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3 months ago

Sonny Brasfield: Building local support for gas tax hike to fund roads, bridges key takeaway from ACCA’s pre-2019 legislative session conference

MONTGOMERY — Around lunchtime on Thursday, the attendees of this year’s Association of County Commissions of Alabama’s annual legislative conference were departing the Renaissance Hotel on Tallapoosa Street and headed back to home counties.

Upon their departures, most of those county commissioners seemed to be walking away with an agreement that acquiring additional revenue for infrastructure by an increase in the state’s gas tax was imperative for next year’s legislative session.

In a sit-down interview with Yellowhammer News immediately after the close of the conference, ACCA executive chairman Sonny Brasfield explained how the takeaways from this conference on infrastructure and other issues would serve as a table-setter for the 2019 session of the state legislature.

Brasfield echoed Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), who a day earlier at the two-day event called for attendees to grow local support for more road and bridge funding from a gas tax, which hasn’t been altered since 1992.

“We got three months, so there’s still some work to be done,” Brasfield said. “Our folks left with a charge from us to get back to work at the local level. In some ways, we were unsuccessful in 2017. But in other ways, we have moved the issue to the point that I think there’s pretty consistent agreement that it is time to do something on roads and bridges. What is that? How do we do it? We got three months to get that ready. I think our folks – what we need to be doing between now and then is building support at the local level. And that’s the charge I left them with this morning is go back and communicate with the opinion leaders in their communities about what we can do if we have additional revenue, and what happens if we don’t.”

Proponents have been reluctant to offer a specific percentage or dollar amount for a hike, the dollar amount required to get back on the so-called 15-year cycle, which is the lifespan of the asphalt typically used for Alabama’s road projects comes to about $390 million.

For now, Brasfield argues that number was less important than making a case for the need of the revenue and earning the public’s trust that it would be appropriately used.

“Rather than talking about what the number needs to be, where our people are is that we believe if we communicate to the public is what we’ll do with the money, however much it is – that’s how we build support,” he said.

Brasfield said his organization has been consistent with its position that language written for this new stream of additional revenue needed to be separated from the other gas tax revenue and used solely for roads and not salaries, equipment, or other types of construction like buildings for offices.

“It can’t be used for anything except asphalt and concrete,” Brasfield about the stipulations for the possible increase in the fuel tax.

“A great scenario for us is we get everybody on that position,” he added.

According to the ACCA executive director, one component required to win over public support might include a reporting mechanism that shows precisely what the money is being used for on a project-by-project basis.

“If we do those things, then the public is going to support us having money to fix the roads,” he said. “I don’t think the public will support us having money to just do what we’ve always done.”

The key he argued was building the public’s confidence by following through on the initial justification for the tax increase.

“When you talk to people, they will all say the same thing; If you fix my roads with the money, I’ll pay for it,” he added. “I don’t know that over the years there has been a great deal of confidence that the money would go only there.”

Headed into March’s legislative session, a potential hangup is how the revenue would be distributed to all 67 of Alabama’s counties. Although it is likely a matter of months before an actual proposal explaining those specifics is laid out for the public, Brasfield said his members were in favor the current distribution structure, which was a hybrid of an even-split and a split based on population.

“What our members said at this meeting is that we support additional revenue with these constraints with the money distributed using the traditional distribution formula,” he said.

Brasfield explained that initially with former Gov. “Big” Jim Folsom’s Farm-to-Market road program, gas tax revenue was split 67 ways and each of the counties getting an equal share. In the mid-1970s, the formula was changed with 55 percent of the revenue given to counties based on population, and the other 45 percent split equally.

Coming out of the conference, Brasfield said there seemed to be a consensus from ACCA members on their support for something to be done by the legislature on roads and bridge, noting that for a lot of county commissions, roads and bridges are a primary focus given they are a significant constituent concern.

For Brasfield, another area of concern for this upcoming legislative session includes the Alabama Simplified Sellers Use Tax, specifically how revenue is collected from the internet is collected in the wake of this year’s South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In addition to that, there was solidifying Gov. Kay Ivey’s executive order through legislation regarding the handling of jail food money by county sheriff’s departments and plotting a course that would allow public employees to opt in the Retirement Systems of Alabama “Tier 1,” which is much more lucrative than the “Tier 2” plan created for employees hired on or after January 1, 2013.

Brasfield indicated he didn’t see his organization getting involved in the hot-button statewide issues like the lottery or Medicaid expansion. But he said given county commissions were legislative bodies, the state’s current ethics laws were a significant concern.

“I think at this point, we would like a little more clarity in the ethics law,” Brasfield said. “I have a real difficult time – people asking me questions, ‘Can you do this or that?’ If it is a complicated question, the answer is ‘maybe.’”

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

11 hours ago

Byrne first to officially declare run vs. Doug Jones – ‘Future is too important to sit on the sidelines’

Just down the street from where he grew up, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced Wednesday evening his candidacy for the United States Senate while surrounded by family, friends and supporters gathered at Wintzell’s Oyster House in beautiful downtown Mobile.

Byrne became the first candidate to officially announce a run against the incumbent from Mountain Brook, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). In doing so, Byrne made clear his campaign will focus on his record as a fighter for Alabama’s values, drawing a clear and direct contrast between his traditional Yellowhammer State roots and the “radical policies” being pushed by Jones’ Democratic Party.

In his announcement speech, Byrne emphasized, “The fight for America’s future is too important to sit on the sidelines. I am running for the United States Senate to defend the values important to Alabama.”

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The congressman spoke about the “disconnect” between hardworking, everyday Alabamians and people stuck in the bubble of Washington, D.C.

Byrne urged attendees, “Look in Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

“We need a Senator who will fight with President Trump to defend the Constitution, build the wall, stand up for the unborn, push for lower taxes, make health care more affordable and protect the Second Amendment,” he outlined. “I will fight every day to bring Alabama’s conservative values to Washington.”

Answering questions from reporters following the announcement, Byrne decried the Democratic Party’s embrace of socialism and “[killing] babies as they’re delivered.”

He also warned voters that Democrats should be expected to try and interfere in the Republican primary through “fake news” and  manipulative social media efforts. This comes in the wake of revelations that “Project Birmingham” was orchestrated to aid Jones’ general election candidacy in 2017.

Byrne, a labor-employment attorney by trade, is the former chancellor of the state’s community college system and one-term member of the state senate. He has served southwest Alabama in Congress since January 2014.

The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Alabama will be held March 3, 2020, with the general election to follow in November.

You can watch Byrne’s announcement speech and hear him answer questions from reporters afterwards here.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Watch live: Bradley Byrne announces U.S. Senate run against Doug Jones

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is set to announce his candidacy for the United States Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) live at the Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile.

Watch live below:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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13 hours ago

Heavy rains swamping Deep South

Heavy rains are causing problems in parts of the Deep South.

Police in Huntsville, Alabama, say a half-dozen roads are blocked by downed trees or utility poles plus water from flash floods.

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Flood watches and warnings cover the northern parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia and nearly all of Tennessee is at risk for floods.

Several school systems are delaying classes or closing.

The weather service is predicting as much as eight inches of rain in spots through Saturday, and freezing rain and sleet are possible in western South Carolina.

Forecasters say moisture from the Gulf is mixing with weather systems moving eastward in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys.

As much as one inch of rain an hour is possible, and the weather service says some areas could get more.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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13 hours ago

Ivey announces plan to turn old Jefferson County mine into technology park with $85 million economic impact

Alabama is working again — including in places that have been dormant for decades.

Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama Department of Labor’s (ADOL) Abandoned Mine Land Program (AML) and United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) announced Wednesday that long-abandoned mine land in Jefferson County will be reclaimed, making way for the new Grand River Technology Park project and relocation of the Southern Museum of Flight.

“This reclamation project has the potential to bring millions of dollars in economic impact, and hundreds of jobs to the Greater Birmingham area,” Ivey said in a press release. “The new Grand River Technology Park will be a regional nexus for research and development, tourism, and light manufacturing. This project will bring positive improvements to the citizens who call this community home.”

This project, which is expected to generate an economic impact of more than $85 million, has been made possible through funds appropriated from the U.S. Treasury through the AML Pilot Program Grant. The funding was secured by the stalwart leadership of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Shelby said he is looking “forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The senator said, “The Grand River Technology Park project will attract new businesses and promote economic development throughout the Birmingham area. I am proud that the AML Pilot grant funds I worked to secure have helped make this effort possible and look forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The project is possible through a collaborative public-private effort and includes participation by ADOL’s AML Program, U. S. Steel, the City of Birmingham, the Southern Museum of Flight, Jefferson County and the City of Leeds.

In 2018, U. S. Steel and its community partners were given approval for a $6 million grant by the ADOL AML Pilot Program toward the development of its Grand River Technology Park.

“We are pleased to see the redevelopment of this land. We are grateful for the partnership of Governor Ivey, [ADOL] Secretary Washington, and the AML staff during this process and thank Senator Shelby for securing AML Pilot grant funds. We look forward to providing quality economic and community development projects that will benefit the Birmingham community,” U. S. Steel President and CEO David B. Burritt commented.

The technology park represents a multiphase opportunity to reclaim and transform approximately 105 acres of undeveloped land surrounding and including several pre-1977 abandoned coal mine lands in east Jefferson County. An initial assessment conservatively estimated that 1,200 new employment opportunities will be created by this project.

Plans for the Grand River Technology Park (Contributed)

Dangerous abandoned mine land features previously reclaimed on the property included many portals (openings to old underground coal mines) and vertical openings (former air shafts associated with underground coal mines) connected with Red Diamond Mines #2 – #5, #7, #9, #11 and #12, as well as the former Tennessee Coal and Iron (TCI) Mine #6, all of which ceased operations in 1948.

After the closure of these underground mines, a major portion of proposed development was strip-mined for coal prior to August 3, 1977, leaving extensive spoil piles (waste rock and soil overburden removed to access the coal seam) on the property and a highwall cut (a hazardous vertical bluff left where mining of the coal seam ceased) adjacent to the current location of the Barber Motor Sports Park. Evidence of the highwall cut and spoil piles still remain on the property today. As part of the redevelopment of the property, extensive reclamation will be performed on these remaining spoil piles.

“Our Abandoned Mine Land Program does a wonderful job in helping to ensure that old, dangerous mines are properly reclaimed, which eliminates safety hazards and allows the land to be redeveloped,” ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington advised. “In addition to cleaning up this site and making it safer, this project will help to improve the lives of many.”

To date, the ADOL AML Program has reclaimed 81.6 miles of dangerous highwalls, eliminated 1,613 dangerous mine openings and completed approximately 661 reclamation projects in the coalfields of Alabama.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Alabama law requires the state and local governments fund The Democrat-Reporter’s racist rants — It is time to stop

Almost every politician in Alabama wanted to get in on condemning, and in some cases calling for the resignation of the editor, publisher and owner of a rag out of Linden, Alabama, with roughly 3,000 subscribers.

The governor, both United States senators, multiple congressmen and congresswomen, the State Senate pro tem, the lieutenant governor and surely countless others went on the record to say this is unacceptable.

It is obviously unacceptable, but now what? You can’t really force a guy who owns a newspaper to quit. Especially when he seems to think he has done nothing wrong.

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All of this is a minor problem. The Democrat-Reporter is a small-town nothing newspaper. If the Auburn Plainsman hadn’t posted the editorial in the form of a photo, no one would have ever known.

This raises another issue. The state of Alabama is providing revenue to this newspaper and other newspapers around the state of Alabama. And it is actually worse than that: Current state law requires government entities in Alabama to advertise legal notices, legislation, constitutional amendments, voter rolls and other public matters in the local print media outlets, which is not cheap.

So, how much does The Democrat-Reporter get from the governments?

Well, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) alone spends thousands every year.

Maybe these aren’t all required expenditures, but for what other reason would ALDOT be spending this money here?

What have the local governments been required to pay this newspaper? What about average citizens and businesses that have to post foreclosures, abandoned property and other matters in a local newspaper by state law?

Even without the racist overtones of this story, this matter should offend you. There is currently a state law that requires we do business with a series of private entities.

This may have been a necessity decades ago, but it is time for the state legislature to readdress this issue for the 21st century.

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