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6 days 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.

5 hours ago

Ivey announces staff changes

Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced important changes to her staff as she transitions to a full term.

As the governor moves forward in implementing her vision for the state, a press release from her office explained that she believes these changes to her staff will be crucial to most effectively serve the people of Alabama.

Adam Thompson is being promoted to deputy chief of staff for policy. He joins Liz Filmore, who is serving as deputy chief of staff for administration. Having two deputy chiefs of staff is expected to help to improve organization, structure and focus in the office of the governor.

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Thompson currently serves as the governor’s appointments director. In Thompson’s new capacity, his experience will be beneficial to the governor in executing her policy and legislative agendas. Both deputies will report to the chief of staff, Steve Pelham.

“Alabama is experiencing great momentum, and in my full term as governor, I plan to be ambitious in growing on our successes and tackling our challenges. My recent appointment of Jo Bonner to Senior Advisor, in addition to these staff changes, will be instrumental to best execute my vision for Alabama,” Ivey said.

She added, “Everything we do in the Ivey Administration is a team effort, and I am very proud of that.”

Additionally, Catherine Gayle Thrash is being promoted to serve as director of appointments. Thrash currently serves as the governor’s confidential assistant. She has also managed judicial appointments since joining Ivey’s staff and will continue to do so along with managing all appoints on behalf of the governor in her new role.

William Filmore, who currently serves as Legislative liaison, will now take the role of Legislative Liaison and director of Local Government Relations. In addition to his current responsibilities, Filmore will serve as Ivey’s liaison for city and county governments.

“Adam, Liz, Catherine Gayle and William are valuable assets to my staff, and I look forward to continue working alongside them to better serve the state of Alabama,” Ivey concluded.

All of these staff announcements are effective on Sunday, December 16.

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

6 hours ago

Del Marsh congratulates Bobby Singleton on election as minority leader

Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) congratulated State Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) on being elected as the Senate minority leader by his seven Democratic colleagues on Wednesday.

In a statement, Marsh said, “I would like to congratulate Senator Singleton on his election as Senate Minority Leader. There are many tough issues facing the Alabama Senate in the year to come and I look forward to working with Senator Singleton as we develop legislation that improves the lives of all Alabamians.”

“Senator Singleton and I have worked well together for several years and I have no doubt that will continue as we strive to ensure that the Senate runs smoothly and that all Senators are represented equally,” Marsh concluded.

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State Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper) was re-elected as Senate majority leader last month.

State Senator Billy Beasley (D-Clayton), who served as Senate Minority Leader the past 14 months, on Wednesday was selected as the Deputy Minority Leader moving forward. He had previously served in that role until then-State Senator Quinton Ross (D-Montgomery) became president of Alabama State University.

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

6 hours ago

Alabama lawmakers celebrate passage of 2018 Farm Bill

The 2018 Farm Bill passed the United States House of Representatives on Wednesday by a bipartisan final vote of 369-47 and now heads to the White House for President Donald Trump’s signature.

The bill, which passed from conference and then the Senate on Tuesday, has been celebrated as a major win for Alabama farmers and the state in general.

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) have already applauded its passage, with most of Alabama’s House delegation now joining in the plaudits after all of them voted to pass the bill. 

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“Our farmers and foresters are our future. I am pleased to support this bipartisan legislation to better support our farmers in Alabama and throughout the country,” Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1) said in a release.

He continued, “The 2018 Farm Bill will allow for improved crop protections and loan options for farmers, incentivize rural development, support animal disease prevention and management, and will continue our nation’s commitment to agriculture and farmers.”

“I am especially pleased to see the substantial resources provided to improve rural broadband access to communities. Providing Internet access to people in rural Alabama is absolutely critical to economic development and the success of these communities in the 21st Century,” Byrne concluded.

Congresswoman Martha Roby (AL-2) added her high praise for the bill’s passage, commenting on the importance of agriculture to Alabama’s economy and way of life.

“In Alabama’s Second District, agriculture is the largest employer. It is imperative that Congress honor our commitments to the hardworking farmers and producers across the country,” Roby outlined in a statement.

“The 2018 farm bill provides certainty to the American families who work every day to provide the food and fiber we depend on. I was proud to support this legislation on behalf of the farmers I represent, and I am eager to see President Trump sign it into law,” she added.

Congressman Mike Rogers (AL-3) was on the conference committee of Representatives and Senators that agreed to this final version of the bill.

“I am proud to vote for the Farm Bill,” Rogers explained in a statement. “As a Conferee on the bill, I know firsthand just how important this bill is to our nation.”

“This Farm Bill strengthens the farm safety net for Alabama’s farmers and producers and it provides five years of certainty. America’s farm economy is still struggling, and this bill will be a much-needed shot in the arm,” he continued.

Rogers concluded, “The bill also improves the SNAP (food stamp) program integrity while incentivizing work for those who are on government benefits. The rural development programs in the bill will be great for folks across Alabama who need rural broadband, and the research funding in the Farm Bill is great news for universities like Tuskegee and Auburn. Finally, I am pleased to say language I introduced with Rep. Terri Sewell was included in the bill. This important language helps provide grants for folks with failing wastewater infrastructure.”

The Farm Bill is expected to improve agriculture policy by:

  • Providing a nationwide yield update for Price Loss Coverage (PLC), beginning with the 2020 crop year and allowing PLC to better respond to market conditions;
  • Making several key improvements to Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), including increased yield plugs and yield trend adjustments;
  • Protecting and improving crop insurance;
  • Investing in research, extension, and education projects;
  • Protecting farmers from additional costly and burdensome red tape;
  • Strengthening the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) capacity to combat the opioid crisis;
  • Refocusing efforts to expand quality broadband to rural America;
  • Including critical funding for feral swine control;
  • Improving existing programs to maximize efficiency, reducing waste and maintaining fiscally responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars;
  • Restoring funding for trade promotion efforts in an attempt to keep pace with trading competitors around the world;
  • Boosting anti-hunger programs and incentivizes work for federal beneficiaries;
  • Helping equip and train the next generation of farmers.

 

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

7 hours ago

Scouts to participate in ‘Wreaths Across America’ Saturday at the State Veterans Cemetery

Thousands of wreaths will be placed on the graves of military veterans across the nation on Saturday to honor their service and sacrifice.

Local Boy and Girl Scouts, as well as family members, will place wreaths on the graves of America’s fallen heroes beginning at 10:00 a.m. at the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort. The public is invited to attend.

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Margaret Cooley, a volunteer who works with the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort Foundation, Inc., will speak about the importance of honoring our veterans.

Friends of the cemetery provide the flag wreaths, which will remain in place throughout the Christmas season. The wreaths are collected after the first of the year and reused.

“We place wreath flags to honor all those who have served us and our country, especially those who found their resting place here,” Joe Buschell, the cemetery assistant director, explained. “It’s so important to recognize the service of our veterans and to come and lay a wreath on their grave.”

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

7 hours ago

Auburn University groundskeeping student headed to Super Bowl to train with legends

After submitting the winning application and essay in the 2019 Toro Super Bowl Sports Turf Training competition, Auburn University and turf management student Wilson Morgan is headed to the Super Bowl, the university announced.

Morgan, who is the first student from Auburn to receive the honor in the 16-year history of the contest, will venture to Atlanta January 27 and experience the week leading up to the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for February 3, as a part of the NFL’s Super Bowl grounds crew at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Morgan will be working alongside some of the best in the realm of athletic field management. NFL Super Bowl field director Ed Mangan, who also serves as chief groundskeeper for the Atlanta Braves, and George Toma, who has been on the grounds crew for the last 52 Super Bowls and turns 90 in February, will be two of the legends Morgan will have the opportunity to work alongside.

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“This is an amazing opportunity to learn from the best of the best,” Morgan said, per an Auburn University release.

Throughout his experience, Morgan will get hands-on experience in turf maintenance, field lining, logo painting, irrigation maintenance, field preparation for media day, halftime preparation and clean-up.

“Mercedes-Benz Stadium has artificial turf, so I’m looking forward to learning what’s involved in managing a synthetic playing surface,” Morgan said. “It will be great to have experience in that.”

In order to receive this special honor, Morgan and other applicants had to submit a 500-word essay detailing their goals for the future.

“It was basically asking where you saw yourself professionally five years from now,” he stated. “I tried to make mine as little about myself as possible.

Morgan added, “I’ve had some excellent mentors in my life who helped me discover my dream of one day becoming a football field manager, and I want to be that kind of person for others.”

Morgan, who is now a junior at Auburn University, attended East Limestone High School in Athens where he was unsure about his goals for a professional career before attending college. He flipped through a copy of SportsTurf magazine that he found in his greenhouse management classroom.

“I picked it up just out of curiosity, but when I started looking through it, I couldn’t believe it,” Morgan said. “I mean, I was a football player, but I had no idea there were people who took care of sports fields for a living.”

After he found out Auburn offered a degree in the program from his ag teacher, John Wilson, Morgan was enthusiastic, yet nervous about beginning his college career.

“I remember kind of worrying because I kept hearing that the average college student changes their major four times before they graduate, and I was thinking, ‘Oh no! I don’t want that to happen to me!’,” Morgan said.

Once he arrived at Auburn University, Morgan was welcomed by other students on the same career path. Austin Brown, one of Morgan’s classmates, welcomed him to a group of students preparing for a win in the National Collegiate Turf Bowl competition.

“Then I met another student who had a job with the Auburn Athletics grounds crew, and I knew I really wanted to get involved with that, so he told me to talk to Richard Wilt,” Morgan recalled.

Wilt, the grounds manager for Auburn Athletics at the time of Morgan’s interest, hired Morgan and later connected him to the Miami Dolphins head groundskeeper Tom Wilson. Morgan ended up spending the summer of 2018 as an intern at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

“I started there the day after they’d had a huge concert and left the week after the first preseason game,” Morgan explained. “One thing I learned there was that managing the playing field is a full-time, year-round job.”

For summer 2019, Morgan will be interning with the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Morgan shared his excitement and enthusiasm for the trip.

“That will give me experience in college sports, the NFL and Major League Baseball,” Morgan said of the trip. “Plus, I’ve only worked with warm-season turf, but the Phillies play on Kentucky bluegrass, so then I’d have experience managing a cool-season grass.

“I’m a big believer in planning ahead, and when I graduate [in May 2020], I plan to have a job,” he explained. “So I’m doing every single thing I can do now to be sure that happens.”

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.