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.”