some reason, a lot of our members have been real weak-kneed about bringing lottery legislation.”

He credited the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding sports gambling and Mississippi’s decision to establish a lottery for creating a political environment that makes it likely for a lottery bill to be introduced.

“I do believe that there’s an appetite more than ever to deal with a lottery bill,” Marsh added.

In an interview a day earlier, Marsh’s counterpart in the Alabama House, Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), suggested the possibility of a gas tax hike in 2019 as a means to finance any efforts to address Alabama’s infrastructure woes.

Marsh indicated infrastructure was on his radar and said the state needed to “be in a position” to receive federal money, which may require the state to raise a certain percentage to be eligible for that money.

“We want to be in a position if the feds pass an infrastructure bill – as you know, any time you want to take advantage of that, you have to be able to match it with state dollars,” he said. “We want to be in a position to do that. We want to make sure as we look into the future that our port’s, because we consider the port’s infrastructure – the reality is if we deepen the port down in Mobile, we could double the freight coming in and out of the port.”

He estimated there were 400 bridges in need of replacement and repair and said for Alabama to remain competitive that infrastructure would have to be addressed.

“The last time a tax was put in on infrastructure in Alabama was in 1992, 26 years ago,” Marsh explained. “The problem – it wasn’t a percentage. If it were a percentage, it would have moved with the price of fuel. We’d have seen more revenue for the state over the last 26 years. But it was a flat-number and what compounds that problem is there has been no growth because most people are driving cars today that get a third-more or more miles per gallon. They’ve basically been driving more miles on the road with the same amount of tax revenue paid in.”

“It’s a dilemma we got to ask ourselves – I think there is an appetite to look at it, where it goes, I don’t know,” he added. “There will be a serious discussion. It will have to start in the House. I’m going to continue to talk to the Speaker. I’m going to give him the information I’ve gathered over the summer based on the meetings we’ve had and see if we want to address this issue and look at a long-term infrastructure plan for the state.”

Last month, Marsh predicted a record education budget next session and stuck to that declaration in the interview.

“We should have a record budget on education,” Marsh said. “At the same time, we’ve also been working on a comprehensive plan for education for the state of Alabama.”

The Anniston Republican said his goal was to have a “seamless pre-K all the way to higher education plan.”

“It may take some legislation requirements once we get back in session,” he said. “We’re not sure. But we plan on having something ready to go in place by the time we come back in March because the education issue effects so much.”

Marsh tied the education issue to the struggles of Alabama’s prison system and health care system. He noted that 60 percent of Alabama’s prisoners don’t have a high school education and that obesity can also result from poor education on health issues.

Recently, the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), legislation shepherded by Marsh earlier this decade has been under fire from local school boards, including Baldwin County’s School Board and the Montgomery County Public School Board.

The AAA gives parents the option of transferring students from schools deemed “failing” by the state. Marsh defended the law, noting the lack of accountability for public schools and argued competition was the missing component.

“There may be a run at that, but I’m fully supportive of the Accountability Act,” he said. “Of course, that was my bill some years ago. The reality is this: We have failing systems in Alabama. Our math scores are 49th in the country. Our reading scores are 46th, and that’s at an eighth-grade level. You can’t accept that.”

“We’ve got some great educators out there,” Marsh continued. “We got some great schools. We’ve got a lot of areas we got problems, and we can’t just ignore that. There’s no accountability system in education. They’ve got no competition. And the Accountability Act really basically puts some competition out there.”

Marsh blamed the Alabama Education Association (AEA) teachers’ union for this sudden push to eliminate the AAA.

“It’s the union – it’s the AEA union that is fighting this because they want no competition,” he said. “They do not want to be held accountable.”

On health care, Marsh dismissed the possibility of expanding Medicaid, which has been one of the key planks of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Walt Maddox.

“I can tell you – we have got a Republican-controlled legislature and they have no appetite to expand Medicaid. Medicaid already gets the bulk of the budget that we have discretion over. We’re trying to control costs. We’re doing a pretty good job with that. We’re going to continue to try to control those costs, and until we get those costs under control, we are not going to expand it.”

In national politics, Marsh said he expected the U.S. Senate to remain under GOP control and perhaps even gain some seats. On the House side of Capitol Hill, he said he anticipated the GOP to lose seats, but was not convinced the GOP would lose control.

“I think it’ll be close and I think if that happens, it’ll be a huge win for President Trump if he just holds the House,” Marsh said. “We’ll move forward. We’ll see how it goes. But I’m not buying into this blue wave. That’s my opinion.”

Marsh has been mentioned among the possible Republican challengers for Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook), who is up for reelection in 2020. Marsh acknowledged to FM Talk 106.5 he was looking at that possibility when asked.

“It’s obvious I’m looking at that,” he replied. “I want someone to take that seat back as a Republican. I think Jones is a one-termer and somebody has got to challenge. And so, we’ll see. Right now, I’m focused on winning my race on Tuesday. But I’m going to leave an option to look at that when the time comes.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

SchoolFest sets the stage for Alabama children

The following is the latest installment of the Alabama Power Foundation’s annual report, highlighting the people and groups spreading good across Alabama with the foundation’s support.

 

Plato said art imitates life. Oscar Wilde said it was the other way around. It’s an argument that continues. However, one art form brings us face to face with the connection between art and life, perhaps better than any other: theater. It’s here people act out stories, hoping their audience forgets for a moment that it’s all make-believe. Were it not for the SchoolFest program of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF), many Alabama children might never be exposed to the magic of theater.

792

Every year, 40,000 students attend SchoolFest in Montgomery. From the professional actors to the costume and set design, the productions are the same as those presented to other ASF audiences. Thanks to grants from the Alabama Power Foundation and others, ticket prices are discounted and many schools attend for free, exposing students from all walks of life to art.

For some, it’s an experience they’ll never forget. For others, like Emily Prim, it’s life-changing. Prim is assistant wardrobe supervisor at ASF. She remembers distinctly when the “theater bug” bit her. “I was in seventh grade at St. James School in Montgomery. We had a field trip to SchoolFest, where we saw ‘James and the Giant Peach.’ I remember it so well, because there was a Ferris wheel on stage that was the peach, and I thought that was so cool. I was sorta thinking about theater, because of shows we had done in school and stuff, but when I came to see ‘James’ here, it made me start thinking that this is something I could do after I graduate,” Prim said.

Prim’s experience is what ASF is all about. Executive Director Todd Schmidt put it this way: “It’s really a bedrock of our mission at ASF, which is to create communities through transformative theatrical experiences. It’s a lot of kids’ first introduction to theater. It’s important to do that, especially in this time of continued cuts in arts funding.”

Shakespeare Festival’s SchoolFest puts the arts at center stage for Alabama students from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Just in the past year, students have seen productions of “The Sound of Music,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Our Town,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963.” The latter featured 24 students from Montgomery Public Schools in the cast. Schmidt chooses shows that are appropriate for audiences of all ages. SchoolFest builds many of these productions around school curricula.

“We put our programming out to schools, and then they select what they think is relevant to what they’re doing and what they want their kids to be exposed to,” Schmidt said.

What started decades ago as productions appropriate for students has continued to expand. In addition to SchoolFest, ASF offers educational programs. There are theater classes for adults and children, and summer theater camps for students. ASF has hosted a series of conversations that are tied – at least in part – to the shows. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell spoke alongside a cast member from “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963.”

“These are not about our productions, but they focus on themes of the productions,” Schmidt said. “There’s one coming up that talks about women dealing with glass ceilings, working in fields normally dominated by men, which ties somewhat into the production of ‘Steel Magnolias’ and a new production, ‘Into the Breeches.’”

Lonny Harrison, director of theater at St. James School in Montgomery, has been bringing students to see productions at ASF for 21 years. “We have some students who, up to the point they’ve hit SchoolFest, have never seen a live production outside of a school play. This definitely helps get them more into the arts.

It seems like kids respond differently to every show, but whether it’s something that’s the most amazing thing to them, or something that makes them think more critically, it at least makes them think about it. When we left ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the other day, kids were saying, ‘Let’s do some Shakespeare!’ I had to tell them, ‘Small steps.’”

Harrison has a long history with SchoolFest. He saw stage productions at ASF when he was in school. His experience echoes that of many Alabamians. Were you to poll the state, you’d likely be amazed at the number of people of all ages who’ve shared the marvel of live performance in a theater at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

In Alabama, it’s a generational thing. When it comes to the art imitating life vs. life imitating art question, perhaps Shakespeare got it right when, in the second act of “As You Like It,” the character Jaques said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”

The parts being played by the men and women of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival are a rich and vital service to the people of our state. These are the people who transform our children, who show them a new and lively way to understand stories, and life – its comedies and tragedies. These are the “players” who expand the minds of our young people, and show them a world that lives within their own ability to imagine.

For more information on the Alabama Power Foundation and its annual report, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Aderholt’s advice for Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate candidates: ‘Make it very clear that they’re supportive of the president’

Although it is still the early going of the 2020 U.S. Senate Republican primary election campaign, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) has some advice for the handful of candidates seeking the GOP nod.

When asked what he saw as important to him and his constituents in Alabama’s fourth congressional district, he said it was support for President Donald Trump.

In the 2016 presidential election, Trump dominated Aderholt’s district by winning more than 80% of the vote and was the only district in the country to break the 80% threshold.

342

“They’ve clearly got to make sure that they make it very clear that they’re supportive of the president,” Aderholt said. “I mean, this president has as much support of any since I have been in office. I have never seen a president that has the support this president has. He has, everywhere I go, people are very optimistic that they are very positive about what he is doing. And they’re optimistic about the future. So I would first of all — they need to let their constituents, future constituents that are voters, know that they’re someone who would stand with the president.”

“As someone who is in another branch of government, we always want to make sure we don’t do just exactly like the executive or the president wants to do regardless of who it is,” he continued. “The Founding Fathers wanted the different branches to be a watchdog on each other. But, as I have seen from this president, the things that he is doing is consistent with what the voters want and what has been good for America. I’m fully supportive of this president. I think they need to communicate they’re supporting the president. I think that is probably the biggest thing right now. Alabama is a very pro-life state, and I think they need to communicate that, which again is consistent with the president’s message.”

Aderholt also suggested the Senate candidates should be supportive of Trump’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA.

“I am also getting the feedback that the Mexican-Canadian trade agreement that the president is trying to negotiate — to redo NAFTA, people are very supportive of that,” Aderholt added. “But again, the president has been very supportive of these issues. What the president is doing, I’m very supportive of. I don’t see any issue as far as supporting what the president’s issue is.”

@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.

4 hours ago

Georgia-based Colonial sues contractor over Alabama spill

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Co. has sued an Alabama contractor over a spill that threatened gasoline supplies along the East Coast three years ago.

The pipeline operator contends faulty work by the Birmingham-based Ceco Pipeline Services caused a crack that spilled at least 250,000 gallons of gasoline in rural Shelby County in September 2016.

186

The spill shut down a major pipeline for weeks, tightening gasoline supplies along the Eastern Seaboard.

The pipeline carries fuel from Houston to metropolitan New York.

With headquarters near Atlanta in Alpharetta, Colonial Pipeline filed the federal lawsuit Friday seeking an unspecified amount of money.

Ceco Pipeline Services has not filed a response in court, and general manager Luke Hotze declined comment Monday, citing the lawsuit.

Hired to replace coatings that protect the pipeline’s exterior, the contractor failed to adequately replace dirt around the pipeline after maintenance work, the suit said.

The failure left a void beneath the pipe, which bent as it sagged.

The bend caused cracks that led to the breach, according to the suit.

The failure cost Colonial Pipeline lost income, plus money spent on repairs and cleanup, the lawsuit said without specifying an amount.

The lawsuit said Colonial Pipeline transports an average of 100 million gallons (378 million liters) of refined petroleum products daily through a system that includes more than 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) of pipeline.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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

‘School choice’ also means ‘tax choice’ in Alabama

It’s back-to-school season and for some parents, this is a happy time.

But for those whose children are stuck in underperforming schools, or schools where they are bullied or are in danger, this is a heartbreaking time, especially if they cannot afford to move or go to private school.

“There was fighting every day. People wanted to shoot me, kill me, and everything,” said Calvin Coleman in a speech about his experiences at his Mobile public high school.

642

Did you know that you, or your company, can help students like Calvin by donating a portion of what you already owe in state income taxes to a program that funds scholarships for low-income families in Alabama?

“When my son Carlos was in the fifth grade, he was constantly bullied and I wanted to desperately put him into a private school,” wrote Nyenya Webster of Montgomery in Alabama Daily News. Every day was a struggle, she added. “I was at a loss as to what to do to help my son.”

Then Webster learned about the tax-credit scholarship program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act that serves roughly 4,000 low-income, mostly minority Alabama students.

She applied, and Carlos received a scholarship to attend Success Unlimited Academy in Montgomery.

“Success Unlimited has been a lifesaver for my son,” Webster wrote. “He … is now considering college. My son never talked about going to college before Success.”

For those who want to help other Alabama families break the cycle of poverty through education, it’s a no-brainer.

“For a donor, it doesn’t cost them anything,” said Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids, one of the scholarship granting organizations funded by the program.

That’s because a tax credit is different from a charitable contribution. When you make a charitable contribution to a non-profit organization, you deduct a portion of that on your income tax. However, a tax credit allows you to take a dollar for dollar reduction in your state income tax.

“Basically, donors are redirecting some of their state income tax liability to a [scholarship granting organization],” Callaway said. “So, if you give $100 to us, you can reduce your state income tax by $100.”

Who benefits from the donation?

“The average household income for these students is under $30,000 so these are families that would have no other way of choosing the school that is best for their child,” said Ryan Cantrell, director of state strategy and political affairs for the American Federation for Children, during an interview of the 1819 podcast.

Higher-income families have always had school choice, Cantrell said, but “it’s the low-income families who get stuck with no options in under-performing schools or schools that don’t work for their child.”

There are $30 million in tax credits available and, so far, only about a third have been claimed, according to the Department of Revenue’s My Alabama Taxes website.

Here’s how you can reserve your tax credit before the December 31, 2019, deadline:

Step 1: Estimate how much income tax you or your business will owe Alabama next year by checking how much you paid last year. Individuals and corporations can donate up to 50 percent of their tax bill, and while individuals are limited to $50,000, corporations are unlimited.

Step 2: Visit the My Alabama Taxes website and follow instructions for reserving an Alabama Accountability Act tax credit.

Step 3: Send a check to one of the seven scholarship granting organizations in Alabama within 30 days.

Step 4: When you do your taxes next year, fill out an Alabama Department of Revenue Schedule AATC form to reduce your income tax bill by the amount you donated.

For more help, individuals may call the Alabama Department of Revenue at 334-353-0602 or 334-353-9770, and corporations may call 334-242-1200.

You’re already going to have to write a check for your state income taxes. Why not control where some of that money goes, especially when it has the power to change lives?

“It was a relief that nobody would understand,” said mother-of-five Alleane West in an Alabama Opportunity Scholarship video about the program’s impact on her family. “You know, you’re a single mom with boys trying to not make them a statistic.”

Watch:

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars.

6 hours ago

Ivey to toll detractors: ‘Nobody wants to pay for anything — We just always want the benefits’; Calls for other ‘reasonable solutions’

On Monday, the political battle over the proposed tolling for the new I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge escalated when Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth came out in opposition to the toll. Following in Ainsworth’s footsteps and coming out against the proposal as well was another heavy-hitter, State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh.

Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey, who has insisted on the necessity of the project and warned that “cost of doing nothing” was too high, offered a response to detractors.

Ivey indicated to Matt Murphy and Andrea Lindenberg, co-hosts of Birmingham radio Talk 99.5’s “The Matt & Aunie Show,” that a reaction to a toll was to be expected. She also said she would listen to alternatives at the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority meeting scheduled for October 7.

557

“Nobody wants to pay for anything,” she said. “We just always want the benefits. If somebody has got a better idea of what the toll should be or if we should never toll. That’s the reason I’m hosting the October 7 meeting at the State Capitol for the Toll Bridge and Road Authority – so people can put reasonable solutions on the table. How do we pay for the bridge?”

“Everybody would be for not having to have a toll,” Ivey added. “I just haven’t found that option yet. It’s the reason we’re hosting this meeting with state legislators, congressional delegation, constitutional officers have all been invited to come and be specific and offer some reasonable solutions of how we can pay for the bridge without using a toll or a lower toll.”

Earlier this year, the Alabama legislature raised the state’s gas tax, part of the Rebuild Alabama Act. That had some questioning the timing of the toll coming on the heels of a gas tax increase. According to Ivey, gas tax revenue alone would hardly cover the cost of the bridge.

“When we paid the gas tax, we only did 10 cents,” she said. “It’s a lot of money for some folks, but 10 cents only brings in $320 million annually for roads and bridges across the state. The bridge itself costs $2.1 billion … the gas tax is for statewide projects, not just one project.”

When asked about the timing of her awareness of a toll for the project, Ivey did not offer a specific time. However, she did mention a specific each-way price tag of $2.25, which varied from the $6 each-way toll in many reports.

“They’ve been talking about this bridge for 20-something-odd years for the environmental impact,” Ivey said. “I don’t know when exactly I heard the proposal but $2.25 one-way doesn’t seem too unreasonable.”

According to the governor’s office, the $2.25 Ivey cited referred to the average for the frequent user. The $2.25 cost would be the average price for five days a week for four weeks with the purchase of the proposed frequent user pass at a cost of $90 per month. Also, with the proposed pass, crossing the bridge would unlimited, and the $2.25 average could vary depending on how many times a pass holder crosses in a given month.

When asked about the prospects of additional toll projects throughout the state, Ivey told Talk 99.5 she was unaware of any.

“I’m not aware of any, and the toll roads we do have are on private property as far as I know now there are no other plans for a toll road on state or federal highways,” she said.

When asked about those suggesting U.S. Highway 280 in Birmingham or other roads being tolled, Ivey decried it as “misinformation.”

“So much misinformation out there is intentional,” Ivey said. “It’s just unconscionable for folks to be considering such information. It’s easy to verify what you hear before you spout it. I just encourage everybody to look on the big side of prosperity and let’s build the bridge so we can strengthen commerce and strengthen public safety, and keep our state productive.”

@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.