The Wire

  • Black Bear Sightings Continue to Increase in Alabama

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    Add Jackson, Limestone, Marshall, Morgan and St. Clair counties to the growing list of black bear sightings in Alabama in 2018. In recent years, bears have also been recorded in Chambers, Elmore, Jefferson, Lee, Macon and Tallapoosa counties. These recent sightings are more evidence of the state’s expanding black bear population.

    Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources say the increase in sightings may be due to a combination of factors including changes in bear distribution, habitat fragmentation, seasonal movement and the summer mating season. However, most spring and summer bear sightings are of juvenile males being pushed out of their previous ranges by their mothers and other adult males.

    Historically, a small population of black bears have remained rooted in Mobile and Washington counties. Baldwin, Covington and Escambia counties on the Florida border host yet another population of bears. In northeast Alabama, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population.

    “While seeing a black bear in Alabama is uncommon and exciting, it is no cause for alarm,” said Marianne Hudson, Conservation Outreach Specialist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “There has never been a black bear attack on a human in Alabama.”

    Black bears are typically secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. Occasionally, a curious bear will explore a human-populated area in search of food.

    “If you are lucky enough to see a bear, simply leave it alone,” Hudson said.

  • Rep. Byrne Releases Statement on Russia

    From a Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this morning in Helsinki.

    Congressman Byrne said: “I applaud President Trump’s decision to start a dialogue with President Putin and I’m glad he is making it a priority. However, we must remember that Russia is not an ally – economically or militarily. They are an adversary. The United States should not tolerate actions by the Russians that intervene in our domestic affairs or pose a threat to our national security.”

  • Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Season Closes July 22

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division (MRD) announces the closure of Alabama state waters to the harvest of red snapper by private anglers and state-licensed commercial party boats at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, July 22, 2018. The quota of 984,291 pounds issued under NOAA Fisheries’ Alabama Recreational Red Snapper Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP) is expected to be met by the closure date.

    “Alabama anglers fished extremely hard on the good weather days during the season,” said Marine Resources Director Scott Bannon. “That level of effort, coupled with larger average-sized fish harvested this year as compared to last year, resulted in a daily harvest rate two times higher than 2017, which prompted an earlier than anticipated closure.

    “The purpose of the EFP was to demonstrate Alabama’s ability to establish a season and monitor landings within a fixed quota and I think we have shown we can do that,” said Bannon.

    Anglers are reminded of the following:

    — Possession of red snapper in Alabama waters while state waters are closed is prohibited regardless of where the fish were harvested.
    — Alabama anglers may fish in federal waters off the coast of Alabama (outside of 9 nm) and land in a state that is open to the landing of red snapper, but they must adhere to the open state’s rules and not transit in Alabama state waters with red snapper on board.
    — The season for federally-permitted charter for-hire vessels will close at 12:01 a.m. July 22.

3 months ago

Michael Knowles featured at Alabama Policy Institute’s 19th annual dinner event in Mobile

(API)

On Tuesday, the Alabama Policy Institute held its 19th annual Mobile dinner event in the airplane hangar at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

“I cannot think of a better place to discuss freedom and liberty than at the U.S.S. Battleship Memorial Park and Aircraft Pavilion, a place that holds so many reminders of the sacrifices that thousands of Americans have paid to guarantee our freedom and liberty,” Caleb Crosby, President and CEO of API, told Yellowhammer News.

The “Evening with the Alabama Policy Institute” included keynote speaker, Michael Knowles.

Knowles is a talk show host and former managing editor of The Daily Wire, who is most well-known for his best-selling (and blank) book Reasons To Vote For Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide.

Part of a generation of young-ish conservatives that includes the Wire’s, Ben Shapiro, Knowles spends much of his time traveling to universities and rebutting their brand of “illiberal liberalism,” as Frank Bruni of the New York Times has called it.

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“I feel that here we’re in a safe space,” Knowles opened his speech last night, mirroring Crosby’s sentiment by ironically appropriating the campus buzzword.

“We’re definitely in a safe space because there are lots of guns and battleships. This is the perfect safe space for conservatives to be on tax day.”

Knowles’s speech before API and guests was as much about making the case for conservatism and for President Trump as about rebutting progressivism.

He began by reminding everyone in the room of all the good that the Trump presidency has accomplished: tax cuts, deregulation, originalist judges.

“Now you might be having déjà vu,” he said, “because I could have given that exact same [list] in 1981.”

Pointing out similarities between Reagan was Knowles’s primary way of arguing that Trump has governed as a conservative. In some ways, it also seemed to be his way of coaxing those never-Trump conservatives to embrace the president, or at least to encourage those conservatives supportive of — but still apprehensive — about him.

“Take the victories that we can get today,” Knowles said.

His chief point was that politics is about the now.

“Politics changes all the time,” he said. “There are different circumstances. There are different public policy challenges. There are different public policy prescriptions. There are timeless principles. And of course the hope, is that we conservatives can maintain the bedrock of timeless principles that we can apply to new circumstances and new challenges and make America great again, again.”

“Political victories are never permanent,” Knowles continued. “Political successes are never permanent. That’s why you always need to be making America great again. It’s because otherwise, it’s going to revert to its natural state of decay and destruction.”

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News

4 months ago

Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture reform effort takes a turn towards creating a public database on property seizures

(W.Miller/YHN)

Last week State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) introduced the Forfeiture Database and Reporting Act to create a central repository of data on asset forfeitures to provide lawmakers and citizens with easily accessible information on the practice.

The bill would require law enforcement to report information about the seizures that include, among others, the date of property seizure, the type of property seized, the location of the seizure, and the type of underlying criminal offense that led to the seizure.

Mooney’s bill is the culmination of months-long efforts by concerned lawmakers, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) and other state and national organizations to reform civil asset forfeiture in Alabama. 

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Last November, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) invited Jordan Richardson of the Charles Koch Institute and Lee McGrath of the Institute for Justice – two individuals working nationally on asset forfeiture reform – to take part in a a bi-partisan, roundtable discussion on this issue of asset forfeiture for lawmakers and others interested in the issue.

“API and SPLC don’t agree on 99 percent of stuff, but we do agree that we need to monitor civil asset forfeiture,” said Leigh Hixon, Alabama Policy Institute’s senior director of policy relations, in an interview with Yellowhammer News.

Cases like that of Frank Ranelli, who had 130 computers seized from his Birmingham computer repair business in 2010 on suspicion that he was dealing in stolen merchandise, have spurred bipartisan efforts to reform the asset forfeiture practice. Ranelli proved that the merchandise was not stolen, but his property was never returned to him.

In January, State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) introduced the Alabama Forfeiture Accountability and Integrity Reform Act to prevent such cases from happening. The bill received bipartisan support but was rejected by groups alligned with Alabama’s law enforcement community.

The presidents of the Alabama District Attorneys Association and the Alabama Sheriffs Association pushed back against Orr’s legislation earlier this legislative session, penning an op-ed at Yellowhammer News which said that the legislation would “essentially gut” one of law enforcements best tools used for fighting crime.

Defending the practice of asset forfeiture against charges of seizing the property of innocents, they wrote, “Law enforcement uses civil asset forfeiture only to go after criminals, and state law already guarantees a process that is clear and fair for any person to challenge forfeiture in court.”

Leigh Hixon said sponsors of the legislature were not comfortable with passing legislation without the support of law enforcement, so they began crafting a proposal in consort with law enforcement that would create a state-wide repository of data on forfeitures.

“To maintain the public’s trust in law enforcement, the government’s power to seize and forfeit private property must be exercised with transparency,” Alabama District Attorneys Association said in a statement on Friday expressing its support for Mooney’s bill.

The Southern Poverty Law Center does not support Mooney’s bill, which it argues does not do enough to reform the practice of asset forfeiture.

Conservative legislators and policy experts clearly have some disagreement with law enforcement about asset forfeiture, but some agree that creating a data system will help maintain public trust in law enforcement, as well as make data available to better inform arguments about the practice.

“Citizens and politicians will have that data available to make the determination for how to move forward on policy in the future,” Hixon said.

4 months ago

Licensing away economic prosperity in Alabama

(Pixabay)

Do you want to alleviate poverty in Alabama? Do you want to curb the power of special interest groups over government agencies? Do you want more affordable goods and services in basic industries?  Do you want to help disadvantaged groups find good jobs and become productive citizens? Do you want to reduce the population of our overcrowded prisons?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should read a new report published by the Alabama Policy Institute titled “The Costs of Occupational Licensing in Alabama.”

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Coauthored by Daniel Smith (Troy University), Courtney Michaluk (Troy University), David Hall (Troy University), and Alex Kanode (George Mason University), the report details the effects of occupational licensure on our state.

What is occupational licensure? In short, it’s governmental regulation requiring people to obtain a license before entering into certain trades or fields.

Sounds harmless, right? Aren’t these regulations in place to protect consumers from exploitation and inexpert practices? Such reasoning led to the rise in occupational licensure, which today extends to several zones of economic activity.

However well-meaning, occupational licensure has had unintended consequences on the people it’s designed to protect. Instead of helping average consumers, it lines the pockets of industries that have lobbied to regulate away entrepreneurial forces that drive down costs.

If you’re poor and trying to find low-skilled work as a barber, manicurist, eyebrow threader, hair stylist, school bus driver, or shampoo assistant, you must obtain a license first. This license may be prohibitively expensive because of renewal fees, coursework, continuing education, and so forth.

“Alabama licenses a total of 151 occupations,” according to the report, “covering over 432,000 Alabama workers, which represents over 21 percent of the labor force.” Think about that: more than two of every 10 people working in Alabama need a license to do what they do for a living. Licensing boards governing admission standards and prerequisites can mandate expensive training and dues that don’t affect the quality of industry services.

Economists refer to occupational licensure as a barrier to entry. Barriers to entry ensure that those already within a profession or trade can raise prices to artificially high levels, in effect squeezing out competition by using the mechanisms of government to control the market.

Inflated prices harm low-income families who cannot afford to buy what they could have bought if the market had set prices based on natural supply and demand. Spouses of military service members often suffer from occupational licensure because, when they move from state to state, they must jump through hoops to enter the licensed profession in which they practiced in other jurisdictions.

Occupational licensure is, in short, a net burden on the economy, escalating prices, limiting consumer choice, and restricting economic mobility.  The API report estimates that the overall costs of occupational licensure in Alabama exceed $122 million. That’s a lot of money. What can be done to keep some of it in the hands of the ordinary people who need it most?

The report proposes five reforms for Alabama policymakers:

1. “[T]hey can reform current procedures for extending occupational licensing to new occupations and mandate thorough review processes to ensure that licensing is not extended to new occupations without a demonstrable and severe threat to consumer safety that cannot be overcome with the market mechanisms, such as consumer or expert reviews, reputation, guarantees, or private certification, or the already existing government laws, such as those dealing with liability, fraud, misrepresentation, and false advertising.”

2. “[T]hey can establish procedures to systematically review all licensure requirements for currently licensed occupations to ensure that they do not require unnecessary or excessive requirements or costs for licensure.

3. “[T]hey can systematically review all currently licensed occupations to determine, individually, whether a demonstrable severe threat to consumer safety exists. If not, they can remove occupation licensing entirely for those occupations.”

4. “[They] can explore licensure reforms that specifically target ex-offenders” to reduce the prison population and criminal recidivism.

5. “[They] can … explore occupational licensing reform with military members and their families in mind.”
A short article cannot capture the nuance and particulars of the entire report; readers should view the report for themselves to make up their own minds.

During this time of partisan divide and political rancor, people of good faith on both the left and the right can agree that something needs to be done about occupational licensure. The problem cannot continue to grow. It presents a unique opportunity for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come together to ease economic burdens on the people of Alabama. Let’s hope they seize it.

(Image: Pixabay)

Allen Mendenhall is associate dean at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty.

Astounding percentage of Alabama’s budget is automatically spent, leaving state little flexibility

Did you know that ninety-three percent of Alabama’s budget is earmarked? A recent report from the Alabama Policy Institute explores this little-known fact about Alabama’s budget. 

Originally, an “earmark” was a sign of ownership–a mark in the ear of a sheep or other animal.  Today, earmarks are the sign of bad fiscal policy.

Earmarking is the dedication of certain tax revenues to the financing of specific programs. Currently, 93 percent of Alabama’s tax dollars are earmarked, by far the highest of any state. To put this into perspective, the state with the second-highest percentage of earmarks is Michigan at 63 percent.

This means that state officials only have discretion over how to spend 7 percent of Alabama’s tax dollars.

The excessive amount of earmarking in Alabama’s budget denies our state the financial flexibility that is necessary for taxpayer money to be spent efficiently and effectively.

So, what can be done about the earmarking issue? The Alabama Policy Institute offers two recommendations to drastically reduce its excessive amount of earmarking: setting a target of 25 percent or less earmarking in Alabama’s budget, and eliminating all earmarks that do not align with Alabama’s needs and priorities.

By implementing the recommendations of this Guide, state officials would be able to shoulder the responsibility of Alabama’s budget—and start spending taxpayer money so that it best meets Alabama’s needs and priorities.

Click here to read the full report, Guide to the Issues: The State Budget: Earmarks.

Taylor Dawson is director of communications for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

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7 months ago

Sorry AL.com, there’s no ‘burning’ progressive movement in Alabama just because we rejected Roy Moore

It’s now been a week since the election of Doug Jones prompted Al.com’s editorial board to breathlessly declare that the “voice of justice” had spoken for a “burning movement” of “black voters, LGBT activists, women and young voters” who represent the future of our state.

Their words crackled with confidence and jubilation because, in their minds, the progressive agenda had finally penetrated the Heart of Dixie.

“Doug Jones’s election is a moment of change, not only in Alabama, but for an America yearning for signs that these values matter in 2017,” the editorial board gushed.

We get it. They were excited.

But now that the euphoria has abated, it’s time for them to get back to reality and face the facts: Alabama was, is and will always be one of the most conservative states in the country.

Look around. Has anything changed since Jones was elected?

Are you seeing more rainbow flags flying in our communities?

Did your neighbor trade-in his F-150 for a Prius?

Have you suddenly started agreeing with John Archibald and Kyle Whitmire?

No. No. And heck no.

Only someone stuck in an echo chamber of liberalism would think Alabama embraced even a shred of the Democratic Party’s agenda simply because a majority of our voters rejected someone who many believe molested a 14-year old girl.

Alabama didn’t elect Doug Jones.

We un-elected the nominee of the Republican Party of Alabama.

Big difference.

Alabama is still an overwhelmingly conservative state, ranked fifth most conservative by Gallup earlier this year. Republican candidates enjoy a 30-point advantage here (at least when they don’t bring a U-Haul’s worth of political baggage, get credibly accused of sexual harassment and molestation, and then fail to seriously campaign).

Alabama is still an overwhelmingly pro-life state, with nearly 60 percent of its citizens saying abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Forum survey.

Alabama is still overwhelmingly in favor of traditional marriage, ranking dead last in support for same-sex marriage in a poll conducted by the Public Religious Research Institute.

And we’re not just conservative on hot button social issues either. We strongly believe in limited government.

Consider these findings from a poll commissioned two months ago by the well-respected Alabama Policy Institute in Birmingham:

— “64 percent of those surveyed would be more likely to vote for a candidate that campaigned on reducing or rejecting federal dollars in order to limit the federal government’s influence over Alabama.”

— “79 percent of those surveyed support a proposal for the state Legislature to hold a recorded, up-or-down vote before accepting any federal funding with strings attached that would bind Alabama to specific policies crafted in Washington, D.C.”

— “91 percent of those surveyed support a proposal for state government to conduct an annual inventory of all federal funds coming into the state.”

That doesn’t sound like the Nancy Pelosi/Chuck Schumer agenda to me.

“It’s probably no surprise that Alabamians have a deep distrust of the federal government,” said Leigh Hixon, the senior director of policy relations or the Alabama Policy Institute. “However, the degree to which this is true was very striking.”

So, no, Al.com. There’s no progressive movement starting in Alabama.

The only thing that changed last week was the standards of our state’s voters.

We said there was a standard of conduct and competency for our leaders, or at least a limit to the amount of drama we could take in exchange for their service.

Let’s hope our candidates and party leaders got the message.

(Don’t miss another article from Yellowhammer News. Sign up for our daily newsletter here).

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8 months ago

In Alabama, we dare defend our rights

(Walker Miller / Yellowhammer News)
(Walker Miller / Yellowhammer News)

 

From Obamacare to Common Core, Alabama is known for being among the first to react in high-profile cases of DC overreach. Under the banner of the state motto, “We dare defend our rights,” Alabamians seem to share an innate sense of self-determination.

Yet, despite its long-standing reputation, the state has essentially welcomed much of the federal interference that jeopardizes voters’ treasured autonomy. Case in point, a 2017 study ranked Alabama the fourth most federally dependent state, having accepted enough federal funds to comprise more than 40 percent of the state budget.

More surprising than this reality is voter sentiment toward it. A recent poll, commissioned by the Alabama Policy Institute, surveyed Republican primary voters in the state–those who ought to be most troubled by the numbers–revealed surprising ambivalence, with only 28 percent expressing displeasure at the disproportionate federal share of our state budget.

The outcome is a sobering paradox for Alabama’s Republican electorate: voters complacent about reliance on federal support for solvency cannot also boast of meaningful autonomy.

Ironically, a closer look at the same survey reveals strong agreement with such a conclusion. More than two-thirds of respondents felt that significant reliance on federal funding hinders a state’s true degree of independence. Even if those polled offered a justification for such glaring contradictions (a question not polled), most do not trust DC to be a consistent and reliable source of financial support. In fact, 79 percent believe the state should be prepared for the likelihood that DC will reduce the amount of this funding.

This lack of voter confidence in the state’s fiscal independence and stability is alarming. If prudence alone does not demand that state legislators be more discerning in the evaluation of federal funding opportunities, political expediency should.

While lawmakers often acquiesce in these programs by characterizing the money as “free,” an overwhelming 80 percent of astute respondents rejected that premise, believing instead that such funds usually come with strings attached. That disposition is well-founded, as evidenced by some of Washington’s most infamous policies–to include the former first lady’s signature school lunch rules and the now-defunct national speed limit–which were imposed on the states through conditional federal grants.

Moreover, an influx of federal funding rates poorly in traditional measures of good government, including: indeterminate accountability, decreased transparency, increased spending, and an abdication of responsibility for essential services by those governments closest to the people.

The state would be well-served to evaluate its federal funding scheme with a critical eye. Even if the level of support on which the state relies cannot be measurably decreased in the near future, a plan to evaluate and bolster the state’s own financial readiness is in order. To that end, poll results indicate a way forward, suggesting strong support for more stringent vetting of available federal grants, as well as increased scrutiny and transparency of those dollars once they have been accepted.

Whatever the path, the state’s voters and legislators must come to terms with the true cost of so-called budget breaks afforded by conditional federal funds. Alabamians must learn to trust their instincts and become more wise to the specifics of Trojan horse-style dollars coming back to the state. And legislators, elected to govern according to Alabama’s best interests, must address its financial readiness in order to preserve their ability to do so.

Leigh Hixon is senior director of policy relations for the Alabama Policy Institute.

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School choice: providing life-changing options for families in Alabama

By Ben Sciacca, Executive Director for Restoration Academy, Birmingham, Alabama

For almost thirty years, Restoration Academy (RA) has been an advocate of school choice. Anthony Gordon, our founder, started RA in 1988 after officiating the funerals of five young men killed due to gang and drug violence. He was distressed by a myriad of realities facing the youth in his community, but one of the chief things that concerned him was that most of the youth in his neighborhood did not have access to a consistent, quality education.

Twenty-eight years later, RA exists to provide families with school choice. We believe that every child and every family should at least have an option on where their children go to school.

One of our most recent additions to RA, Jonathan, has been elated to now be in a school where he is safe and free from the tyranny of bullies and gangs. Prior to being at RA, his parents had to contact the police five different times due to him being assaulted at school. He and his parents also cite how the teachers at RA consistently care for him and provide an environment where he can learn and thrive. Since arriving at RA his grades have soared along with his confidence. This is our hope and goal–that each child will have that experience.

We interview dozens of new families each spring. Many of these families seek enrollment at Restoration Academy for the same reasons. For one, many of them are deeply concerned about the safety of their children at their local schools. They testify about how regular fights and altercations are jeopardizing their children’s sense of peace and well being. Others cite apprehension about the quality of instruction that their children are receiving at their local schools. These parents make it clear that they would like to provide their children with an entirely different environment where issues of safety and the quality of instruction are not things they have to worry about.

The reality is that “choice,” as it relates to education, has largely been relegated solely to communities of higher socioeconomic standing. Most families in lower-income neighborhoods have no choice as it relates to where their children attend school. America affirms that equality is something that should be afforded to all people. It stands to reason that if some individuals are not afforded an equal choice as to where their children attend school, that is an injustice to be remedied. Not only do the children who take advantage of school choice benefit from it, but school choice is shown to strengthen public schools and the surrounding communities.

Restoration Academy has a passion to provide families who are seeking an alternative to their current school with that alternative. If other families around the state have a choice as to where their kids attend school, we believe that the families in our neighborhood should also.

Ben Sciacca serves as Executive Director for Restoration Academy. He holds a masters degree from Covenant College and has been at Restoration Academy for 15 years.

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2 years ago

After paving the way for VictoryLand casino to reopen, Bentley calls for it to be shut down

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: (Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: (Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: (Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange on Thursday sent a letter to Macon County law enforcement officials calling on them to shut down VictoryLand casino. VictoryLand officially re-opened ten days ago, bringing “electronic bingo” back to a state whose constitution explicitly prohibits lotteries and games of chance.

“It is widely known that VictoryLand began operations on Sept. 13, 2016 and continues as of today’s date to operate electronic bingo machines,” the letter reads. “This is a violation of Alabama law.”

VictoryLand was shuttered in 2013 after state law enforcement officials seized the machines and a quarter-million dollars in cash.

But in November of last year, Gov. Robert Bentley issued an executive order stripping the state attorney general’s office of the authority to enforce gaming laws, paving the way for gambling to take place in local areas under the supervision of sheriffs and district attorneys.

“(T)he State of Alabama has expended immense resources for the enforcement of Alabama’s anti-gambling laws, to date, more than nine million dollars,” Gov. Bentley wrote. “(R)ecent judicial rulings have raised concern with the unequal enforcement of Alabama’s criminal laws, including gambling laws, against individuals and businesses.”

The conservative Alabama Policy Institute blasted the governor’s decision, saying it “formalized the breaking of a promise that began shortly after his reelection.”

“He repeatedly affirmed his opposition to gambling,” they wrote, “but today has decided to actively encourage it.”

At VictoryLand’s recent reopening, casino boss Milton McGregor alluded to Gov. Bentley’s order while expressing confidence in the legality of what they are doing.

“(Attorney General Strange) is through with gaming issues,” McGregor said. “Gaming and the bingo issue will be handled by the sheriff and the DA to determine the legality, and they have done that. Without question, everything on this floor is legal.”

Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson declined to comment on what his department will do, but added that he is “trying to do is what’s right for the people of Macon County and enforce the law.”

As for the local district attorney, he said “there is no way in hell that I could afford to conduct a raid on VictoryLand, even if I wanted to.”

The governor and attorney general have given local authorities until September 30 to respond to their letter with a plan to enforce the law.

(h/t OANow)

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2 years ago

The lottery is a means to an end, and that end is a bigger Alabama government (opinion)

Alabama Capitol (Photo: Flickr, sunsurfr)
Alabama Capitol (Photo: Flickr, sunsurfr)
Alabama Capitol (Photo: Flickr, sunsurfr)

The people want to vote!”–the most oft-repeated catchphrase of the lottery debate. Even politicians who declare themselves personally opposed to a state-run lottery try to justify their support of it because “the people want to vote.” But politicians know full well that they have not been honest with the people when it comes to a lottery–that this debate isn’t over whether or not they should be able to buy scratch-offs in Alabama. No, for politicians and for bureaucrats, the lottery is merely a means to an end–and that end is bigger government. If the people only knew what was really going on in Montgomery, they would staunchly oppose giving politicians more of their money to spend.

Despite the fact that Alabama’s government spends more money every single year, to most politicians and bureaucrats, nothing in state government has been or will ever be “fully funded.” Around the State House, these men and women flippantly and unapologetically discuss getting their hands on more of the people’s money–never mind that most Alabamians can’t afford to give away more. This year, the state spent $29 billion of the people’s state and federal tax dollars only for state leaders to then tell the people that Alabama faces a dire budget “crisis” over a request to spend $85 million more–a mere 0.29% of what has already been spent (and, if it were vital, then it could have been found). These now-annual “crises” are self-imposed by politicians who are constantly looking to pilfer more of the people’s money because they’ve given up on dealing with our state’s spending problem at its roots. To put it simply, the spenders have a want, but they’ve done a good job convincing the people that it’s a need.

Attempting to reason with his colleagues on Friday, one senator reminded them that government will always find a way to spend every single penny that it takes in. And having more money to spend in the short term will continue to cover up the unsustainable fiscal trajectory that the state finds itself on. The government’s insatiable spending addiction will not be satiated with lottery revenue–it will be stimulated. Critical policy proposals that would help place our state on stable financial footing for the long term will not see the light of day. As a result, it won’t be long before our politicians realize that lottery revenue can’t support their spending problem. Where will they look for money next?

Not only will the lottery-fueled growth in government almost instantly have to be sustained by other forms of revenue (i.e., more of the people’s tax dollars), but the cost of a state lottery will show up in other ways. For the state to net the governor’s $225 million estimate (more on that here), the people--every Alabamian eighteen years of age or older–would have to spend $182 a year on lottery tickets. According to Salil Mehta, a renowned academic statistician and Ivy League professor, probability calculations indicate that an estimated 350,000 Alabamians would lose $200,000 of their lifetime savings as a result of a state lottery. Keep in mind, this is in a state with the 48th lowest median household income in the country. A state in which 19% of the people live in poverty and 25% receive government assistance. Who will be better off if the government is permitted to aggressively coax individuals with limited resources into wasting their money on the false hope of getting rich quick? Other states’ lotteries do exactly this–it is not speculation. What could additional government spending possibly offer the people to justify that level of malevolence?

(And, just in case you’re thinking it, taking from those who rely on state benefits is not a clever way to recoup costs, but will leave them with even less income and further diminished means of escaping poverty.)

The people should not be fooled into thinking that the debate going on in Montgomery is over an innocuous game of chance or their freedom to play it–it’s about conning them into handing over more of their money without asking too many questions. Make no mistake, the lottery is a tax–a hidden tax, disguised as entertainment, and supplied through a state-run monopoly–and it will almost assuredly lead to more taxes as politicians are further enabled to avoid the kinds of tough decisions that they were elected to make.


Katherine Green Robertson is Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute (API). API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government, and strong families. If you would like to speak with the author, please e-mail communications@alabamapolicy.org or call (205) 870-9900.

For more on API, please visit www.AlabamaPolicy.org and follow on Twitter @AlabamaPolicy.

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2 years ago

As Alabama legislature debates lottery, VictoryLand brings back electronic bingo

VictoryLand in Shorter, Alabama (File photo)
VictoryLand in Shorter, Alabama (File photo)
VictoryLand in Shorter, Alabama (File photo)

SHORTER, Ala. — As the Alabama legislature wrestles with whether to approve a state-sponsored lottery, gambling boss Milton McGregor has announced plans to reopen his VictoryLand electronic bingo operation.

VictoryLand was shuttered in 2013 after state law enforcement officials seized the machines and a quarter-million dollars in cash, and has remained closed ever since.

But in November of last year, Gov. Robert Bentley issued an executive order stripping the state attorney general’s office of the authority to enforce gaming laws, paving the way for gambling to take place in local areas under the supervision of sheriffs and district attorneys.

“(T)he State of Alabama has expended immense resources for the enforcement of Alabama’s anti-gambling laws, to date, more than nine million dollars,” Gov. Bentley wrote. “(R)ecent judicial rulings have raised concern with the unequal enforcement of Alabama’s criminal laws, including gambling laws, against individuals and businesses.”

Some conservatives expressed dismay at the governor’s decision.

“Today’s action by the governor merely formalizes the breaking of a promise that began shortly after his reelection,” an Alabama Policy Institute spokesperson told Yellowhammer at the time. “Since that time, without an electorate to face in the future, the governor has busied himself breaking promises he made to the people of Alabama. He pledged ‘no new taxes,’ and then fought for historic tax increases. He vowed to reject Medicaid expansion, yet now seems set to embrace it. He repeatedly affirmed his opposition to gambling, but today has decided to actively encourage it by rescinding and repealing the very first executive order he made as governor.”

VictoryLand’s reopening has been expected since Gov. Bentley acquiesced, and on Monday Mr. McGregor set Sept. 13 as the date on which the lights would be turned back on.

“While it has taken longer than we hoped,” Mr. McGregor said in a release, “the time is now here and we are pleased that hundreds of our people will have a new job and VictoryLand will be generating a badly needed shot in the arm for Tuskegee and this entire region of Alabama.”

1
2 years ago

Pro-lottery Alabama politicians are lying, contributing to the breakdown of the family (Video)


(Video above: Terrell Kennedy discusses the prospect of an Alabama lottery.)

Terrell Kennedy is the founder of Fit for Life, an after-school tutoring program for adolescent men in Birmingham. Kennedy started Fit for Life in 2005 as a way to give back and bring hope to his community, in contrast to what he believes pro-lottery Alabama politicians are now offering Alabamians: false hope.

The Alabama Senate approved lottery legislation last week. The bill, which was approved by a margin of 21-12, would send $100 million of lottery revenue each year to Medicaid, which is facing a $70 million shortfall this year, and the rest to the General Fund. The House is set to debate the bill this week. If it passes, a Constitutional Amendment will appear on the November ballot for statewide approval by the voters.

“I grew up in the projects,” Mr. Kennedy says in a video produced by the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank in Birmingham. “And I wanted to be to my family what I did not have. I wanted to be a good dad. And I’m just so concerned about the condition of the family today. We are already struggling. We’re going against headwinds. And, it’s unbelievable to me that our politicians, many of them who are of the same color as I am, who grew up just like I did, and now they have the power to make great decisions for our people—and [gambling] is what they’re offering them?”

“Who truly benefits from gambling?” He continues. “It’s not those at the bottom. We know that the rich will continue to get richer, those who are behind gambling. And we know that the politicians will continue to do well. They will be unaffected by all that takes place, all the destruction that takes place.”

Mr. Kennedy specifically mentioned the addictive nature of gambling that leads individuals to “put their hope in this activity” and ultimately “lose the money that is necessary to feed their kids, to feed their family.”

“Households break down,” he laments. “People do all kinds of things for addiction. It’s no different than being addicted to drugs. You do what’s necessary to get the money to try to make that big hit. With all of the issues that we’ve got in our society, we surely do not need to make decisions that will add to those problems.”

Mr. Kennedy also said the promise of a financial windfall for the state is unlikely, based on the experience of other states.

A Washington Post report published in 2012, for example, called into question whether so called education lotteries actually benefit public schools. According to the report, legislators in many states have concocted ways to keep the additional funds from ever making it into classrooms. In Texas, lottery funds paid for about two weeks of schooling for public school students in 1996. By 2010 it was down to three days.

“The evidence is bountiful,” concludes Mr. Kennedy. “Many states were told what we are being told by our politicians, and they were lied to—just like our politicians are lying to us.”

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Attention, Alabama: 9 of the 10 most insolvent states have lotteries (fact-checking Bentley’s claims)

Governor Robert Bentley (photo: Flickr of Governor Robert Bentley, March 21, 2016)

Some promises are too good to be true. Last week, Governor Bentley told the people of Alabama that implementing a state lottery would be “a permanent solution” that “will provide funding that we can count on year after year.” This is simply not true, as evidenced by the experiences of other states with lotteries.

Governor Bentley:
“From the Tennessee Valley to the Gulf Coast our great state is rich in abundant resources, blessed beyond measure. With all a state could ask for to prosper and to thrive.”

Fact check:
TRUE. Alabama is “rich in abundant resources, blessed…with all a state could ask for to prosper and thrive.”

Governor Bentley:
“But in order for our state to be the best it can be, we must once and for all solve problems that have held our state back for decades. The state of Alabama has not and can not at this time pay for the most basic services that we must provide to our people.”

Fact check:
FALSE. Alabama could “Pay for the most basic services we must provide to our people” – with good governance.

Governor Bentley:
“We’ve tackled this problem every year I have been in office. First, we took on the task of right sizing state government, cut wasteful spending and made your government more efficient.”

Fact check:
FALSE. Governmental spending is greater than it was at the time that Governor Bentley took office.

Governor Bentley:
“Then we proposed a very fair and balanced tax plan.”

Fact check:
FALSE. The Bentley administration tried to force a massive, unfair tax increase on the the people of Alabama.

Governor Bentley:
“But the Representatives that you sent to Montgomery said ‘That’s not the answer.'”

Fact check:
TRUE. The Alabama legislature did say “That’s not the answer.” And, in fact, raising taxes was not the answer.

Governor Bentley:
“I will present to the legislature simple, clean and transparent legislation that creates a lottery with not other gambling included.

Fact check:
MIXED. The Bentley administration is intent on getting a bill passed, and other proposals include expanding gambling.

Governor Bentley:
“The time has come for us to find a permanent solution.

Fact check:
FALSE. A ‘permanent solution’? Of the 10 states with the most insolvent budgets, 9 have lotteries.

Governor Bentley:

“Montgomery doesn’t have all the answers.”

Fact check:
TRUE. “Montgomery doesn’t have all the answers” is true. “A lottery is the wrong answer” is truer.

RELATED:
1. Bentley proposes lottery to fund Medicaid, prisons, other General Fund agencies
2. With the lottery, politicians are trying to trick Alabamians into paying for more government (opinion)
3. Poll shows Alabama Republicans split on lottery, oppose expansion of casino gambling

1
2 years ago

With the lottery, politicians are trying to trick Alabamians into paying for more government (opinion)

Lottery tickets (Photo: Flickr)
Lottery tickets (Photo: Flickr)
Lottery tickets (Photo: Flickr)

By Katherine Robertson and Caleb Crosby

There are a number of policies, particularly those that stimulate economic growth, that are proven solutions to poverty. Just as easily identifiable are policies that exacerbate poverty. Sometimes these policies have good intentions of serving the poor, but then the Law of Unintended Consequences strikes. Other times, policies are promoted and adopted with blatant disregard to their harmful impact by the very politicians who hold themselves out as champions of the poor. One such example comes to mind given the ongoing conversation surrounding a statewide lottery.

During the last legislative session, one Democratic legislator took to the microphone to deliver a searing indictment of Alabama’s system of taxation, invoking the word “regressive” repeatedly. What might have been a thoughtful debate on tax policy became, unfortunately, a farcical monologue. One moment the legislator was lambasting Republicans for the “regressive” tax increases that they were imposing on the downtrodden, including the “regressive” cigarette tax, which would “regressively” affect Alabama’s poorest citizens. The next moment (in fact, in the same breath) the legislator was haranguing Republicans for not supporting a statewide lottery, although the legislator peculiarly gave the term “regressive” a respite during this discussion. The incongruity of the two arguments–one against regressive taxation, one for regressive taxation–was apparently lost on the legislator.

Research clearly shows that lotteries take the most from the least–from the poor. This has been proven by national-level data, as well as by data from Southern states with lotteries such as Georgia and North Carolina. In Georgia, residents in the ten poorest counties spent 44% more on lottery tickets than residents in the ten wealthiest counties, yet the former received 36% less in the education dollars provided by the lottery. In North Carolina, poverty rates in counties with high lottery-ticket sales were, on average, 42% higher than the rest of the state.

Central to conservative philosophy is personal responsibility. Does opposition to a lottery undermine this by implying that people can’t be responsible? Giving individuals more direct access to a lottery (they can already buy tickets across state lines) does not sync with the ideals of personal responsibility when relying on get-rich-quick marketing pitches that devalue hard work. Consider, for example, the state-lottery slogans “Game-Changing, Life-Changing Fun” (Tennessee) and “Give Your Dream a Chance” (New Jersey).

Further, the proposal in question is a state-run lottery, the success of which depends on the participation of the poor and vulnerable. It is the state itself, incentivized by having more money to spend (or waste), that will market the false hope of a huge jackpot to the hopeless. A study from Duke University in the ’90s confirmed that lottery advertising is most aggressive in poor neighborhoods. It has even been suggested that some states time their lotto advertising with the monthly distribution of government benefits.

Exploiting the poor to pay for government would be a step backwards, economically and morally, in reducing Alabama’s poverty rates. A state-run lottery relies on the poor to feed government and attempts to justify it by promising–promising–that the proceeds will create government programs to serve the poor. But look at what’s happening in Illinois: lottery players, who are overwhelmingly poor, lined the state’s pockets, yet that didn’t solve the state’s abysmal fiscal situation. And, to make matters worse, Illinois can’t even afford to pay the winners of its lottery. The state making good on its promises–talk about slim odds!

Rather than tricking individuals into paying for more government, Alabama should prioritize policies that bring about real hope, not the false hope of striking it rich. Real hope, as Arthur Brooks wonderfully articulates in his new book, The Conservative Heart, “empowers people. It tells them that a happy life of meaningful work is within their reach–and that they personally can build it. This is the American Dream. This is the restless optimism that built our nation. This is the hope of generations of immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. This is the hope that animates the conservative heart.”

Indeed, this should be the hope that animates Alabama.

Katherine Green Robertson is Vice President and Caleb Crosby is President and CEO of the Alabama Policy Institute (API). API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government, and strong families. If you would like to speak with the authors, please e-mail communications@alabamapolicy.org or call (205) 870-9900.

1
2 years ago

The U.S. Supreme Court just revived Alabama’s dying abortion industry

Women attendants of a Planned Parenthood rally try to keep dry after a sudden storm moved through the Tampa area on August 29. (Photo: Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour)
Women attendants of a Planned Parenthood rally try to keep dry after a sudden storm moved through the Tampa area on August 29.   (Photo: Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour)
Women attendants of a Planned Parenthood rally try to keep dry after a sudden storm moved through the Tampa area on August 29.
(Photo: Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour)

WASHINGTON — With a single ruling, the United States Supreme Court may have given the abortion industry an opportunity for a resurgence in Alabama, where lawmakers had previously passed regulations making it difficult for abortionists to do business in the Yellowhammer State.

By a 5-3 vote, the high court on Monday struck down a Texas law that placed “an undue burden” on women seeking an abortion by requiring providers to have hospital admitting privileges. The Alabama legislature passed a similar law in 2013, but a federal judge blocked it, prompting the state to appeal.

Under the law, Alabama abortion clinics were held to the same standards as other medical facilities, and any physician who performed an abortion was required to have staff privileges at a local hospital. If the clinic did not meet the requirement, their alternative was to contract with a local doctor who already had admitting privileges to serve as an outside covering physician.

The ACLU last year filed a lawsuit against the state in an effort to keep Tuscaloosa’s only abortion clinic, the West Alabama Women’s Center, open. The clinic had closed in January after its only doctor with admitting privileges retired and his replacement was unable to meet the state’s requirements.

A federal court ruled parts of the law unconstitutional in 2013, and in August of last year, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order blocking its enforcement.

Thompson said abortion rights cannot be exercised without a provider, similar to how Second Amendment rights cannot be exercised without a place to buy weapons and ammunition.

“The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics,” he wrote, “clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability.”

Pro-abortion groups applauded the ruling.

“These admitting privileges were not designed to make women safer,” said Susan Watson, who heads the ACLU of Alabama. “We are proud to know that Alabama’s women will continue have access to safe and legal abortions.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling this week, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange announced the state will no longer pursue an appeal.

“The Texas law which was declared unconstitutional is nearly identical to an Alabama abortion clinic law currently under legal challenge,” said Strange. “While I disagree with the high court’s decision, there is no good faith argument that Alabama’s law remains constitutional in light of the Supreme Court ruling. Accordingly, my office will dismiss our appeal of a 2014 federal court ruling declaring Alabama’s abortion clinic law unconstitutional.”

In 2013, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) released data on the number of abortions that have taken place in Alabama since Roe v. Wade went into effect in 1973.

According to API, there were 515,900 abortions in Alabama between 1973 and 2011, and over 50 million abortions nationwide during that same timeframe. Forty-two percent of abortions in the United States are by women earning below the poverty line, almost 60% of whom are between the ages of 20-29.

1
2 years ago

The omnipotent federal government is devouring Alabama’s sovereignty (opinion)

United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)

On Friday, the omnipotent U.S. Department of Education threatened to pull federal funding from public school districts that refuse to fall in line over transgender bathrooms. Many school districts will submit, knowing that they cannot afford to jeopardize their federal cash flow. Setting aside for a moment the broader social debate over the directive, it remains a glaring illustration of just how far federalism has fallen from the days of the Founders. While federal overreach has become commonplace, so has the voluntary surrender of the states’ constitutional authority over matters—something that is rarely acknowledged or discussed as states clamor for more and more federal dollars.

Alabama landed at number three this year in a report ranking the federal dependency of the states. Largely blamed on the state’s poverty rates, Alabama’s dependency on the federal government has reached dangerously high levels. According to the PEW Charitable Trusts, Alabama’s share of federal funds accounts for roughly 30% of the state’s gross domestic product, ten points higher than the national average. Estimates derived from Alabama’s Executive Budget Document and the comptroller’s 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report show that the state received $8.5 billion in federal dollars in 2014. Only ten years prior, Alabama received $5.6 billion. That means that our state is 50% more dependent on the federal government than it was in 2004. These dollars are dedicated to an array of services, the largest of which are Medicaid, education, and human services.

From No Child Left Behind to the Affordable Care Act, thousands of laws have been passed by Congress to lure states into ceding their authority in exchange for federal funding. In addition to the concern that federal funds will deplete over time, Alabamians should be troubled by the fact that the state has given up meaningful control—typically, with little to no debate—over many of its own agencies and programs via the severe mandates and regulations that come with accepting federal dollars.

In his book, Saving Congress from Itself, former U.S. Senator James L. Buckley summarizes the problem: “Those governing our towns and states are no longer in control of a large proportion of the government activities that affect our lives.” “In too many respects,” Buckley notes, “our state officials now serve as administrators of programs designed in Washington by civil servants who are beyond our reach, immune to the discipline of the ballot box, and the least informed about our particular conditions and needs.”

With Alabama’s own funding challenges to deal with, state agency heads and appropriators have little regard for the nation’s fiscal condition and often take a short-sighted approach to accepting federal dollars. In Montgomery, the common refrain is that we ought to take as much “free” federal money as we can get, never mind the mandates that come with it. In the short term, this “free” money means free political points; in other words, politicians can reap the rewards of the spending without making tough budgetary decisions or facing any real opposition. States officials take federal money for things they know taxpayers either cannot or will not pay for. Congress counts on exactly this mentality to push its own agenda down to the states.

Sometimes, the federal government will merely “change the rules” after states have become reliant on the money. As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office explains, “States and localities may be too deeply invested in particular activities to be able simply to forego federal dollars when new conditions are placed on existing programs and their associated funding streams.” Listening to debate in the State House, it is clear that Alabama is not well-situated to forfeit many federal dollars. As such, a substantial amount of state policymaking will continue to occur in Washington, far removed from what will best serve Alabamians.

Will we continue to carelessly sell our sovereignty—and, with it, our values—to the federal government? Or will we begin to take seriously Chief Justice John Robert’s admonishment when he said, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court: “In the typical case, we look to States to defend their prerogatives by adopting ‘the simple expedient of not yielding’ to federal blandishments when they do not want to embrace the federal policies as their own. The States are separate and independent sovereigns. Sometimes they have to act like it.”


Katherine Green Robertson is Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute (API). API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government, and strong families. If you would like to speak with the author, please e-mail communications@alabamapolicy.org or call (205) 870-9900.

1
2 years ago

Who’s Next? Meet the people who will be running Alabama in a few years

The next generation of Alabama power players
The next generation of Alabama power players
The next generation of Alabama power players

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state.

This year’s list was released in several segments: Government officials and politicians, lobbyists and consultants, and business leaders.

Today, we’re taking a look forward to the next generation of Alabama leaders. The individuals below are well on their way to landing on future Power & Influence 50 lists.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 2nd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Friday, May 13th at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook. Last year’s event attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, numerous members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

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ainsworth-yhpos50

State Rep. Will Ainsworth

Ainsworth has established himself as a hub of activity in the House since being elected in 2014. His hard-charging style has shook up the status quo in the House. Look for him to possibly make a statewide run in 2018. He’s got the financial resources to be a contender right out of the gate.

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Alexia Borden, Alabama Power

Borden has the power company in her blood. Her father is the President of Georgia Power and now she is beginning her ascent. Borden is in her first year running Alabama Power’s lobbying operation at the Statehouse. A look back at the individuals who have held that job in the past suggests she’ll be a fast riser.

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Katie Britt, Butler Snow

Britt is a former University of Alabama SGA President and senior staffer to Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) who now finds herself in an important role for Butler Snow’s Alabama lobbying shop. Shelby tapped her again this year to lead his campaign’s communications effort. Her husband is also an up-and-comer at Alabama Power, positioning them as an emerging Alabama politics power couple.

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Will Califf, Office of the Senate President Pro Tem

Califf has earned a reputation for being one of the most versatile young operatives in the state. He already has tremendous experience in campaign politics and communications. He’ll be a sought after asset in the years to come, particularly when politicians start angling for the governor’s office in 2018.

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carroll-yhpos50

Mary Margaret Carroll, Fine Geddie

Carroll, a former University of Alabama SGA President, landed a job at the state’s preeminent contract lobbying firm and hasn’t slowed down since. She also filled a role in Senator Richard Shelby’s recent re-election bid.

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colson-yhpos50

Mark Colson, Business Council of Alabama

Several perennial members of the Power & Influence 50 held Colson’s current job before he did. His ever-expanding rolodex and omnipresence at the Statehouse have him poised to make that leap in the years to come as well.

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Brandon Demyan, Office of the Senate President Pro Tem

Demyan is the kind of conservative lawyer and policy mind that Republican primary voters wish was behind every state policy initiative. He’s a former staffer at the Alabama Policy Institute who’s now taken his talents into the public sector for one of the state’s most powerful politicians.

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Katherine Robertson, Alabama Policy Institute

Robertson is swiftly becoming Alabama lawmaker’s go-to authority on conservative policy and reform ideas in the Statehouse. With the lack of staff at the Statehouse, she’s filling a significant void.

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Jeff Sommer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama

Sommer made a wise career move when he decided to get in on the ground floor of one of Alabama’s most powerful government affairs operations. He’s apprenticing under veteran BCBS lobbyist Robin Stone and is already proving himself to be a valuable asset.

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Sommer Vaughn, Swatek Howe & Ross

Vaughn was one of the House Speaker’s most trusted advisors before jumping to the private sector. She is already a veteran Statehouse operator at a young age. Her experience and work ethic make her a lobbyist to watch in the the years to come.

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Jeremy Walker, Alabama Association of REALTORs

Walker has found himself becoming the face of one of the state’s most powerful business associations. As he gains more experience and the real estate market improves, he and the REALTORs are only going to continue picking up steam.

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R.B. Walker, University of Alabama

Walker was born to be a power player. At one point he had a replica of the Governor’s office in his house. Later he asked his now-wife to marry him at the Governor’s Mansion. He was an integral part of Alabama Power’s governmental affairs team and now serves in a similar capacity for the University of Alabama System.

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Taylor Williams, PowerSouth

Williams is a rising star at PowerSouth, which has significantly elevated its presence in state politics in recent years. Insiders expect him to rise quickly through the ranks to take on an executive role in the years to come.

1
2 years ago

CHEAPENING DIPLOMAS: Alabama HS graduation rate soars, student achievement drops

Alabama School Superintendent Tommy Bice speaks to the Education Writers Association at Vanderbilt University in June of 2014.
Alabama School Superintendent Tommy Bice speaks to the Education Writers Association at Vanderbilt University in June of 2014.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Last month, Tommy Bice announced his plans to step down as Alabama’s superintendent of education. Looking back on the entirety of his tenure, the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, called into question the significance of Bice’s key achievement: the nearly 90% graduation rate of public-school students in Alabama.

The graduation rate has skyrocketed seventeen points in four years, from 72% in 2011 to 89% in 2015. To put this percentage in perspective, if the graduation rates of the other forty-nine states were to remain unchanged from 2014, then Alabama’s graduation rate would now rank third nationally.

However, API senior policy counsel Andrew Yerbey notes that Alabama has seen no positive correlation in scholastic achievement, which remains among the worst of the worst in the United States.

“When the high-school diploma has been as devalued as it has, its benefits—economic and otherwise—become a false promise,” the analysis says.

To support his argument, Yerbey cites Alabama students’ ACT test scores. The ACT’s own website defines college readiness as “about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses…based on the actual performance of students in college.”

According to Yerby, “the percentage of Alabama students who graduated ready for college-level coursework in English, math, reading, and science was 16% in 2015, down from 18% in 2011; the national average was 28%. Additionally, 32% of Alabama public-school graduates who attend college need some type of remediation.”

Diploma Devaluation

Data from the National Assessment of Education Progress’ (NAEP) website, considered “the standard for measuring scholastic achievement”, does place Alabama in a more favorable light. As of 2015, only 17% of Alabama eighth-graders are proficient in math and 26% are proficient in reading—with neither score changing significantly since 2011. Both scores have remained significantly below the national average.

Furthermore, Yerby cites a report from the Urban Institute, which adjusted the 2013 scores to account for student demographics. Alabama ranked forty-eighth in the nation, ahead of only Hawaii and West Virginia.

Yerbey argues, in essence, that an Alabama high school degree has been devalued with the increased emphasis on boosting graduation rates.

“The next superintendent will have to rebuild the trust that has been lost in Alabama’s high-school diploma. This means ensuring that it reflects scholastic achievement,” Yerbey concludes. “This does not mean undue emphasis on standardized tests or a return to the misguided policies of No Child Left Behind. But it will be helpful to glance backward as we go forward, to recall what those policies were meant to combat: the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

1
2 years ago

Obama administration continues to offer ‘free’ money to coax Alabama to expand Medicaid

President Barack Obama (Left) and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Right)
President Barack Obama (Left) and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Right)
President Barack Obama (Left) and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Right)

Louisiana officially installed a new Democratic governor last week, and the first thing he did was expand Medicaid under ObamaCare. Governor John Bel Edwards reversed the long-held position of his predecessor, Republican Bobby Jindal, who had rebuffed the Obama administration’s overtures, which include a promise to cover the entire cost of expanding the government healthcare program for the first year, before tapering its contribution down to 90 percent by 2020.

It is that promise of “free” money that the Obama administration hopes will win over the 19 states who continue to refuse to expand Medicaid to cover individuals up to 138 percent of the poverty level, including Alabama, where a task force appointed by Governor Robert Bentley voted late last year to recommend Medicaid expansion.

“The White House is proposing new financial incentives to convert the remaining 19 states, like Alabama,” said Debbie Elliot in a National Public Radio (NPR) report. “The Obama administration hopes to lure more states by offering money — three years of full funding for Medicaid expansion before the federal match tapers off.”

It is a tempting proposition for state leaders, who find themselves eager to accept “free” money from the federal government. Governor Bentley has expressed a desire to expand the program, but has not yet been able to make the numbers work.

“(Y)ou have to realize it is going to cost the state of Alabama over the next six years $710 million in the General Fund,” Bentley said in November. “Now folks, I can’t even get (the Legislature) to raise a hundred million dollars. So we’ve got to look at a funding stream if we’re going to do it.”


RELATED: State representative issues dire warning: ‘Medicaid could be the downfall of Alabama’


The head of the Alabama Medicaid Agency last week asked lawmakers for an additional $156 million in 2016, but was met with fierce opposition from Republicans, including Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) who insisted that Alabamians are “not going to put money into failing programs.”

One of the main difficulties for states when it comes to Medicaid is that, because the federal government covers 70% of the cost of the program and mandates certain levels of coverage for enrollees, the state has essentially no control over the exploding costs.

Medicaid is already the largest line item in Alabama’s budget, comprising 37 percent of the General Fund. According to the Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama’s Medicaid expenditures increased by 53% between 2001 and 2013. The state’s Medicaid rolls eclipsed 1 million in 2010. In 2015, over 38,000 new enrollees became Medicaid recipients in a single year. More than one in four Alabamians is now enrolled in the government healthcare program, and as the state’s senior population increases, costs are expected to grow even further.

Alabama lawmakers are wary of expanding the program, not only because of their philosophical concerns, but also because they have experienced in recent years how taking “free” money in the short term can put them in a bind a few years down the road.

In 2012, the Alabama legislature sought to patch a budget hole by borrowing $437 million from the state’s oil and gas trust fund. When the funds ran out again last year, even typically anti-tax Republicans were ready to dip back into taxpayers’ pockets to extract more revenue.

A similar timeline could play out again, should GOP leaders give in to the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion overtures.

The legislature will convene the first week of February for the 2016 Regular Legislative Sessions.

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3 years ago

State representative issues dire warning: ‘Medicaid could be the downfall of Alabama’

Medicaid

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — During a pre-legislative session budget hearing on Wednesday, State Representative Lynn Greer (R- Rogersville) warned that the unchecked growth of Alabama’s medicaid program is threatening to bankrupt the state.

“Unless we can get control of Medicaid… it can be the downfall of the state of Alabama,” he said.

Medicaid is the joint-federal and state healthcare program designed to provide coverage for low-income and disabled individuals.The program is currently the largest line item in Alabama’s budget, comprising 37 percent of the General Fund. According to the Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama’s Medicaid expenditures increased by 53% between 2001 and 2013, and as the state’s senior population increases, costs are expected to grow even further. But because the federal government covers 70% of the cost of Medicaid and mandates certain levels of coverage for enrollees, the state has essentially no control over the exploding costs.

The head of the Alabama Medicaid Agency on Wednesday asked lawmakers for an additional $156 million in 2016, but was met with fierce opposition from Republicans, including Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham) who insisted that Alabamians are “not going to put money into failing programs.”

Alabama’s Medicaid rolls eclipsed 1 million in 2015, after over 38,000 new enrollees became Medicaid recipients in a single year. More than one in five Alabamians is now enrolled in the government healthcare program.

Medicaid reforms passed by the legislature last year are expected to save the state an estimated $1.5 billion over the next decade, if the Obama administration grants Alabama a “waiver” that would allow the reforms to go into effect.

But the Bentley administration is also believed to be exploring ways to expand the program, which Governor Bentley concedes would be a costly proposition.

“(Y)ou have to realize it is going to cost the state of Alabama over the next six years $710 million in the General Fund,” Bentley said in November. “Now folks, I can’t even get (the Legislature) to raise a hundred million dollars. So we’ve got to look at a funding stream if we’re going to do it.”

The governor appointed the state’s Health Officer to chair the task force, which was given the responsibility of finding ways to improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare for Alabamians. The governor appointed 37 other people to the task force, including legislators, healthcare professionals, and insurance company representatives.

Among those appointed are several members who have been longtime Medicaid expansion advocates, including three Democratic members of the state legislature, the policy director of the liberal advocacy group Alabama Arise, and an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.

Several representatives from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) were also appointed to the task force. In 2014 UAB released a study saying Medicaid expansion would create thousands of jobs and bring increased tax revenue to the state. Governor Bentley called the study “bogus” at the time, and another study from Troy University later refuted the majority of its claims.

The only two Republican legislators on the task force were the chairmen of the Alabama House and Senate Health committees.

Similar to Pennsylvania and Arkansas, which are also led by Republican governors, Gov. Bentley has suggested he would like to be able to funnel federal tax dollars through the state government and into private insurers. The private insurers would then use those taxpayer dollars to cover uninsured individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the same ultimate outcome as Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. The political benefit is that by receiving a “waiver” from the Obama administration, Republican governors have been able to expand the program while selling it as something completely different. In Pennsylvania they call it the “Healthy PA” plan. In Arkansas it’s commonly referred to as the “private option.”

Conservative policy and advocacy groups have taken to calling such plans “Medicaid expansion by another name.”

Gov. Bentley has insisted he would only pursue such a plan as a “block grant” from the federal government. Block grants are federal funds granted to states that include more flexibility in how they are spent than traditional “categorical grants.”

“It would have to be in the private sector and there would have to be some requirements on it,” Bentley told reporters in December. One specific requirement he mentioned was that he’d like to see the system tied to employment. “(Recipients) need to be working on getting a job, or having a job.”

Other states that have tried to tie work requirements to Medicaid benefits have been denied. In rejecting such a proposal from Utah last year, U.S. Health and Human Services Department spokesman Ben Wakana said, “encouraging work is a legitimate state objective. However, work initiatives are not the purpose of the Medicaid program and cannot be a condition of Medicaid eligibility.”

The bottom line is, the Obama administration will have to sign off on any plan Alabama pursues.

The legislature will convene for its 2016 legislative session next month.

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3 years ago

Alabamians should not accept the inevitability of big government (opinion)

United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)

The New Year always comes brimming with new goals, possibilities, and expectations. This year, for many, those expectations are closely tied to the 2016 presidential election.

Conservatives had a tumultuous year. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled with unbridled power and without regard to long-settled precedent. The free exercise of religion continued to be hollowed out by politicians and judges across the country. Planned Parenthood’s gruesome treatment of unborn babies was exposed, yet went largely uncensured as the group held onto taxpayer funding. The president’s use of executive action on matters quite beyond the mainstream reached new heights. Even in Alabama, the Republican governor abandoned some of his most prominent conservative campaign promises.

Conservatives feel betrayed by politicians at every level of government. As a result, many have pulled back on their civic involvement. Even some conservative politicians have begun to capitulate and have given up on pursuing an aggressive agenda. Still, they hold on to a glimmer of hope that a dramatic change at the top can get the country going in a better direction.

Perhaps more than in any other time in American history, the past decade has revealed a national epidemic of either ignorance or apathy to the fact that our government is, as Ronald Reagan put it, “beholden to the people.” Exploiting this, government has grown at an alarming rate and has progressively saturated every aspect of our lives. It has gotten so big, so impenetrable, that any rebuke that does come from the general public is easily ignored and hardly threatening.

William F. Buckley Jr., writing in 1963, could have easily been describing 2015 when he said:

“I am fascinated, and concerned, by the increasing submissiveness of the American people. In the course of a single year, a genuinely outraged majority cooled off without doing anything about a challenge to three of the very deepest human commitments, the commitment to one’s God, the commitment to one’s freedom, and the commitment to one’s country. . . . What happened was not the result of a rational dialogue, but the result of a national lassitude.”

That lassitude, or apathy, is bred by a disbelief in the ability to change anything.

While many of us are highly engaged in the ongoing process of choosing our next president, how different would our government be if we were even half as engaged in non-election years? Presidential candidates use issue-based polling as guidance for their positions because they know they cannot win if they stray too far outside the lines of public opinion. What if those in office felt the same way–that ignoring the desires of the public would come with real consequences?

When we (consciously or not) continue to accept big government’s inevitability, we cannot help but elevate presidential elections to the status of our once-every-four-years chance to “right the ship” of our nation. This leads us to pass up numerous opportunities that we have to directly influence government at the local and state level–to really change things from the bottom up, not just the top down, as the Founding Fathers envisioned.

As we enter this new year full of nervous anticipation in the political arena, we should certainly do what we can to ensure the election of the best possible president. Still, the most compelling candidate would admit the limitations of the office, rather than promise us the world. First, many of the presidency’s limitations come from the Constitution and, if properly adhered to, would result in a return of power to the states. Second, no president (or government) can guarantee the preservation of our democracy and ideals without the strength of non-government frameworks–the family, the community, and the church.

In his book God and Government, the late Chuck Colson reminds us that “the answer to the big government illusion is found in small voluntary associations,” or “little platoons,” as Edmund Burke called them. Colson gives numerous examples of families and churches working in the lives of their neighbors, serving the needy, and visiting prisoners. When we do these things, he notes, “in a very real sense, we’re helping to maintain the distinctive character of our society–to preserve America’s richest heritage. We are strengthening the ‘little platoons’ that foster virtue and are the bedrock of America’s freedom.”


Katherine Green Robertson is Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute (API). API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government, and strong families. If you would like to speak with the author, please e-mail communications@alabamapolicy.org or call (205) 870-9900.

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3 years ago

Task force signals Bentley moving toward major expansion of govt. healthcare in Alabama

Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner
Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner
Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Governor Robert Bentley’s Alabama Health Care Improvement Task Force on Wednesday recommended expanding Medicaid, the government healthcare program designed to provide coverage for low-income and disabled individuals. The task force said the most significant barrier to improving healthcare outcomes in Alabama is eliminating the “coverage gap” — people who do not have private insurance, but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Their recommended solution is to offer Medicaid to individuals who make more money than the current program will allow.

Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and the state, but administered exclusively at the state level. The program is currently the largest line item in Alabama’s budget, comprising 37 percent of the General Fund. According to the Alabama Policy Institute, the state’s Medicaid expenditures increased by 53% between 2001 and 2013, and as the state’s senior population increases, costs are expected to grow even further.

The governor, whose position on Medicaid expansion has shifted significantly since winning re-election last year, concedes that expanding the program would be a costly proposition.

“(Y)ou have to realize it is going to cost the state of Alabama over the next six years $710 million in the General Fund,” Bentley said last week. “Now folks, I can’t even get (the Legislature) to raise a hundred million dollars. So we’ve got to look at a funding stream if we’re going to do it.”

The governor’s office has not yet taken an official position on expanding Medicaid, but has made it clear in recent weeks that Bentley is strongly leaning in that direction.

Task force packed with Democrats, Medicaid expansion advocates

The governor appointed the state’s Health Officer to chair the task force, which was given the responsibility of finding ways to improve the accessibility, affordability, and quality of healthcare for Alabamians. The governor appointed 37 other people to the task force, including legislators, healthcare professionals, and insurance company representatives.

Among those appointed are several members who have been longtime Medicaid expansion advocates, including three Democratic members of the state legislature, the policy director of the liberal advocacy group Alabama Arise, and an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama.

Several representatives from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) were also appointed to the task force. In 2014 UAB released a study saying Medicaid expansion would create thousands of jobs and bring increased tax revenue to the state. Governor Bentley called the study “bogus” at the time, and another study from Troy University later refuted the majority of its claims.

The only two Republican legislators on the task force were the chairmen of the Alabama House and Senate Health committees.

Understanding the likely structure of expansion

Similar to Pennsylvania and Arkansas, which are also led by Republican governors, Gov. Bentley has suggested he would like to be able to funnel federal tax dollars through the state government and into private insurers. The private insurers would then use those taxpayer dollars to cover uninsured individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the same ultimate outcome as Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare. The political benefit is that by receiving a “waiver” from the Obama administration, Republican governors have been able to expand the program while selling it as something completely different. In Pennsylvania they call it the “Healthy PA” plan. In Arkansas it’s commonly referred to as the “private option.”

Conservative policy and advocacy groups have taken to calling such plans “Medicaid expansion by another name.”

Gov. Bentley has insisted he would only pursue such a plan as a “block grant” from the federal government. Block grants are federal funds granted to states that include more flexibility in how they are spent than traditional “categorical grants.”

“It would have to be in the private sector and there would have to be some requirements on it,” Bentley told reporters in December. One specific requirement he mentioned was that he’d like to see the system tied to employment. “(Recipients) need to be working on getting a job, or having a job.”

Other states that have tried to tie work requirements to Medicaid benefits have been denied. In rejecting such a proposal from Utah earlier this year, U.S. Health and Human Services Department spokesman Ben Wakana said, “encouraging work is a legitimate state objective. However, work initiatives are not the purpose of the Medicaid program and cannot be a condition of Medicaid eligibility.”

The bottom line is, the Obama administration will have to sign off on any plan Alabama pursues.

Bentley’s evolution on Medicaid expansion

Gov. Robert Bentley delivers the 2015 State of the State Address, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in the Old House Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Gov. Robert Bentley delivers the 2015 State of the State Address, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, in the Old House Chamber of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

Governor Bentley’s 2014 State of the State address was a passionate defense of the free market and refutation of government dependency.

In one particularly notable portion of the speech, the governor attempted to put Medicaid expansion rumors to rest once and for all. At the time, his Democratic opponent was accusing him of not being entirely forthcoming about his intensions.

The Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare and Medicaid expansion is taking our nation deeper into the abyss of debt, and threatens to dismantle what I believe is one of the most trusted relationships, that of doctors and their patient.

Essential to Obamacare is Medicaid expansion – a federal government dependency program for the uninsured, which is administered by states. Since 1980, Medicaid spending has increased nationally by over 1,500-percent.

Here in Alabama, Medicaid takes up 35% of our General Fund.

Under Obamacare, Medicaid would grow even larger… Here in Alabama alone, an estimated 300,000 more people would be added to the Medicaid role, to a system that by our own admission is absolutely broken and flawed.

The federal government has said they will give us money to expand. But how can we believe the federal government will keep its word? The anything but Affordable Care Act has done nothing to gain our trust.

First, they told us we could keep our doctor – that turned out not to be true. Next, they told us we could keep our policy – that’s not true. Then they told us our premiums would not go up – nothing could be further from the truth. Now they are telling us we’ll get free money to expand Medicaid.

Ladies and Gentlemen, nothing is free. The money the federal government is spending with wild abandon is not federal dollars – those are your dollars, your hard-earned tax dollars. There is no difference between federal money and your money.

Our great nation is 17.2 trillion dollars in debt and it increases by 2-billion dollars every single day.

That is why I cannot expand Medicaid in Alabama. We will not bring hundreds of thousands into a system that is broken and buckling.

But after securing re-election in November of last year, Gov. Bentley’s 2015 State of the State address took a sharply different tone.

A year removed from declaring he would “not bring hundreds of thousands into a (Medicaid) system that is broken and buckling,” Bentley insisted he would not allow the “flaws” of ObamaCare to keep the state from expanding taxpayer-funded healthcare for the “poorest and most vulnerable.” He also said some hospitals are “dependent on Medicaid to survive,” further signaling that an expansion of the program may be imminent.

Republicans in the Alabama Senate responded by passing a resolution urging the governor to not give in to expansion.

“The state should pursue reforms based on reducing Medicaid dependence, rather than increasing dependence,” the resolution stated. “Expansion of Medicaid would further strain the state General Fund, where Medicaid is already the largest line-item… We express our intention that the State of Alabama not expand Medicaid above its current eligibility levels.”

The resolution, which was sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) and co-sponsored by 20 other Republican senators, was passed on a vote of 22-8 along party lines.

“This resolution expresses my resolve to be fiscally responsible and protect taxpayer funds,” Sen. Pittman, who now chairs the General Fund Budget Committee, told Yellowhammer at the time. “Medicaid reform legislation has already been put in place, and we need to measure the outcome of those reforms before rashly expanding Medicaid. Right now, we simply can’t afford to expand Medicaid.”

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3 years ago

Liberal environmentalists’ favorite Alabama Republican is back

Former public service commissioner Terry Dunn (Photo: YouTube screenshot)
Former public service commissioner Terry Dunn (Photo: YouTube screenshot)
Former public service commissioner Terry Dunn (Photo: YouTube screenshot)

While college football games and presidential debates held our attention, Alabamians may have allowed a forgotten nemesis to slip back into our lives under the radar.

Just last year, Alabama voters threw Terry Dunn off of the Public Service Commission, the panel tasked with regulating the state’s public utilities and the front lines of the radical environmental movement’s assault on coal, farmers, economic growth and our general way of life.

The “firing offense” in voters’ eyes was, in short, Dunn’s cozy alliance with those environmental groups.

But even after conservative Republican Chip Beeker slaughtered Dunn at the ballot box 59 percent to 41 percent just last year, Dunn now claims he has received “an overwhelming response from the public to enter the race” for Public Service Commission President.

This race will undoubtedly be overshadowed by the presidential election, but it is important for Alabamians to understand that allowing the environmental movement to regain a toe-hold at the PSC could be every bit as damaging as allowing Hillary Clinton in the White House.

If you think that is hyperbolic, just look at what happened to our neighbors to the east when environmental groups seized an opportunity to take down the state’s coal industry.

Cameron Smith, who at the time was Policy Director for the conservative Alabama Policy Institute, explains:

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, funded by the liberal San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, stated that the [Georgia PSC] rate case was the correct forum to consider “coal unit retirements,” legalese for shutting down coal-powered energy production. Georgia Power ultimately had to close 15 coal- and oil-fired units, accounting for about 20% of the electrical capacity of its power grid.

Terry Dunn and a coalition of environmental groups advocated for the exact same formal legal proceedings in Alabama, but they were denied by the other two members of the PSC — including PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh, whom Dunn is now challenging. Conservative members of the PSC opted instead for a series of open public forums, during which all sides got to share their views, but no one could hijack the process to advance a nefarious agenda.

That has not stopped the environmentalists from trying, though.

Using data made publicly available by the far-left Energy Foundation, here’s a quick snapshot of how much money environmental groups participating in the Alabama PSC hearings received, and what the funds were earmarked for:

Alabama Arise: $50,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings “to advance clean energy policies in Alabama.”
Alabama Environmental Council (AEC): $107,000 “to increase capacity and stakeholder engagement on clean energy issues in Alabama,” including $62,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings.
Alabama Rivers Alliance: $40,000 matching grant during the Alabama PSC hearings “to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants in Alabama.”
Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Air Pollution (GASP): $70,000, including a $20,000 matching grant “to accelerate the retirement of coal-fired power plants in Alabama” and $50,000 “to increase capacity and support for clean air policies in Alabama.”
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE): $810,000 for a wide variety of climate-related issues in the southeast, including $60,000 during the Alabama PSC hearings “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants.”
Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC): $1.8 Million, including $60,000 during the PSC hearings “to accelerate retirement of coal-fired power plants in the Southeast.”

Unfortunately, they have had some success outside of the PSC.

In spite of spending roughly $3 billion to comply with federal environmental mandates, Alabama Power still had to close two of the state’s coal-fired units and transition two others from coal to natural gas. Several rounds of layoffs have also occurred at Walter Energy’s Alabama mines. And even if you don’t work in the energy industry, your power bill increased for the first time in years as a direct result of increased costs brought on by environmental regulations levied under the Obama Administration.

Every single Alabamian is impacted by what takes place at the Public Service Commission. Allowing Terry Dunn to once again be the environmentalists’ fox in the taxpayers’ hen house would be a disaster.

In his absence, the PSC has operated as a model of conservative governance.

While most agencies pleaded for “level funding” and legislators rung their hands over actually having to make cuts, the PSC voluntarily slashed its own budget by one-third, serving as a picture of fiscal responsibility at a time when Alabama’s electorate is searching for leaders who practice what they preach.

That’s why conservatives all over the state, including Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), lined up against Dunn in 2014. It’s time to take up the fight again.

RELATED:

For a quick primer on the recent history of the environmentalist movement, including their alliance with Terry Dunn, check out Yellowhammer TV’s News in 90 Seconds feature on “Alabama’s Enviro Invasion.”


1
3 years ago

ObamaCare premiums in Alabama set to rise again in 2016

ObamaCare Sticker ShockBIRMINGHAM, Ala. — ObamaCare premiums are set to rise again in Alabama. In 2016 the average premium price will increase by 12.6 percent, even after a 8.4 percent increase in 2015.

Plans procured through the health insurance marketplaces set up by ObamaCare are only available to those who do not receive insurance through their employer, Medicaid, or Medicare.

The rates, based on the lowest level “Silver Plan” will increase from $264 a month to $288 a month for a 30-year-old nonsmoker making $30,000 a year.

Tax credits to offset these higher premiums are available to those making between 100 percent and 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level FPL—between $11,670-$46,680 for an individual and between $23,850-$95,400 for a family of 4 in 2015.

The average subsidy would bring the costs down to $206 a month.

But for those either above or below the thresholds, for example a dual-income household with two children where both parents are employed with start-ups or small businesses that aren’t required to offer health insurance, those subsidies are not available.

In 2010 when ObamaCare passed using reconciliation without a single Republican vote, the supposed goal of the law was to expand coverage in order to lower premiums. Supporters likened the healthcare market to a game where more people needed to get off the bench and onto the field. They argued that to lower rates for all people, everyone needed to be forced into insurance against their will to participate in a market they will have to use eventually.

The forced participation manifested as the individual mandate which requires citizens to buy insurance coverage or pay an Individual Shared Responsibility Payment (ISRP). The ISRP was infamously upheld as constitutional in the 2012 case of NFIB v. Sebelius in which Chief Justice Roberts construed the ‘penalty’ to be a ‘tax’.

Proponents said that by increasing the overall pool, insurance companies could spread out the risk and lower prices. But five years later, there is little evidence of these aspirational goals coming into fruition.

According to Dr. John Hill with the Alabama Policy Institute, there are several reasons premiums haven’t become more affordable, as detailed in a report published by Yellowhammer in the aftermath of the King v. Burwell Supreme Court case this July.

One of the reasons Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has filed plans with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Alabama Department of Insurance to raise premiums an average of 28% for individual plans and 13.8% for small businesses in 2016 is because the number of doctor and hospital visits made by members last year–and the attendant costs for medicine and medical procedures–was much larger and more expensive than expected. Providers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield also have to continue paying ACA fees and taxes in 2016, at a cost of about $125 million per year. Because the ACA bans insurers from charging individuals on the basis of their health risks, everyone who currently pays into the system has to pay more to cover the elderly and the sick.

Dr. Hill also argues that the increasing premiums will make jobs that offer health insurance an even scarcer commodity.

As premium prices rise, full-time job openings with health benefits will become increasingly scarce. According to data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, as businesses hire fewer full-time employees and reduce the hours of hourly employees to avoid the expenses of providing health care, the pace of job creation in Alabama will slow by between 155 million and 207 million fewer job hours from 2017-2022. That’s almost $2 billion worth of paid work hours that Alabamians will lose because of the ACA.

Obama’s namesake health insurance law has already proven to be an albatross around the neck of Democratic presidential frontrunner, who, while saying she would fundamentally uphold the program, has said she would make significant changes to it.

Republican presidential candidates, however, almost universally agree the law would be “repealed and replaced” should they be elected to the nation’s highest office.


1
3 years ago

Laura Ingraham: ‘We need all Republicans to be like Jeff Sessions’

Laura Ingraham with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaking at a rally for Congressman Dave Brat (R-Va.)
Laura Ingraham with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaking at a rally for Congressman Dave Brat (R-Va.)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — During a speech at the Alabama Policy Institute’s annual dinner, conservative talk radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham unloaded on “establishment” Republicans and praised Alabama for being one of the “pockets of patriots” that she believes exist around the country. But she saved perhaps her highest praise for Alabama’s junior senator Jeff Sessions, who Ingraham held up as a model for what Republican lawmakers should aspire to be.

“We need like 57 Jeff Sessions (in the Senate),” Ingraham declared to enthusiastic applause. “We need all Republicans to be like Jeff Sessions. He ran unopposed by both Democrats and Republicans for a reason. He’s up there on the Senate floor tirelessly fighting against the big special interests, even against his entire Party leadership. They stripped him of his committee chairmanship — thanks, Mitch McConnell. And yet he remains one of the most beloved, popular, and admired men in conservative circles today for having the courage of his convictions.”

Ingraham warned the large crowd in the ballroom of the Cahaba Grand Conference Center that the GOP must move away from being the Party of “big business” and focus instead on supporting small businesses, families and the working class.

“I believe people like Jeff Sessions are going to be seen as visionaries who tried to warn the Republican Party against being branded as just the Party of big business,” she said. “Ronald Reagan understood that the Republican Party had to be the Party of America’s soul, and America’s wallet, and America’s defense. The soul of the people. Where are they? What kind of national family do we want? How do we support those families? How do we encourage them?”

Ingraham specifically criticized Republican leaders in Washington for backing multinational trade deals that she says are hurting American workers, most recently the Trans-Pacific Partnership, of which Sen. Sessions was a vocal opponent.

“Call me crazy, but I think Republicans should fight just as hard for the American family, for American values, for religious liberty, as they fight for some huge global trade deal whose rules are written in foreign countries by foreign trade representatives,” said Ingraham. “Do that and the people will start listening to you and they’ll start respecting you more.”

Ingraham’s remarks were well received by the large crowd of activists and businesspeople who were in attendance to support the Alabama Policy Institute’s mission of advancing “free markets, limited government and strong families.”

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