5 years ago

Here’s how much money Alabama’s corruption epidemic took out of your pocket this year

YH Alabama corruption

Corruption at the highest level of all three branches of Alabama’s government is not just making national news, it’s making international news. Unfortunately, the latest episodes of corruption are just additional examples of the deep-seated problem of corruption in Alabama. One can only imagine what this corruption is costing the state in terms of economic growth and development. Expanding and maintaining public accountability and transparency is necessary to curb Alabama’s culture of corruption and to help promote economic prosperity in Alabama.

Corruption in Alabama politics not only makes Alabama less attractive for business investment—meaning, less job growth and opportunity—actual corruption costs each resident in nine of the ten most corrupt states, including Alabama, an estimated average of $1,308 per year. Even just the perception of corruption causes real damage to the business environment in Alabama by discouraging investment. That is a problem worth solving.

Alabama is frequently listed as one of the most corrupt states in the country by the Harvard University Center for Ethics. A separate state-level corruption study recently published in Public Administration Review also listed Alabama as one of the most corrupt states in the nation. In our recently released study, Alabama at the Crossroads: An Economic Guide to a Fiscally Sustainable Future, my colleague John Dove and I find that tackling corruption in Alabama is necessary to put Alabama on the path to a fiscally sustainable future.

Ensuring Alabamians–and future Alabamians–that they can hold public officials accountable is one way to reduce both real and perceived corruption. That means public accountability across the board, including for our state pension system that is facing an $80 billion funding gap due to flawed accounting practices which substantially understate pension liabilities, putting our fiscal future in jeopardy.

The lack of transparency contributes to the state’s corruption problems especially when it comes to public access to information, political financing, and redistricting. Reducing political corruption in Alabama, both real and perceived, will require expanding and maintaining accountability and transparency in all areas of state regulation, spending, and employment. It also means fostering a principled political culture that rejects corruption, with informed voters holding policymakers accountable.

Perhaps even more troubling than the cost of corruption in Alabama, is the impact of corruption on business and job growth. A World Bank study found that corruption has a more harmful effect on business growth than even taxation. When corrupt public officials direct tax money toward sectors conducive to bribery, such as highways and construction, or for other self–serving functions like wage and salary increases, they create an unfair political and economic environment on the backs of taxpayers. In another study looking at corruption in just the U.S., the economists David Mitchell and Noel Campbell found that concentrating resources on reducing corruption at the state level is more effective in producing business growth than economic incentives programs.

The State Integrity Investigation Report Card finds that Alabama is particularly vulnerable to corruption when it comes to public access to information, legislative accountability, state pension fund management, political financing, and redistricting.

State leaders serious about weeding corruption out of Alabama politics—and saving taxpayers more of their hard-earned money—should take these reports seriously and implement basic procedures to add more accountability and transparency to our political system. Accountability and transparency will reduce both real and perceived corruption.

Taking steps to tackle political corruption in Alabama, by expanding public accountability and transparency, will improve investment and job growth and help cut wasteful expenditures. We can do this by strengthening our information access laws and procedures, being more transparent and open about redistricting, and making and enforcing stricter conflict of interest laws for public officials.


Daniel J. Smith is the associate director of the Johnson Center at Troy University. Follow him on Twitter: @smithdanj1

14 mins ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — April 20, 2021

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday will convene for the 24th day of its 2021 regular session.

The House will convene at 1:00 p.m., while the Senate gets in at 2:00 p.m.

The lower chamber will not take up SB 46, the medical marijuana bill, on this day, April 20.

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You can view the day’s House special order calendar, which is relatively noncontroversial, here.

Before the chambers gavel in, two especially noteworthy committee meetings will take place.

At 1:00 p.m., House Urban and Rural Development will finally take up SB 215, which is aimed at expanding affordable, high-quality broadband access to all Alabamians.

House Ways and Means Education at the same time will take up an agenda that leads off with HB 88 by Rep. Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham). This bill would require public schools at which students in grade-five or beyond are enrolled to provide feminine hygiene products free of-charge in female restrooms.

Senate Governmental Affairs will meet at 1:00 p.m., considering an 11-bill agenda. This will include Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton’s (D-Greensboro) SB 370 to legalize and implement the option of curbside voting in Alabama for those with disabilities, pregnant women and any other eligible voters allowed under rules adopted by the secretary of state. All six Democrats in the Senate are cosponsoring the legislation, which comes as Republicans have advanced Rep. Wes Allen’s (R-Troy) HB 285, a bill to ban curbside voting in the state. HB 285 has passed the House, been approved by a Senate committee and only awaits final Senate passage.

Alabama law does not currently provide for curbside voting, however, the practice is also not explicitly barred.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Boeing expects to be mission-ready in May for second uncrewed Starliner test flight

NASA and Boeing are now targeting August or September for the launch of Starliner’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 (OFT-2) mission to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. A press release noted they will also evaluate options if an earlier launch opportunity becomes available, starting in the next few weeks.

OFT-2 is a critical developmental milestone on Boeing’s path to fly crew missions for NASA.

This will be the company’s second try at delivering its Starliner vehicle to the ISS in preparation for shuttling commercial crew to and from the space station.

The first Starliner mission ended prematurely as a result of a timing malfunction which led to the spacecraft missing the opportunity to set the proper course for connecting with the ISS.

However, the mission was still historic and marked significant progress in the Commercial Crew Program.

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Returning early to White Sands, New Mexico, the Starliner spacecraft during OFT-1 became the first-ever American orbital space capsule to land on U.S. soil. This came after the mission was launched perfectly by a Decatur-built, specially configured United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

Boeing’s design center in Huntsville provided all of the structural design for the Starliner capsule. Additionally, Boeing’s Phantom Works division, which has an operation in the Rocket City, provided the power systems for the capsule.

Overall, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is designed, built, tested and flown by a team committed to safely, reliably and sustainably transporting astronauts to and from the ISS.

A release over the weekend detailed that the target launch timeframe for OFT-2 is supported by a space station docking opportunity and the availability of ULA’s Atlas V rocket and the Eastern Range.

However, Boeing said it will be mission-ready in May should a launch opportunity arise before the target. The Starliner team has reportedly completed all work on the OFT-2 vehicle except for activity to be conducted closer to launch, such as loading cargo and fueling the spacecraft. The team also has submitted all verification and validation paperwork to NASA and is completing all Independent Review Team recommended actions including those that were not mandatory ahead of OFT-2.

Software and Mission Operations teammates in Houston have been hard at work conducting flight software simulations, including end-to-end confidence and integration testing that will serve as a mission dress rehearsal before every future Starliner flight. The company expects to conclude all software testing this month and will support NASA’s post-test reviews as needed.

Additionally, the Starliner team is now preparing for the Crew Flight Test (CFT) to enable the shortest turnaround time possible between flights while maintaining its focus on crew safety. NASA’s CFT astronauts recently suited up and climbed aboard Starliner to perform a fully integrated and powered checkout of the OFT-2 vehicle supported by life support and communications systems. The OFT-2 spacecraft and all systems are nearly identical to those that will fly during Starliner’s first crewed mission, which will be the second flight of that spacecraft.

Safely and sustainably transporting crew and cargo to and from low Earth orbit destinations for NASA and other future customers is the ultimate goal. Boeing is confident in the Starliner vehicle, the team and the missions ahead as the program nears the completion of its development phase.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Workforce development is giving Alabama a competitive edge

Recruiting, training and empowering a highly skilled workforce driven by business and industry needs is giving Alabama a competitive edge for economic growth.

We see the results of this sound strategy throughout the state. As Governor Kay Ivey recently announced, Alabama’s economic development activity in 2020 generated approximately $5 billion in new investments and nearly 10,000 job commitments. This level of job recruitment is astounding, especially considering the challenges the coronavirus posed to economic developers in 2020. These new jobs will help to lower or keep low our unemployment rate, which is already the lowest in the Southeast.

In economic development, some analysts focus on incentive packages that states offer to attract new businesses. But good business leaders know the most important resource a state can offer is a pool of talented, well-trained and ready workers.

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There is no doubt that Alabamians are hard workers. This is no secret among America’s leading industries, who have seen for themselves that Alabama brings to the table dedicated workers and a workforce development strategy that are second to none.

Under Governor Ivey’s leadership, workforce development in Alabama is a collaborative effort. Shortly after assuming office, Governor Ivey launched Strong Start, Strong Finish to integrate Alabama’s early childhood education, K-12, and workforce development programs. Through the Success Plus initiative, a component of Strong Start, Strong Finish, Governor Ivey established a structured path for our state to add an additional 500,000 credentialed workers to the workforce by 2025. In addition, it equips our citizens to work the jobs that are in greatest demand. As Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield said, Success Plus gives prospective employers “yet another reason” to locate in Alabama.

These efforts to improve and coordinate our education and workforce training programs have received national acclaim from organizations like the National Governors Association, Credential Engine, the Lumina Foundation, Site Selection magazine and more.

But to keep moving forward, we cannot rest on our laurels. While all Alabamians can be pleased our economy is growing and unemployment is low, our labor force participation rate must improve. Defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate is the percentage of the population age between 16 and 64 who are either working or actively looking for work. Alabama’s most recent labor force participation rate is 57.8 percent, compared to the national rate of about 62 percent.

We know a significant number of Alabamians do not work or actively look for work because they fear they will lose benefits or services quicker than they can make up for them through paid employment. A recent survey of unemployed and underemployed Alabamians revealed that more than 37 percent declined or delayed taking a new job or promotion because they were afraid they would lose a government benefit and end up being worse off financially.

Known as benefit cliffs, these situations have long been recognized to create financial disincentives for some individuals to earn more income or train for higher paying occupations. Because many do not know whether a benefit cliff actually exists for their particular situation, low-income workers may decline to take on more hours at work or accept promotions simply out of fear they will lose benefits. This lack of transparency can drive poor decision making and hold these workers back.

To provide this needed transparency, Alabama offers DAVID, the Dashboard for Alabamians to Visualize Income Determinations. Created through a unique partnership between the state and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, DAVID helps individuals understand how much money they will gain through paid employment in various careers. Alabama is the first state in the nation to create such an innovative tool – a benefits cliff calculator combined with a career planner.

Raphael Bostic, the president and CEO of the Atlanta Fed, said this will help ensure the economy “works for everyone.”

Connecting education and workforce development has proven to be not only a sound strategy for helping unemployed and underemployed Alabamians, it also strengthens our ability to recruit new jobs and economic opportunities. By continuing to provide innovative tools, educational opportunities and world-class workforce training, we can ensure our economy does indeed work for everyone and that Alabama’s best days are yet to come.

Tim McCartney, formerly of McCartney Construction in Gadsden, is the Chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council. To learn more about the Council, visit www.alabamaworks.com.

14 hours ago

Alabama ranked No. 8 in nation for economic momentum — ‘On the right path for the future’

Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced that Alabama ranks among the top states for economic momentum in a new analysis that evaluates key measurements of economic performance in 2021.

The Washington, D.C.-based publication State Policy Reports ranked Alabama No. 8 in its Index of State Economic Momentum for the first quarter. The state’s score was 1.31, compared to a national average of zero.

The index ranks states based on their most recent performance in three important measures of economic vitality: personal income growth, employment growth and population growth.

In a release, Ivey said the Yellowhammer State’s ranking in the report shows that the state is fully on the road to recovery after nationwide economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We’ve worked very hard over the past few years to strengthen the foundations of Alabama’s economy by encouraging business growth and equipping our workers with the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century workplace,” Ivey stated. “I believe this ranking shows that Alabama is on the right path for the future.”

Alabama’s ranking was notably higher than its surrounding states of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, as well as the comparable South Carolina.

When it came to personal income growth, Alabama ranked No. 13 nationally, with a 4.8% gain during 2020, higher than the national average of 4%. For employment growth, the state scored No. 7 year-over-year. However, when looking at population growth, Alabama ranked in the middle of the pack for the one-year period ending July 1, 2020, with a gain of 0.3%, just below the national average.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, advised the state is poised for additional economic vitality, with nearly $5 billion in new capital investment tied to business growth projects announced last year.

“The robust level of economic development activity recorded in spite of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic gives me optimism for the future,” Canfield said in a statement. “I’m confident that Alabama’s economy is being re-energized for growth.”

Leaders in the Alabama Legislature said the report findings underscore the state’s strong economic prospects as the pandemic loosens its grip on the country.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R–Jasper) and Rep. Bill Poole (R–Tuscaloosa) earlier this year helped reauthorize two state economic development laws, the Alabama Jobs Act and the Growing Alabama Act; they are also spearheading efforts when it comes to enacting policy recommendations proposed by the Alabama Innovation Commission.

“These strong economic numbers, recorded in the midst of a pandemic, emphasize the resilience of Alabama’s economy. Our state has provided the tools needed to make Alabama a competitive place to invest and do business,” Reed remarked. “Bringing good-paying, high-quality jobs and economic opportunity to our state is the number one way we can increase quality of life for Alabamians. For that reason, economic development will continue to be a top priority of our state’s leadership in the future.”

Poole commented, “Alabama’s performance related to these key economic indexes demonstrates the resiliency of the citizens of our state in the face of the pandemic and validates the hard work that has been undertaken during recent years to grow and diversify Alabama’s economy.”

“These efforts have been collaborative across all branches of government, have been bipartisan, have involved public-private cooperation and have focused on strengthening Alabama’s ability to compete in a 21st century economy,” he continued. “These rankings should reinforce Alabama’s commitment to education and workforce development, to supporting the growth of our current businesses, and to strategically recruiting new businesses. It is also critical that we work together to strengthen Alabama’s competitiveness in the areas of innovation, technology, research and entrepreneurship. Our state’s continued focus on these objectives will serve to benefit all Alabamians.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Justice Will Sellers: Remembering the Bay of Pigs and its aftermath

When great powers stump their toe on foreign policy, the initial pain, though slight, often causes loss of focus, a stumble and sometimes a more serious accident.

Sixty years ago, the United States sponsored an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba, and the colossal failure ultimately damaged our nation’s reputation, emboldened our enemies, worried our allies, and clouded our vision of proper objectives for foreign relations.

President John Kennedy’s inauguration was a cause for much optimism as a young, vibrant breath of fresh air would lead America in a new direction. His inaugural address was an inspiring call to a new nationalism of service to the world at large, and he promised that the United States would do all in its power to protect freedom around the globe.

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The naivety of his rhetoric was not apparent, however, until he was challenged by an energized Russian bear ready to test the mettle of the young president.

At the beginning of the new administration, America had every reason to be hopeful that the world was moving towards greater freedom. The Eisenhower administration had successfully used covert action to change the governments of Iran and Guatemala, some hotspots of communist insurgency had been stopped, and there was stability in the Philippines and Vietnam.

When the torch was passed to the Kennedy administration, the world appeared stable and controllable.

During his transition from electoral success to governing, Kennedy reached out to some of the smartest and most capable individuals in business and academia. These whiz kids promoted a theory that the machinery of government was a science, and if the formulas were correct, the results would be both predictable and successful.

But, while genius in government is great, practical simplicity is always better. Understanding and assessing people and personalities often primes academic articulation. Within a matter of months, President Kennedy was to learn this the hard way.

By failing to understand the difference between ideology and interests in diplomacy, the Kennedy administration embarked on a path that reflected an impractical view of the world as they wanted it to be and failed to appreciate that an effective foreign policy must reflect a national self-interest to deal with the world as it is.

Even before the Bay of Pigs, members of Kennedy’s foreign policy team decided on a covert coup to oust Portugal’s dictator.

This plan made little sense.

There was no overarching U.S. interest at stake, any local opposition to the regime was minimal, and, to make matters worse, Portugal was a NATO ally. Thankfully, the coup never got off the ground, the covert action was scrapped, and the instigators departed before any real damage was done.

But the thought process, or lack thereof, was troubling. And any further ideas about forced regime change should have been put on hold until a comprehensive foreign policy was developed and measured objectives approved.

But rather than seriously considering American interests, the excitement of covert action and the thrill of cloak and dagger operations distracted the young administration and set in motion one of the biggest disasters that was as open to ridicule as it was notorious for ineptness.

When U.S.-sponsored Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs, nothing went according to plan. There was no expected popular uprising, and, more importantly, Kennedy had canceled any air support. With limited engagement from the Navy, the landing party hardly got off the beach.

The conflict was a total rout with almost the entire invasion force killed, wounded, or captured. In retrospect, any casual observer would question the need to invade Cuba, our national interest there, and any thoughtful steps to take to achieve our goals short of force. The after-action report was devastating and served as a proof text for Murphy’s law.

The Bay of Pigs served as a shakedown cruise for the new administration, and the evaluations of its first four months was resoundingly negative. Allowing a small country like Cuba to thwart an American-sponsored coup fueled our enemies to take full advantage of the geniuses who attempted to advance the national policy of a new administration.

After the Bay of Pigs, the stature of the United States was substantially reduced in the eyes of the world; perhaps for the first time, we were vulnerable, and our enemies probed and tested our resolve.

Indeed, for the rest of his presidency, Kennedy’s foreign policy exploits would be an attempt to overcome this defeat in Cuba. Sensing distraction, our enemies took full advantage of us.

In Europe, the Soviets approved building a barrier between East and West Berlin, and when Kennedy signaled that he would take no actions to stop construction, the barrier became the solid, fortress-like wall, which was improved and secured to provocatively divide the people of Berlin.

In Southeast Asia, Russia amped up its support of the Pathet Lao in a proxy war for control of Laos. Khrushchev rhetorically decimated Kennedy at the Vienna Summit some months later.

Atoning for the loss of prestige at the Bay of Pigs, Bobby Kennedy became obsessed with Cuba, diverting resources in any number of attempts to topple the Castro regime. In fact, some of the most preposterous assassination plans cooked up by the CIA were aimed at Castro.

Rather than destabilizing Cuba, Kennedy’s singular focus forced Castro into a strong alliance with Russia, resulting in a Soviet base 90 miles from Florida. The obsession with Cuba led to the Cuban Missile crisis which was the closest the world has yet come to a nuclear war.

But perhaps the most significant legacy from Kennedy’s bruised ego was his desire to reveal his machismo and show he could draw a line in the sand against communism.

The place he chose to show resolve was Vietnam.

The Bay of Pigs represented not only a defeat of U.S. interests, but a disaster in creating a foreign policy that was rooted in a personal quest to show a powerful America and decisive administration. By focusing on goals and objectives that had little relation to the permanent interests of the United States, Kennedy ultimately followed a path leading to humiliation and defeat.

Engaging on the world stage requires critical thinking about America’s goals and the strategies to achieve them. Foreign policy must be practical and focused on long-term interests and not the distractions of ideological whims.

Will Sellers is an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of Alabama