6 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.

7 hours ago

Bill to abolish marriage licenses passes Alabama House, heads to Ivey’s desk

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday passed SB 69, State Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Atmore) bill that would end marriage licenses in the Yellowhammer State.

The bill previously passed the House on a 67-26 vote. The legislation previously passed the Senate 26-0.

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After Obergefell v. Hodges essentially created a protected legal right to marriage, judges in some Alabama counties decided to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether so they would not have to approve licenses for gay couples.

Instead of the local probate office issuing marriage licenses in each county, the new system proposed by SB 69 would simply provide for affidavits of marriage to be filed with the probate office. So, instead of needing a probate judge’s approval for marriage, spouses would only have to register with the probate judge’s office.

This means judges who have religious objections to gay marriage will no longer have to issue marriage licenses in violation of their religious beliefs. Proponents of the bill said SB 69 will ensure federal law is being followed in the state while taking away the burden of approval or rejection of marriages from individual probate judges.

Opponents of the legislation have said the bill was born out of prejudice.

State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham), the only openly gay member in the Alabama House, told reporters the bill itself is not prejudiced but that it originated from “homophobia.”

However, no members of the House debated SB 69 on the floor, making for a surprisingly quick final passage. State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) handled the bill in the chamber.

The bill now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

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

8 hours ago

Byrne, Shelby file bill to ensure terrorists like the ‘American Taliban’ are never again released early

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) on Thursday introduced the No Leniency for Terrorists Act that would prevent convicted terrorists from being released from federal prison early for good behavior.

Yellowhammer News was the first to report on this legislation when it was imminent on Wednesday.

The legislation being filed comes the day John Walker Lindh, known as the “American Taliban,” was released years early on his original 20-year sentence.

“A convicted terrorist walking free before his sentence is completed should never happen again,” Byrne said in a statement.

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After being captured in Afghanistan in 2001, Lindh pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. He was held responsible for the death of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, a Winfield native and Auburn University alumnus who was the first American known to be killed in “The War on Terror” in Afghanistan after 9/11.

“The Spann family asked me to address this injustice, and I want to make sure no other family has to go through what the they have been through,” Byrne concluded. “The No Leniency for Terrorists Act will prevent terrorists from taking advantage of our laws to avoid paying their debt to society. We must ensure that terrorists will remain behind bars where they belong.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Congressman Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) joined Shelby and Byrne in introducing the legislation.

“The early release of convicted terrorists sends the wrong message to those who have fought against terrorism and those who want to cause us harm,” Shelby remarked. “This legislation will help us prioritize the safety and security of our nation above all else. Today’s early release of John Walker Lindh is disheartening and unacceptable, and I am proud we are taking this step to make terrorists ineligible for early release.”

Under existing federal law, any federal prisoner can be released early for “exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.”

There are no exceptions to this law, including those who have been convicted of terrorism charges, and there are 108 other terrorist offenders who are scheduled to complete their sentences and be released from U.S. federal prison over the next few years. The No Leniency for Terrorists Act amends federal law to say those currently serving or those convicted of crimes related to terrorism in the future cannot be released early for good time served.

As of a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Lindh still intended to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison.

His release came only a day after NBC reported that Lindh, in a letter to a producer from Los Angeles-based affiliate KNBC, wrote in 2015 that ISIS is “doing a spectacular job” and “is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.”

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

8 hours ago

Mountain Brook High School band members prepare to perform on the beaches of Normandy

Mountain Brook High School’s marching band is gearing up to participate in the D-Day 75 Normandy Parade, which will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019, according to a CBS 42 report.

Expected to leave June 4 and return June 11, the 24 students from Mountain Brook High School taking part in the event will reportedly march on the beaches of Normandy as they are looked upon by cheering crowds.

Band director Jason Smith shared his excitement of the opportunity and said he was “proud” of the kids.

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“I’m so proud, these kids are the hardest working kids at Mountain Brook High School,” Smith said via CBS 42. “The parents have stepped up to support there travels, and their ability to do something like this is unspeakable.”

D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944, and 160,000 forces, including 70,000 Americans landed on 50 miles of Normandy coast. More than 2,000 Americans lost their lives when they stormed the beach to reach high ground. Over 8,000 others also lost their lives in the days after.

Donations can be made to support the Mountain High School Band by calling 205-414-3810 to speak with Jason Smith or by emailing smithj@mtnbrook.k12.al.us.

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

8 hours ago

Montgomery selected by military for major software development project

Alabama’s capital city has been selected by the Air Force for a new software development project that will attract top IT talent to the area, spurring increased new-age economic development in Montgomery.

TechMGM, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s initiative to connect and leverage the city’s unique technology assets, on Wednesday announced a partnership with the Air Force Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate Program Executive Office to host a new military software development project that will offer private sector collaboration called BESPIN.

Marking a shift in the way the Air Force approaches software development and acquisition, BESPIN (Business and Enterprise Systems Product Innovation), pairs in-house developers with private sector developers and uses an agile development methodology in a collaborative and innovative environment to turn projects into new solutions to support the Department of Defense.

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The Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate based at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base has been charged by the secretary of the Air Force for acquisition to stand-up a software factory focusing on Business and Enterprise Systems (BES) applications. BES runs the systems that run the Air Force.

The local chamber partnered with BES to provide an initial off-base space at their facility, where work is already underway to create mobile applications for BES with the first focus being logistics systems used on the flight line, including those at Maxwell Air Force Base and the Alabama Air National Guard.

Through BESPIN, previously slow and costly products can now be met with flexible solutions that allow developers to adapt on the fly – and deliver real results more quickly.

By training and encouraging in-house talent to develop software using agile practices, the Air Force is starting to attract top IT talent. Meanwhile, they are also collaborating with digital services market leaders to transform their process and train their workforce.

In April, BES awarded a contract to Fearless, the company responsible for 1). redesigning the SBA.gov site, 2). modernizing Medicare beneficiary API products for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and 3). building software for other federal, nonprofit, city and healthcare clients.

“Fearless is excited to partner with USAF, TechMGM, and the City of Montgomery at large to support in the growth of the local tech ecosystem. The BESPIN and TechMGM visions align well with our mission to build software with a soul, and to see a world where good software powers things that matter,” Delali Dzirasa, president of Fearless, stated.

BES is also a founding member of the national Digital Services Coalition and is passionate about assisting the government in making its technology work better for all residents.

“We’re essentially replicating a structure that has proven successful in the commercial sector and applying it to the Air Force and building upon the foundation set by our peers at Kessel Run. What previously worked just isn’t cutting it anymore – we’ve got to be faster and more efficient,” Richard Aldridge, BES program executive officer, said in a statement.

He outlined, “Launching BESPIN has reimagined our view on software acquisition and the way we solve problems. We’re confident that the brightest minds in the creation of business software and mobile solutions will be attracted to serving our country by solving some of the most pressing issues that the Air Force faces today.”

Not only will BESPIN have significant implications for the Air Force, the connection with TechMGM and Fearless will strengthen the community in several ways.

“Montgomery prioritizes military missions, so we are honored to host this important project for the Air Force to advance their efforts in creating solutions for our nation,” Willie Durham, chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, advised.

Through partnerships with TechMGM and other key area resources within Montgomery’s unique tech ecosystem, BESPIN will aim to support the city’s infrastructure to eventually lead to lasting change in the region.

“The chamber supports any type of partnership that advances the military because it is not only good for our country, but also for our community,” Durham added. “Initiatives like BESPIN allow our region to attract and retain talent, spark new businesses and create a cycle of economic development that will have lasting effects in Montgomery for years to come.”

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

9 hours ago

With the lottery dead, what about the illegal gambling in Alabama?

When the session started it almost seemed certain that there would be some form of lottery passed through the Alabama legislature, signed by the governor and voted on by the people in March 2020.

But in Alabama politics the only certain thing is uncertainty and now, by all accounts, the lottery is more dead than Doug Jones’ 2020 reelection.

The questions that doomed this lottery are the same as always, “Who gets the money?” Schools or the general fund? Prisons or college scholarships?

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It is hard to believe it has been 20 years since Alabama narrowly rejected a lottery, a gambit that sent a corrupt former Governor Don Siegelman to the clink.

In those 20 years, it appears we are no closer to forcing Alabama residents who play the lottery to drive across state lines and send their money to other states.

Regardless, this chapter in the saga appears to be over.

But, there was also a bonus question: “Will Alabama grant legal status to illegal electronic bingo in the state?”

The answer was “no.” The answer to that question seemed to be decided early on. There were multiple attempts by legislators to protect various illegal gambling entities. And oddly, in Jefferson County, the sheriff’s brother even tried to start up new gambling entities, however, that was shut down.

So, what now?

A short synopsis would be “The attorney general is coming!” But Steve Marshall himself rejected that premise in an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Thursday morning.

Marshall explained that he was already working on this form of gambling.

Leaving nothing to chance, when asked if these electronic bingo machines were illegal, he responded, “Absolutely.“

He also believes he and his office are already working on these issues.

“We are going to pursue the remedies that we have right now,” Marshall revealed.

If that course does not produce the desired result, the attorney general is prepared to move.

“We will investigate just like we would the situation in Birmingham, prepare search warrants as they come and then be able to take action from there,” he stated.

So whether Marshall likes the framing or not, he’s is preparing to shut down illegal gambling in this state.

This could take the form of a court action or a new version of the bingo raids we saw during former Governor Bob Riley’s time in office. Either way, the attorney general is coming.

Listen:

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