Mayor Maddox responds to Alabama gubernatorial candidate questionnaire

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor, recently responded to the questionnaire prepared by the Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News. His answers are below.

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND PRINCIPLES

Question: What is your political philosophy and, if elected, how would it shape the way you govern?

Maddox: — I believe in effective and transparent government based on sound policies, and ethical leadership that relies on best management practices.

— I offer Alabama a New Covenant where our leaders wake up every day ready to fight for the people without regard to party. By placing results above rhetoric, we will forge a way forward that will make a real difference in the issues facing Alabamians.

— My approach to policy proposals is to identify the issues, opportunities, and problems related to making Alabama better; learning all relevant facts; establishing policy goals that serve Alabama citizens; cataloging potential policy alternatives that support those policy goals; balancing the interests of all parties affected; and then through careful analysis determining the best policy moving forward.

How have you demonstrated your commitment to your political philosophy?

— As Mayor of Tuscaloosa, this approach to transparent and effective government has been part of my everyday practice in serving the people for almost two decades. Important data is posted on the web, policy initiatives are discussed openly in public meetings that are webcast and archived, the concerns of stakeholders are heard and considered, and policies are implemented in a fair and equitable manner.

— The Tuscaloosa Forward Plan that was developed in the recovery from the tornado of April 27, 2011 is an excellent example of how I see solutions to problems being developed by bringing all stakeholders together with experts and area leaders, to sort through what was often competing interests with both short and long term components, to find solutions that best meet the needs of the entire community.

What is the most important role of the governor?

— The governor must first and foremost fulfill the constitutional oath to support and defend the constitutions of the state of Alabama and of the United States, acting as the chief executive officer of the state to see that the laws are faithfully executed.

— Equally important, the governor must be a leader in proposing laws and policies that benefit all of Alabama, and be the face of the state who takes responsibility for its direction, progress, and even mistakes.

What is the most challenging social issue facing families in Alabama? Does government have a role in helping to solve that problem, and if so, what would you propose?

— Perhaps the best answer is to identify the common theme underlying the solutions to most of Alabama’s problems: they are opportunities for economic development. The expansion of Medicaid will not only provide insurance to our most vulnerable citizens, it also will stoke our healthcare industry with more high paying jobs and creation of advanced medical treatments. The Alabama Education Lottery will instill $300 million new dollars per year into Alabama’s economy even as it improves workforce development, making Alabama more attractive to new industries. Fixing our roads and bridges will not only make us safer, it will create jobs both directly through highway construction, and more importantly by providing the quality infrastructure that new factories and businesses look for in site selection.

Alabama has four abortion clinics operating across the state, and Planned Parenthood has announced plans to build a new clinic in downtown Birmingham. How do you feel about these clinics and what would you do as governor about any taxpayer funds they receive?

— I’m a pro-life Democrat who is concerned that many Republicans are more pro-birth than pro-life. Perhaps Sister Joan Chittister best summed up my feelings when she said “I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

— Although I am personally opposed to abortion, under the law of the land a woman has a right to choose up until the point of fetal viability. The federal Hyde Amendment prohibits use of federal funds to pay for abortions except those that endanger the life of the woman, or that result from rape or incest, and Alabama law does not provide any state funds for abortions. The courts will ultimately decide which of Alabama’s several laws regulating abortion are constitutional, including any restrictions on new abortion clinics. As a governor sworn to uphold the federal and state constitutions and the laws of Alabama, I will faithfully execute Alabama’s laws within the constitutional limits defined by the Supreme Court.

EDUCATION

PUBLIC EDUCATION

Alabama is ranked number forty-seven on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best States for Education, and ranked number 1 in Pre-Kindergarten quality. As far as public education reforms, there have been many suggestions for improvement including increased investment in STEM education, distance learning, and reforming teacher tenure. What reforms would you propose or support to improve public education and prepare Alabama’s children for school success and lifelong learning?

— Initiatives for reform arise from good intentions, but they all run head on into a major problem: chronic underfunding. My proposal for the Alabama Education Lottery will infuse Alabama with $300 million new dollars annually, to be spent in four major areas: Universal First Class Pre-K, to extend Alabama’s top tier Pre-K program to all of our children instead of less than a quarter or a third of 4-year olds; The Foundation Program Promise, which will help close the funding gap between schools systems with fewer resources and those with more; Community Innovation Grants, which will provide wrap around services to address problems like mental health and poor family environments which prevent learning; and College Scholarships and Workforce Readiness, which will be there for our high school graduates to lift themselves even higher.

ALABAMA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION

Dr. Eric Mackey was recently named Alabama’s next State Superintendent of Education. The governor serves as a voting member of the Alabama State Board of Education. What vision for Alabama do you share with the new superintendent and where do your philosophies differ? How will you prioritize Alabama’s school children in your role on the Board?

— I look forward to working with Dr. Mackey and learning more about his philosophy of education. I agree with much of what I know about him, that Alabama needs long-term solutions instead of quick fixes, and that education curricula must be more rigorous, with an emphasis on preparing students for a 21st century economy based on information and technology. I admire his work in helping make Alabama Pre-K a highly respected program, which still needs to be expanded statewide. I will expect Dr. Mackey to elevate Alabama’s public schools. That starts with closing the funding gaps between schools where property values are high and rural schools which struggle. Our schools also need more wrap around services because health, mental health, and social problems all stand in the way of learning. My Alabama Education Lottery will address all these issues as well as send more students to colleges, universities, and work force training.

SCHOOL SAFETY

The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida reignited the discussion about school safety. President Trump has suggested arming teachers while others have argued for increased use of school resource officers and funding for mental health programs. As governor, how would you ensure the safety of Alabama’s children in public schools?

— My School Safety Plan was released earlier this year and calls for five areas of action. (1) We must harden our schools through better design standards, use of technology, and the presence of armed law enforcement security officers. (2) Faculty, staff, and security officers at all schools must be trained in the proper reaction to active threats. (3) Ban weapons at schools except those possessed by trained security personnel. (4) Develop protocols to identify and act upon potential attackers. (5) Support reasonable gun control measures like universal background checks, higher age limits for the purchase of assault weapons, and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves or others, and those on the terrorist watch list.

SCHOOL CHOICE

In 2015, Alabama became the 43rd state to approve legislation to authorize charter schools. Many states now allow parents to transfer their child from a failing public school to a non-failing public school, to utilize education savings accounts or school vouchers, or to send students to alternative schools using tax-credit scholarships, allowing parents greater control in their child’s educational endeavors. How should school choice fit into Alabama’s education system?

— I’m certainly for better schools but charter schools and use of public funds for private schools don’t appear to be the answer their advocates claim. Rather they’re just another source of controversy and a diversion of public funds from school that are already underfunded. What I’d prefer to see is all the momentum and energy behind advocating for school choice be put into making all our public schools better. Many of the ideas behind alternative schooling can be generalized, but this should be done within the system that serves all public school children.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

TAX CODE

In Alabama, the bottom 20% of earners pay 10% of their income in state and local taxes while the top 1% only pays 3.8% of their income in the same taxes. If elected, what would be the future of the state income tax and do you see this disparity as a problem?

— Alabama’s regressive tax structure problems involves more than just its income tax. Powerful land owners have long successfully lobbied to keep property taxes low. This in turn causes an unhealthy dependency on income, sales, and other taxes, which for the most part are not distributed according to wealth or ability to pay. Once Alabama is ready to have a serious discussion with itself and face the truth, it will be possible to enact revenue neutral tax reform that distributes the burden of operating state and local governments in alignment with how wealth is distributed. Those with an interest in keeping the current system falsely characterize such tax reform as tax increases or redistributions of wealth, and it is that perception that we must overcome before reforms win the support of the people.

STATE AND LOCAL TAXES

According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, Alabama boasts the 12th most regressive state and local tax system in the nation. One contributor to this ranking is our combined 9% grocery tax (only four states tax groceries more than Alabama). In 2017, Governor Bentley proposed decreasing the grocery tax by 4%. If you are elected, would you suggest changes to the grocery tax?

— I support eliminating the state sales tax on groceries. But to do so we must offset the lost revenues with another source. One idea is to eliminate the state deduction for federal income taxes, which would require a constitutional amendment to be voted on by the people. Unfortunately, at the local level, state law limits sources of revenue municipalities and counties can adopt, which would make eliminating local sales taxes on groceries impossible unless a new source of revenue replaces it. We must look at ways to free up the dependency of local governments from sales taxes so that all taxes on groceries can be eliminated.

INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT

US News ranks Alabama’s roads and bridges as the 16th and 21st best in the country, respectively. Even so, every neighbor of ours—except Mississippi—has roads and bridges that rank in the top 10. Alabama also ranks 45th in terms of broadband access. If elected, what would you prioritize as the most important infrastructure investment projects, and what innovative options would you propose to fund such projects?

— I support the plan put forth by the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure, which was founded by the Business Council of Alabama, Chambers of Commerce across the state, businesses, industry associations, and professional groups – all of whom understand that quality roads and bridges are critical to improving Alabama’s economy. Not only must we take a long, hard look at our decreasing fuel tax revenues, which today bring in the equivalent of 35 cents per gallon less than in the mid-1990s, we also must look toward the future as hybrid and electric vehicles continue to cause the same wear and tear on roadways while paying less in fuel taxes. We get what we pay for, and right now we’re paying for roads and bridges that become more dangerous every day and are less attractive to new industries.

STATE-RUN LOTTERY

Most states resort to installing a state-run lottery to increase revenue and pay for government projects. Do you support a lottery to solve the state’s fiscal woes? Why or why not?

— The Alabama Education Lottery is a cornerstone of my campaign. It will bring in $300 million every year to make college more affordable for Alabama students, expand Pre-K to every child in the state, provide wrap around services to address health, mental health, and social problems that prevent learning, and close the funding gap between school systems in high and low property value districts.

THE RIGHT TO WORK

JOB CREATION

The Census Bureau suggests that Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee are creating more jobs than Alabama. As governor, how would you foster job creation that rivals our neighbors to the north, east, and south?

— The first thing we must do is get our workforce ready for jobs of the 21st century. This is an employer’s number one concern and so it should be our number one priority. The Alabama Education Lottery will provide funding for workforce development and apprenticeships as well as higher educational attainment, and restructuring our workforce development efforts to be more effective and efficient will make every dollar invested in our future count. Second, we must rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges. Economic development cannot happen if new businesses and industries have no confidence that essential transportation infrastructure will be in place. Alabama is blessed with a strong work ethic, abundant natural resources, and a geographic location that puts us in position to lead the south in job and wage growth. All we need are the missing pieces of the puzzle that have been neglected for too long.

ROLE OF LABOR

Alabama is a right-to-work state. In your opinion, what is the proper role of organized labor and should Alabama remain a right-to-work state?

— I support the right of labor to organize. The minds and muscles of Alabama workers are the backbone of all our industries, and those workers have a legal right to unite for the betterment of them all. Unions have done so much to help wage growth and job safety of working people. Understanding this, in 2016, Alabama voters included right to work as part of our constitution. Therefore, so long as it remains the law of Alabama, as governor I will be sworn to uphold the individual rights of all workers, even as I continue to support the right of workers to unite for their common good.

OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING IN ALABAMA

The state of Alabama licenses 151 different occupations and over 20% of Alabama workers need a license to work. If elected, how would address these regulations—regulations that both the Obama and Trump administrations have regarded as problematic?

— Much of Alabama’s occupational licensing structure is an inconsistent, ad hoc, unreasonable mess. Licensing should be about assuring only that individuals who perform services to the public are qualified and properly regulated, and should not be an income generator that squeezes money out of multiple layers of the same business and falls disproportionally on lower wage jobs. We should start with common sense reforms. Many lower level licenses can be subsumed by license holders who are responsible for their performance. For example, there’s no need to require a license to shampoos someone’s hair when a licensed cosmetologist is responsible for 100% of the training, approval, and supervision of the person doing the shampoo. We must eliminate duplicative and unnecessary licensing boards. We must align fees for licenses that legitimately have rigorous standards with the costs of administration.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

OPIOID EPIDEMIC

According to the CDC, Alabama is the state highest-prescribed with opioids, with more prescriptions than people. Opioids are the main driver of overdose deaths and, in 2016, 756 Alabamians died from drug overdoses. As governor, how would you tackle Alabama’s share of this national crisis?

— The expansion of Medicaid is a major first step in overcoming many of Alabama’s problems, including opioid and other drug abuse. The expansion will increase the availability of and access to treatment and counseling that we so desperately need. We also need to improve prescription drug monitoring and make medical treatments more widely available, like Suboxone, which alleviates the pain of opioid withdrawal but is too expensive for most to afford without assistance. Detox units, residential and outpatient services, consultation among addiction specialists and other providers must be expanded. UAB’s Addiction Recovery Program provides an effective model that can be replicated statewide for a medically supervised approach to early sobriety including intensive therapy, 12-step fellowship, trauma and grief work, and family support. Overdose remedies like Narcan must be widely available to both emergency first responders and the general public. We must implement common sense initiatives like warm handoffs so that people who seek emergency medical treatment for drug overdoses are automatically connected to a treatment program – and, of course, that begins by making sure treatment programs are available.

CRIME PREVENTION

Alabama has the third highest murder rate in the country. As governor, how would you address crime and what policies, specifically, would you propose?

— The governor should meet with leaders in law enforcement and experts in criminal conduct to find the most effective ways to reduce crime, with consideration given to such approaches as keeping children in school longer – a proven deterrent to criminal behavior; identification of threats in the community; behavioral intervention programs; using technology tools that detect patterns of criminal behavior and provide evidence to make arrests; providing our youth with opportunities for learning skills, recreation, and service to the community as alternatives to drugs and crimes; hot spot and focused policing – faster reaction to crime trends to proactively stop crimes from being committed; eliminate blighted housing; community policing; and responsible and reasonable gun laws.

PRISON REFORMS

Alabama has received national attention for the state of its prisons and a federal judge recently called inmate care “horrendously inadequate”. How would you address this issue, and do you support the use of private prisons?

— Alabama’s prison system is driven largely by court order or continuing efforts to stave off court orders, and private prisons are a pathway to even more headaches. Nobody likes to talk about prisons, but it is our duty as a society to provide safe and secure prisons that comply with standards of human decency while also serving their punitive purpose. Our prison system is severely overcrowded and are at risk for federal court takeover. We are not rehabilitating our prisoners or treating those with mental health problems, which puts them at high risk to commit further crimes and return to prison. Once we embrace the fact that 90% of prisoners will one day return to society, then perhaps we can accept the fact that rehabilitation of prisoners – with educational opportunities, job skill training, and mental health and drug abuse treatment – is just as important as meting out punishment for the crime.

CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE

Some states are eliminating provisions that allow police to seize property without securing a criminal conviction. Do you support the use of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement and the provision that allows agencies to keep the proceeds of seized property? Why or why not?

— Civil asset forfeiture can be an effective tool in combatting drug trafficking. However, there are too many stories about people who are never charged with crimes falling victim to the relatively low standards for seizing property when there is a mere suspicion of criminal activity. I believe in the 2nd amendment, but I also believe in the due process clause of the 14th But before we eliminate what can be an effective law enforcement tool, we need to gather evidence of how Alabama law enforcement agencies are using civil forfeitures. Therefore, I support the bill that failed in the last legislative session to require detailed reporting by law enforcement agencies as to how and when assets are seized, the suspected crime underlying the seizure, how the funds or assets are used by the agency, whether there was ultimately a conviction in the case, and similar data. We also need to consider whether funds from forfeited assets should continue to go to the law enforcement agencies or instead into the general funds of state and local governments. This would remove the so-called profit motive from law enforcement. We must work toward the day when assets are not seized unless there’s strong assurance they were used in criminal activity, ideally only after a conviction. Gathering data so that we may formulate strategies that fight crime effectively while retaining fundamental fairness in our justice system is the best start.

The Alabama Policy Institute, headquartered in Birmingham, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families. To learn more about their work and how you can help, please visit alabamapolicy.org.

9 mins ago

$62.3 million to be invested in bringing broadband to Alabama’s rural areas

HAMILTON — A group of public officials and business executives gathered in Hamilton on Thursday to announce four investments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) totaling $62.3 million. The investments are all aimed at improving broadband access in Alabama’s rural areas.

The two most substantial investments, at $29.5 and $28.2 million respectively, are 50/50 loan grant combinations being given to Tombigbee Electric Cooperative and Millry Communications.

The Tombigbee investment will affect Marion, Lamar, Fayette, Franklin, Winston and Walker counties. The Millry portion will affect Choctaw and Washington counties.

Per the USDA, the investment will total $62.3 million. The funds are aimed at creating high-speed broadband infrastructure. The USDA estimates it will improve internet connectivity for more than 8,000 rural households, 57 farms, 44 businesses, 17 educational facilities, 14 critical community facilities and three health care facilities in rural Alabama.

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Two smaller investments are being made in National Telephone of Alabama (TEC) and Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative.

The TEC investment is a $2.7 million 50/50 loan-grant combination serving Colbert County. The Farmers investment is a $2 million loan that will affect unserved areas in Jackson and Dekalb counties.

Present at the announcement were U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Donald “DJ” LaVoy, Tombigbee Electric Cooperative CEO Steve Foshee, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell, along with representatives from Millry Communications, National Telephone of Alabama (TEC) and Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative.

“Beyond connecting us to our friends and family, high-speed broadband internet connectivity, or e-Connectivity, is a necessity, not an amenity, to do business, access opportunities in education and receive specialized health care in rural America today,” LaVoy said.

In March 2018, Congress appropriated $600 million to the USDA with the intent of expanding rural broadband access in rural America. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue unveiled in December of 2018 the “ReConnect” program by which rural areas could apply for the allocated resources. The USDA says they “received 146 applications between May 31, 2019, and July 12, 2019, requesting $1.4 billion in funding.”

The $62.3 million announced for Alabama on Thursday makes up over 10% of the total money spent by the program.

ReConnect dispenses grants, loans and grant/loan combinations to private sector providers in rural communities. The ReConnect money goes to building high-quality broadband infrastructure in areas with inadequate internet service. The USDA defines insufficient service as connection speeds of less than 10 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1 Mbps upload.

The funds for the program originated in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. A subcommittee on which Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) sits.

Citing Congress being in session, Aderholt appeared at the announcement via a pre-recorded video. He said he was glad the program would “help close the ‘digital divide’ that isolates so many parts of rural America.”

“This program is beginning to pay dividends in rural Alabama and America,” he said of ReConnect.

“USDA also recognizes the strong leadership of Senator Shelby in making these funds available for rural communities in Alabama and across the country,” USDA Alabama Rural Development Director Chris Beeker told Yellowhammer.

“Expanding freedom FIBER broadband to residents across northwest Alabama meets a critical e-Connectivity need,” said Steve Foshee, president and CEO of Tombigbee Communications. “From students having the ability to complete their schoolwork, to our neighbors in need of receiving adequate healthcare, freedom FIBER broadband will help improve the lives and communities of rural northwest Alabama.”

Foshee also emceed the event and was praised by name by each of the other speakers for his tenacity and commitment to providing internet for his area.

Several groups of school children were bused in for the announcement and sat in the audience.

ADECA Director Boswell said to the young people in attendance, “You’ll be able to travel the world at your fingertips, no more having to go to McDonald’s for the hotspot.”

Two employees at the McDonalds nearest the site of the announcement confirmed to Yellowhammer that students from local schools frequented the establishment after school to use the internet.

Annis Jordan spoke at the event on behalf of Millry Communications. Millry provides service in Washington and Choctaw counties. Jordan said Millry had wanted to invest in high-speed broadband for the last 10 years, “but the financial analysis then and throughout the years since did not allow us to proceed until this year.”

State Rep. Tracy Estes (R-Winfield) said a substantial part of the coverage will be in his district, and complimented Steve Foshee for his work in bringing the project to fruition.

He told Yellowhammer, “This is a big day for rural Alabama. Too many times, we’re left watching on the sidelines.”

Fred Johnson, the CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Corp, praised Aderholt in his remarks, calling the dean of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation “the one person most largely responsible for the funding of this program.”

Joey Garner, a VP of TEC, one of the companies receiving an investment, said, “We are thrilled with the opportunity to increase our fiber internet network in Alabama with the assistance of this federally-funded grant. TEC is committed to our local service areas, our customers, and our employees, and we look forward to these great opportunities and additions in 2020.”

State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R- Mount Hope) also represents areas that will be covered after the announced investment. He said in a text to Yellowhammer, “High-speed internet is as important today as electric power was in the 1930s.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01) said in a statement to Yellowhammer, “Today’s announcement is fantastic news for Alabama. This significant investment from USDA of $62.3 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure across rural Alabama is critical for economic development, education, healthcare, and quality of life in our state.”

One of the students in the audience was Natalie Langley. She told Yellowhammer that her house benefitted from a previous Tombigbee expansion of high-speed internet.

“It was bad before,” she said of her old internet connection, “my mom spent a lot of money on cellular data before we could get fiber.”

In remarks to reporters after the event, Undersecretary LaVoy praised the cooperation between Alabama’s public officials and businesses that brought the announcement to fruition.

“This is the model, what we have in communities like this,” he said, gesturing to those around him. “I would say Alabama is at the forefront of being able to make what we want to see happen.”

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

39 mins ago

Pete Buttigieg’s silly grievance tour in Alabama is a joke

Any time a candidate for president comes to Alabama we should be thrilled.

It gives them a chance to meet voters that normally don’t factor into presidential elections and it gives the state the chance to put its best foot forward.

But that’s not what 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s trip to Alabama was about.

He is here because he has no black support in a primary where black support is very important, so he comes to Alabama to rip on the state.

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He swings by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice outside of Montgomery, not to learn anything, but to attack a fictional problem of “white supremacy.”

No one in the press dared to ask what he has done about this in his current position, or even what he will do if he becomes president. They acted like the dutiful scribes and staff photographers that they are so he can say, “I went to the lynching memorial” the next time his lack of black support is questioned.

And what better way to gain street cred nationally among black voters than to attack Alabama lawmakers for passing an abortion ban that the citizens of this state solidly support?

Buttigieg said, “What we see in Alabama unfortunately among legislators is a refusal to follow the law of the land.”

But this is not true.

Alabama lawmakers passed a law that was specifically meant to challenge the interpretation of the “law of the land,” which is, obviously, not a law at all but a Supreme Court ruling.

Supreme Court precedent is challenged all the time. He should know this.

Again, expecting the American press or their less competent Alabama counterparts to question him on these things is a mistake; they don’t have the knowledge necessary to do so.

But Buttigieg’s pandering was so broad he needed to be in the state for more than one day to get it all in.

While appearing at an event in Birmingham, he made the point that raising the minimum wage would disproportionately benefit non-white Americans.

How he reconciles that argument with his suggestion that we bring in more immigrants to compete with low-income workers is beyond me, but again, no one in the media seems interested in drilling down on these poorly thought-out arguments.

This is all just a PR trip and nothing more. Buttigieg is bumping up in some polls but is still struggling with black voters.

The first state with a large number of black voters is South Carolina, where he is polling fourth overall with 6% of the vote and a whopping 0% among black voters.

Remember why Buttigieg came to Alabama: It wasn’t to court voters here. It was solely to pander to black voters in other states.

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

Alabama’s innovative reform to Medicaid is paying dividends

One of the toughest, yet least-talked about, challenges facing the U.S. today is how to effectively deliver affordable health care to America’s growing population of senior citizens. The U.S. Census Bureau has predicted that by 2035, the number of adults over the age of 65 will exceed the number of children under the age of 18. The graying of America’s population especially creates a challenge for what, at times, can be a fractured and overly complicated health care delivery system.

In Alabama, over 90,000 senior citizens’ health care is funded in part via Medicaid, the federally-mandated insurance program that serves the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. Even though Medicaid is federally-mandated, that definitely does not mean that the federal government covers all of the costs — Alabama’s portion of the costs provided by the general fund was $755 million in Fiscal Year 2019, a figure which eats up 37% of all non-education spending by the State of Alabama.

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Over the past several years, I have worked closely with the past two governors, other legislative leaders, Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar and private sector partners to identify new delivery models that will bend the cost curve down for Medicaid, while ensuring Alabama’s senior citizens on Medicaid still receive good medical care.

In early 2017, I went to Washington, along with Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Mac McCutcheon, Medicaid Commissioner Azar and other state leaders, to meet with Dr. Tom Price, who then served as President Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.

That trip and subsequent phone calls and data presentations paid off: in 2018, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in Washington granted Alabama the opportunity to pursue a new delivery model of health care services for the more than 20,000 senior citizens in Alabama who are receiving long-term care through Medicaid.

Let me tell you: it is not an easy thing to persuade a federal agency to grant a state a waiver from any program’s requirements. Federal government employees – even the hardest-working and best-intentioned – are not necessarily keen on innovation.

In October of 2018, Alabama launched the Integrated Care Network (ICN). In this new model, Medicaid contracts with an Alabama-based healthcare provider to serve the 22,500 patients who are receiving long-term care through Medicaid. These senior patients and their families have expanded choices through the ICN: most are in nursing homes, but about 30% have chosen to receive care in the comfort of their own homes.

Where are we nearly a year down the road from the ICN launch? A few weeks ago, I convened a meeting of Medicaid, the Department of Senior Services, nursing home owners and health care providers. Their reports were encouraging. According to Medicaid’s estimates, the ICN model has already saved the state $4 million — and Medicaid projects the savings to grow over the next few years.

In 2039, if trends hold, 42% of Alabamians will be 60 years or older. For the senior citizens who will need Medicaid’s assistance, it is imperative that we continue to modernize and innovate in the area of health care, especially for programs like Medicaid that are funded by the taxpayers.

Newton’s first law states that an object will remain at rest or in uniform motion along a straight line, unless it is acted upon by an external force — inertia, in a word. That is a concept that often applies to government programs and agencies. In this instance, the innovation of the Integrated Care Network represents the external force that is moving Medicaid to a sounder fiscal footing.

Greg Reed is the Alabama Senate Majority Leader, and represents Senate District 5, which is comprised of all or parts of Walker, Winston, Fayette, Tuscaloosa, and Jefferson counties.

3 hours ago

Ivey invites Alabamians to join as she lights Alabama’s official Christmas tree

Governor Kay Ivey has invited Alabamians to join her for the official state Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. The program is scheduled for Friday, December 6 at 5:30 p.m. on the front steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

“I invite all Alabamians, friends, and neighbors to join us here at the Capitol for that special occasion. This is always a wonderful event and serves as such a great reminder of the spirit of hope that Christmas brings,” said Ivey in a news release.

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According to the release, Alabama’s 2019 Christmas Tree is a 40-foot-tall Eastern Red Cedar. It was grown on Mr. and Mrs. Ray Allen’s Farm in Bullock County. When lit, the tree will have around 37,000 lights strung on its branches. It will also be decorated with special bicentennial ornaments to celebrate Alabama’s 200th birthday.

At around 5:00 p.m. on Friday, the 151st Army National Guard Band will begin playing. At 5:30, the ceremony will begin. The program will also have a performance by the Forest Avenue Elementary School Choir.

Ivey will be joined in making remarks by commander and president of Air University at Maxwell Airforce Base Lieutenant General James Hecker and others.

The citizens assembled are invited to join the governor in counting down before she flips the switch to light the tree.

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

4 hours ago

Merry and bright: How Regions’ headquarters building lights became a holiday tradition

It’s a tradition that’s now over 40 years strong.

Every year, the Regions Center tower in Birmingham, Alabama, is transformed into a brilliant holiday display – with Christmas trees, a massive wreath and a giant stocking celebrating the season every evening.

The lights are visible for miles – from vistas along Red Mountain, to travelers crossing through town on nearby interstates, and to airline passengers about to land at the airport a few miles to the east.

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“Every year, we’re asked how we do it, and while we’ve made a couple updates over time, the process is still very similar to the way it was in the late 1970s,” explained Emilio Cerice, Senior Vice President of Corporate Real Estate for Regions Bank. “The lighting display didn’t begin until the late 70s, but it turned out, the stage was set for the display about 10 years earlier.”

While the building was under construction between 1968 and 1971, Cerice said a light tube was placed in a small area above each window starting on the fifth floor. Initially, the idea was to light the building in bright white every night. But the energy crisis of the 1970s brought that to an end.

“The history of using the lights as a Christmas display started after the energy crisis was over,” Cerice said. “Back then, the building was owned by First National Bank of Birmingham and a company called Sonat – or Southern Natural Gas. The details have been hard to pinpoint, but it’s been said that a Sonat executive was in Houston and saw a building that used its ‘curtain wall’ design – similar to what we have – for a Christmas display. That executive came back to Birmingham and led the effort to get a display here.”

Over time, the building has gone on to carry the AmSouth name; then, following the 2006 merger of AmSouth and Regions, the Regions name and its updated logo were placed atop the tower. But through it all, the holiday lights have remained.

“It’s something we look forward to every year – and it’s something the city looks forward to,” Cerice said. “In recent years, it’s been fun to watch social media and see people sharing creative photos of the building or sharing their memories of coming downtown to see the lights.”

Preparations for the display get underway around late summer or early fall each year.

“The images are created by placing red and green ‘gel sleeves’ over the white light tubes above each window,” Cerice said. “Crews operate with a grid showing the pattern of the display on each side of the building, and that lets them know which windows need which colors. Then, they change the display in February or March every year to the golfer image that we display during the Regions Tradition golf tournament. That one uses some different shades of green, as well as blue, so there’s a lot of changing and re-changing of the gel sleeves that takes place.”

Testing of the Christmas display takes place during the early morning hours in the days before Thanksgiving. If needed, any corrections are made. Then, at 5pm on the day after Thanksgiving, the display comes to life. It remains illuminated until midnight each evening through Dec. 31.

“If you’re near a window from the fifth floor and up when the display comes on each night, it’s very noticeable,” Cerice said. “A lot of people like to try to figure out where their office is in the tree, or the wreath, or whichever side of the building they’re on. We had a team that moved offices two years ago, and not long after they moved in, they looked at the lights above the windows and tried to figure out, ‘So where are we within the tree here?’ They compared the colors of the lights to a video of the building on YouTube and determined they were almost halfway up the tree in their new offices.”

Besides the holiday display and the golfer, the tower has hosted two other displays.

“In 1991, there was an American flag and the letters ‘USA’ in support of those serving during the Gulf War. Then, in 1996, there was an Olympic torch and the Olympic Rings when Summer Olympic soccer was being played at Legion Field,” Cerice said.

The Regions Center tower rises nearly 400 feet over 5th Avenue North at 20th Street North in downtown Birmingham. Some of the best views are from Birmingham’s Railroad Park, as well as from Vulcan Park on Red Mountain.

“Birmingham is our headquarters city. We’re proud to occupy a prominent spot in the city’s skyline,” Cerice said. “And we’re proud to carry on this tradition.”

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)