6 years ago

Now that Gov. Bentley vetoed a budget that only relied on cuts to balance, what’s next?

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year. This Spring, however, lawmakers passed an ill-fated budget that was immediately vetoed by Governor Robert Bentley (R).

Before closing the 2015 Regular Session Thursday evening, the legislature approved a General Fund budget that cut $200 million from Medicaid, corrections, mental health and the other agencies.

“I know it’s not something that any of us wanted to pass,” said House General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark).

The cuts were so unpopular, in fact, that Senate General Fund Budget Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) voted against his own budget. Orr intimated Thursday that a push for tax increases is likely when the Legislature convenes for an inevitable Special Session later this Summer.

“It took time for an agreement that there really is a significant problem and that just passing a cut budget is not the best answer to the problem,” Orr said, calling the process “frustrating.”

The first four years of complete Republican control in Montgomery were marked by an unusual level of cohesion between the House and the Senate. The two bodies cranked through each other’s legislative agendas year after year with very minimal tension, even occasionally coming together to override Gov. Bentley’s veto on major issues like the Accountability Act, the GOP’s landmark school choice bill.

The tone was different from the very beginning in 2015.

Gov. Bentley, safely elected to a second term, sought to impose his will on the legislature by rolling out a package of tax increase bills and playing hardball with any legislators who publicly opposed him. Competing solutions to the budget shortfall emerged in the House and Senate, some involving taxes, others involving various forms of gambling expansions, and a handful involving significant budgeting reforms.

The tensions were running so high by the end of the session that Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) made a rare appearance on the House floor to rebuke and cast blame on is Senate colleagues for “clocking out” on the citizens of Alabama, an accusation the upper chamber likely won’t forget between now and an expected Special Session in August.

The challenge for anyone trying to predict how things will play out is that every viable solution appears to face insurmountable opposition. The task, then, for legislative leaders is to build consensus around the best way to approach the budget shortfall, whether it be with spending cuts, structural reforms, tax increases, gambling, or some combination thereof.

A large bloc of conservative senators and a growing group of House members have already publicly vowed to stand in the way of any proposed tax increase. Considering they will all have to face voters again in a few short years, it is hard to imagine them changing directions.

“I don’t see the sentiment of this body changing,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said of his members’ opposition to tax increases.

It also seems unlikely either of the competing gambling plans will be able to cobble together enough support to pass. There still remains a large group of staunchly anti-gambling conservatives who will not support either plan. The remaining members are split over the best approach. Some support the Poarch Creek Indians’ offer of $250 million in return for exclusive gaming rights, while others view that as the creation of an unnecessary monopoly. Another small group supports expanding gaming in the state to include Las Vegas-style casinos. The only crossover between those in favor of the Poarch Creek deal and those backing a larger gaming expansion is support for a state-sponsored lottery, which still faces widespread opposition among Republicans.

The only plan that seemed to actually gain momentum rather than lose it during the Regular Session was a push to overhaul the dysfunctional way the state structures its budgets. Alabama is one of only three states in the country that has separate education and general fund budgets. The state also earmarks 91 percent of its tax revenue, making it impossible for elected leaders to set spending priorities in lean years.

However, in spite of the growing calls from conservatives who argue the Education Budget’s surplus proves the state has enough money to meet its obligations, some longtime members of the legislature are reluctant to make such dramatic reforms.

So what is the most likely outcome of the impending Special Session?

Sin taxes on cigarettes and soft drinks are the only tax increases that garner any noticeable support among Republicans. Some have pushed behind closed doors to pass such taxes and “be done with it.” However, other members worry they would be setting themselves up for electoral defeat by supporting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax hikes, no matter which taxes they are.

“It’s not like they clarify in campaign ads which taxes you raised,” said one Republican House member, who spoke on condition of anonymity to not further increase tensions among his colleagues. “The ads would just say ‘voted to raise taxes by $250 million,’ and they would be true. There’s no doubt in my mind that would get a bunch of us beat.”

There is a growing sense that at least some un-earmarking will garner enough support to pass. Most notably, a proposal to funnel some of the state’s use tax revenue from the Education Budget to the General Fund is getting cautiously favorable nods from both legislative leaders and rank and file members. And Senators say the Governor assured them if they find a way to patch the General Fund this year, he’ll throw his weight behind a push to combine the budgets in 2016, something he has been supportive of in years past.

The divisiveness that marked the Regular Session is unlikely to dissipate over the summer as leaders works toward a compromise. The only thing we know for sure is that they are constitutionally mandated to pass a balanced budget. What exactly it will look like is still anyone’s guess.


48 mins ago

7 Things: Ivey says not to panic-buy gas, companies in Alabama need workers, border chaos must be addressed and more …

7. History will not remember Liz Cheney’s leadership position 

  • U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is on the cusp of being ousted by her fellow House Republicans, and the American media has declared this to be a pivotal moment in American history, which it clearly is not. Proving why she is being removed, Cheney spent her last full day in leadership rehashing the U. S. Capitol riots and talking about former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
  • U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks) highlighted this when citing why his “friend” needed to go. He advised, “[S]he has made a decision that she is going to use her position as conference chairman not to just promote the position and point out the shortcomings of the Democrat majority and the Biden administration, but rather continue to relitigate what happened on January 6. It is not the job of conference chairman. It is to be the voice of our conference in talking about why we ought to be in the majority and why this majority is wrongheaded, the administration is not doing what the country needs.”

6. Rockets hit Israel, Israel hits back 

501

  • In the latest round of Middle East violence, the terrorist group Hamas began shooting rockets into populated areas of Israeli cities with the support of Palestinian leadership. The Israeli military responded by launching targeted attacks on the leadership of Hamas and at rocket sites. Obviously, civilians are caught in the crossfire, again.
  • The American media seems somewhat unnerved by Israel’s defensive capabilities and uneven death toll, but they seem to be hellbent on ignoring the fact that the death toll is only low on the Israeli side because they are able to retard Hamas’ attacks.

5. Schumer wants to legalize marijuana 

  • U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is planning to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana and expunge records of those who have been convicted of possession.
  • Schumer specifically said, “It is not just legalization but a deal for the injustices of the past expungement of the records making sure that the money that’s made from marijuana goes to the communities, communities of color, poor people communities, that have paid the price for this ridiculous scheduling of marijuana.”

4. Kids 12-15 could get vaccinated in Alabama this week 

  • The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use on those 12 to 15-years-old, and now it could be approved for use in Alabama by Thursday.
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham vaccination clinics are planning to provide the doses to younger age groups by Thursday if the vaccine is approved for use by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today.

3. Secure the border 

  • Governor Kay Ivey and 19 other governors have signed a letter together demanding that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris address the crisis at the southern border. The letter points out that there have been “172,000 encounters in March, the highest number in nearly 20 years, as well as 18,890 unaccompanied children, the largest monthly number in history.”
  • The letter goes on to say, “The crisis is too big to ignore and is now spilling over the border states into all of our states.” They directly blame Biden’s administration and policy decisions for the surge.

2. There are jobs out there 

  • After it was announced that Alabama would be withdrawing participation from federal unemployment benefits, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released a report showing that there’s a record number of job openings.
  • In the report, 31% of businesses say they’ve raised wages and 20% will increase compensation within the next few months. In addition, there’s currently a record 44% of businesses reporting job openings.

1. Ivey: Stop panic buying gas

  • The Colonial Pipeline cyberattack has led to many in the Southeast panic buying gasoline, and now Governor Kay Ivey is urging people to stop panic buying, as this could result in even more issues.
  • Ivey stated, “Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!”

2 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Rogers on Liz Cheney ouster: ‘We’ve got to be fighting today’s fights and tomorrow’s fights, and not the fight of yesterday’

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is expected to be voted out of her position as House Republican Conference chairwoman, the third-ranking member of the House Republican caucus, and be replaced with U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

The move by Republicans has drawn very vocal reactions from the media and other Democrats, who allege that Cheney’s removal is a product of the GOP’s blind allegiance to former President Donald Trump. Cheney had been a frequent critic of the 45th president and remained so beyond his presidency.

During an interview that aired on Tuesday’s broadcast of Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Saks), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Service Committee, called Cheney “a close friend,” but acknowledged her comments about the January 6 incident on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. had a lot to do with her ouster. He argued Cheney should have had a more forward-looking focus in her leadership role.

307

“Everybody sees it coming,” he said. “Liz is a close friend of mine, but she has made a decision that she is going to use her position as conference chairman not to just promote the position and point out the shortcomings of the Democrat majority and the Biden administration, but rather continue to relitigate what happened on January 6. It is not the job of conference chairman. It is to be the voice of our conference in talking about why we ought to be in the majority and why this majority is wrongheaded, the administration is not doing what the country needs. She has made this conscious choice. You know, we had a vote on this back. I think it was in February. And she survived. And everybody told her then, ‘We don’t care how you vote on the impeachment or any of that. That’s all behind us. You need to be talking about the conference goals and agenda.'”

“That’s what that position is all about,” Rogers added. “She has chosen not to do that. I fully expect [tomorrow] she is going to be recalled, and Elise Stefanik is going to be put in that position because we’ve got to be fighting today’s fights and tomorrow’s fights, and not the fight of yesterday. She just won’t turn loose of it. Now at this point, because she’s my buddy, and I hate that she’s taking this course of action — but she’s a very smart lady, and this is a conscious decision on her part.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

16 hours ago

How the Regions Tradition led to Alabama’s star-studded vaccine PSAs

You already know the Regions Tradition’s reputation for competition. It’s the first major on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule in 2021, and it produces millions for charities.

But it’s also the place where things get done. And this year’s focus was intended to save lives.

The Bruno Event Team, which manages the Tradition, and the Alabama Department of Public Health used the annual Celebrity Pro-Am tournament as a stage to create a public awareness campaign encouraging Alabamians to get the COVID vaccine ASAP.

The idea, the pitch and the execution all came together in a week. And when approached, the centerpiece of the project agreed to participate without hesitation.

The centerpiece?

Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

516

RELATED: College football’s biggest names turn out for 2021 Regions Tradition Celebrity Pro-Am

“Research told us you don’t use national celebrities,” said Gene Hallman of the Bruno Event Team, which produced the spots. “You use local doctors, nurses and healthcare workers. Or you use local celebrities. And in this state, no one is better known than Coach Saban.”

In fact, according to a Montgomery pollster the Bruno team consulted, there’s no one more respected throughout the state than Saban. John Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal that Saban’s favorability rating is the highest in the state – 77 percent. That means that even Auburn fans who root against him each week still respect him.

Or, as Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal, “He is a God.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health reached out to the Bruno team to create a marketing campaign for the state’s underserved population, intending for the spots to motivate Black, Latino and tribal populations to get the vaccines. The public awareness videos will run on television and radio stations statewide, as well as on social media.

But as the campaign expanded, the goalpost moved. With federal and state grants provided for that specific reason, “we’re going to try to reach a very broad audience – the entire state,” Hallman said. “We’re not hammering people. We just want to provide an education on the science of the vaccine, so people can make an informed decision.”

And, since it’s Alabama, there’s also another lure: the opportunity to pack college football stadiums at 100% capacity next fall if enough people get vaccinated.

It’s not the first time the tournament known as the Regions Tradition proved to be a catalyst for change.

When the Champions Tour first came to Birmingham in 1992, Hallman’s group was called in to help with a very hush-hush operation. They were told an unnamed group of visitors from Europe, interested in bringing business to the U.S., would be coming to town to see what Alabama had to offer. No other information was provided, but they were to be shown a good time.

Only one problem.

The first tournament was held in August, a notoriously bad time for southern hospitality – at least for people used to cooler weather than the notorious sticky, 100-degree days. But, as luck would have it, an unusual cold front swept in at the start of the tournament, providing record low temperatures that created perfect temps for the visitors.

So, the secret entourage spent a week at the tournament, got to meet popular Champions Tour legend Chi Chi Rodriguez, and spent a day touring a large plot of land outside Tuscaloosa, less than an hour away …  land that would eventually become the site of Alabama’s first automotive manufacturing plant.

As for the vaccine spots, once Saban came on board others followed. The list includes an NBA legend, a college conference commissioner, a U.S. Senator and other coaches. All recorded their parts while participating in the Regions Tradition Pro-Am.

“We asked and they answered in two seconds,” Hallman said. “There was no hesitation. We got them all on camera that day.”

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)

17 hours ago

Governor Ivey urges Alabamians not to panic-buy gas

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday spoke with the U.S. Department of Energy on a call regarding the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which has caused a shutdown of the pipeline operations.

The pipeline, which is the largest system for refined oil products in the United States, is 5,500 miles long and can carry 3 million barrels of fuel per day between Texas and New York. It is operated by Colonial Pipeline Company, which is headquartered in Georgia.

The pipeline runs through Alabama, as people may remember from a Shelby County leak in 2016 that caused gas shortages in the region. The county is home to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm.

However, Ivey wants to assure Alabamians that the temporary pipeline shutdown should be resolved in the coming days and that any potential gas shortages have not reached the Yellowhammer State.

294

“Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!” Ivey said in a social media post.

The governor’s spokesperson reiterated Ivey’s message.

“She was assured that the pipeline should be operational in a few days,” said Gina Maiola. “She is urging Alabamians and others to not panic and to use good judgement. A shortage has not reached Alabama at this time, and she reminds us that an overreaction would only lead to that. Be courteous, only fill up if you need to, and do not fill up multiple containers. Governor Ivey urges patience and common sense.”

Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden echoed Ivey’s words.

“While the state of Alabama is fortunate to this point to not be suffering from gas shortages, there have still been reports of panic-buying and gas price increases,” he said in a statement. “I echo Governor Ivey’s request that Alabama residents refrain from panic-buying, which would only cause more anxiety in the market. As Colonial has stated publicly they are working vigorously to reestablish service.”

The Colonial Pipeline shutdown comes as the average price of gas in the U.S. has risen from $2.112 per gallon before President Joe Biden was elected to $2.985 per gallon this week.

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

18 hours ago

Vocational center for construction, electric vehicle, aviation technology fields coming to DeKalb County

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced a $1 million grant to help the Fort Payne Board of Education construct a new vocational center aimed at training students in careers that include construction, electric vehicle and aviation technologies.

The funds come from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

The new DeKalb County vocation center will prepare Fort Payne high school students and adults for the future while helping to meet the needs of Alabama’s workforce in several career fields.

“Alabama is sounding the call for a skilled workforce and the Fort Payne Board of Education is responding to that demand,” Ivey said in a statement. “This program will ensure that students graduating from high school will be ready for rewarding and high-paying jobs, and that employers will be hiring a qualified workforce to move our state forward.”

117

RELATED: Guest: Electric vehicles important for Alabama’s automotive industry

The new Building, Electric and Aviation Technology Center will provide students with a rigorous training program in a workplace environment to ready them for careers.

“The path to rewarding careers does not always go through colleges and universities,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell added. “I applaud the Fort Payne Board of Education for offering other options for students who have the same dreams for successful careers but choose a different path to get there.”

The project is supported by Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro), who chairs the Alabama Space Authority and the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus.

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