The Wire

  • Three takeaways from Alabama’s Runoff Election

    Excerpt:

    With Alabama’s primary election runoffs now in the books, here are three takeaways from the results.

    North Alabama has spoken.
    When this election cycle began, it became evident that north Alabama saw a window of opportunity to increase its influence.  The results from the Republican primary runoff have shown the electorate in that area of the state was eager to flex its muscle.

    Will Ainsworth pulled out an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Lt. Governor’s race. Steve Marshall enjoyed a resounding win in his bid to retain the Attorney General’s office.

  • On Roby’s win: One false media narrative dies, a new one is born

    Excerpt:

    Like Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts comic strip fame repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he lines up to kick it, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) once again has shown you can’t beat her in a Republican primary.

    Similar to when she defeated “Gather Your Armies” Rick Barber in the 2010 GOP primary and “Born Free American Woman” Becky Gerritson in the 2016 GOP primary, Roby defeated former Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright for a second time on Tuesday night, this time by a whopping 36 points.

    Heading into yesterday, many national media reporters were sent into Alabama’s second congressional district looking at the possibility that Roby might have to answer to a revolt for not sticking with then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on the infamous Billy Bush weekend during the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Mo Brooks Wins FreedomWorks’ Prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award

    Excerpt from a Rep. Mo Brooks news release:

    Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.

    Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

3 years ago

Gibson: Getting Ala. govt. out of liquor business would increase prices, consumption

Alcohol

If there were a type of “do no harm” Hippocratic Oath that Alabama lawmakers would swear to abide by, they wouldn’t have anything to do with proposed legislation which would weaken state control over the sale of liquor, ultimately leading to higher prices, as well as increased consumption with all its associated social ills.

The legislation, Senate Bill 115, sponsored by state Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would force the state to close its revenue-producing ABC liquor stores and terminate more than 600 employees. This would open the door for large, out-of-state corporations that have bankrolled similar measures to dismantle controls in other states to come in and profiteer off Alabamians. In 2011, for example, Costco spent $22 million to get Washington State out of – and Costco in – the liquor business.

Sen. Orr says his bill would save Alabama millions of dollars without raising taxes. That’s not what happened in other states (Washington, West Virginia and Iowa) which went down this road. And it is not what is likely to happen here should lawmakers take us along the same path.

An analysis of the Orr bill conducted by respected Auburn University at Montgomery economist Dr. Keivan Deravi points out the change would save the state little to no money. In fact, according to the Deravi study, selling off state stores to profit-driven retailers would hurt the pocketbooks of responsible consumers and saddle Alabamians with increased social costs, including more underage drinking and drunk-driving deaths.

So, who does this bill really benefit? Based on the experiences of other states and the evidence in the Deravi report, it’s certainly not the state, nor the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

Here are some of the highlights of the Deravi report, which we commissioned last year to determine the fiscal and social effects of such legislation after Orr introduced a similar bill:

Despite Orr’s initial claim that closing ABC stores would save the state $46 million a year (a figure he has since lowered to $15 million to $20 million), the most likely saving is between $4 million and $6 million. (Even that, though, is before the costs of severing up to 600 ABC store employees and distribution are considered.) Depending on the number of private package stores that survive the shakeup, it is possible the state won’t realize any financial gain, Deravi states.
Liquor prices would go up, an “implicit tax increase” on responsible consumers, as Deravi terms it.
Increased availability (longer hours and more stores open on Sundays) would lead to increased consumption, especially among underage and problem drinkers.
The increased social costs associated with increased consumption, such as drunk driving, addiction and underage drinking, would be borne by state residents, not the retailers who profit from it.
Hundreds of jobs, and the beneficial economic impact of those jobs, would be eliminated. Some of those laid off would end up on state unemployment.
The ABC Board would go from a self-supporting agency to one dependent on funding from an anemic state General Fund. That could affect the agency’s ability to enforce the state alcohol laws and protect public safety.

None of those outcomes can be described as good for Alabama. They hurt responsible consumers. They endanger public health and safety. And they are detrimental to state budgets.

Alabama is known in the alcohol industry as a “control state.” This means the state, through the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, controls the sale of alcohol through licensing and the operation of wholesale distribution and retail stores. Since the end of Prohibition in the 1930s, the control system has proven to be the most beneficial – both in terms of revenue for the state and in limiting the social harms of alcohol.

In general, control states like Alabama report lower consumption and higher revenue from the sale of alcohol. That’s a win-win.

Through its efficient operation, the ABC Board provides more than $200 million each year to state and local governments, with money flowing to the General Fund, Department of Human Resources, Department of Mental Health, education, and cities and counties. In fact, since 1937, the ABC Board has sent more than $6 billion to Alabama’s governments and agencies.

Control is clearly working for Alabama. Why change it? Indeed, why, when our state desperately needs stable, dependable revenue sources and Alabamians working and paying taxes, would we take this risk?

Most Alabama legislators may not be physicians. But they can at least avoid doing harm by rejecting a bill that would hurt both the state budget and the public health.


H. Mac Gipson is administrator of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which controls alcoholic beverages in the state through distribution, licensing, enforcement and education. He can be reached at mac (dot) gipson (at) abc (dot) alabama (dot) gov.

1
3 years ago

Alabama lawmaker wants to get the state out of the retail liquor business

YH Alabama liquor ABC
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Since Prohibition was lifted in the 1930s, the State of Alabama has been a “Control State”, meaning the state directly controls the sale and regulation of alcohol. Currently liquor is still sold by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) in 176 state-operated locations, though private retailers are allowed to sell, as well. One Alabama lawmaker thinks it is high time to get the state out of the retail liquor business.

Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) is sponsoring a bill this session that would get the ABC out of retail sales, but keep them in wholesale.

Here’s how liquor sales work in Alabama right now:

There is a $18.23 per gallon excise or “sin tax” on liquor that is applied to what is bought from the distillery at wholesale prices. In Alabama, only the ABC is allowed to buy from distilleries.

Then, the ABC puts another 30% markup on liquor to be sold in ABC-run retail stores or in privately-owned retail stores. Private store owners can receive a 10% discount if they buy by the case, but if they buy individual bottles—as is more common for restaurants and bars—this means that a consumer pays the same price for a bottle of alcohol from an ABC store that an owner of a private liquor store will pay for that bottle.

The owner of the private store will then need to include his own markup to cover any overhead of running the store and making a profit.

Since the ABC is not allowed to own any of its own buildings, every ABC store location is leased from a private owner. The bill, SB115, would decrease the ABC’s expenses in leasing store space as well as the cost of providing salary and state benefits to the approximately 600 ABC employees.

Senator Orr told the Times Daily in Florence that he believes the change would save the state $15 million a year, but the ABC says those savings probably wouldn’t materialize, and other Yellowhammer sources familiar with the bill say it could actually increase prices for consumers.

“Sen. Orr, in his bill, contends that the revenue to the state will remain the same, that it will actually go up because he will be divesting 600 employees,” government relations and communications manager for ABC, Dean Argo said. “Our position is that you can’t save something you’re not spending. The state can’t save those 600 employees and benefits because the state’s not spending it. It’s coming from revenue generated from sales.”

ABC revenues go to the General Fund budget, paying into programs like mental health, law enforcement, and the Department of Human Resources. In fiscal year 2013, the ABC disbursed $202 million in revenue to state and local governments.

Proponents of the bill, which has garnered two co-sponsors in the Senate this year, say that getting the state out of the liquor business only makes sense.

“We don’t need to be in the retail business in alcohol,” said Senator Tim Melson (R-Florence), a co-sponsor of the bill. “I don’t think we should be competing with private industry.”

Opponents say the bill, as it’s written, would increase prices for consumers and drive Alabamians to buy more liquor in neighboring states, where it is significantly cheaper.

A very similar bill was introduced in the 2014 legislative session, but was never even heard by a committee. This year, the presence of two co-sponsors and the concern of the shortfall in the general fund’s budget suggests the bill may have a better chance of making it to the Senate floor.

Where do you stand? Should Alabama get rid of state-run stores, even if it increases prices? Would you be more or less likely to support the bill if it decreased the price of alcohol in Alabama?

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

(H/T The Times Daily)


1
3 years ago

(QUIZ) Alabama students may soon have to pass civics test to graduate, but could you?

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States
Alabama State Senators Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Tripp Pitman (R-Montrose) are introducing a bill that would require Alabama high school students to pass the US citizenship civics test in order to graduate.

The test would be comprised of the same 100 questions on US civics as the naturalization test administered to new US citizens. Though new citizens only have to answer 10 of those questions, the bill would require students to answer all 100.

“I think it is only fair that all students are required to know the same basic information about their country as those who immigrate to the United States in order to pursue the American dream,” Orr said in a statement last week.

Students would be required to earn a score of at least 60/100, but would be given as many chances as they needed to pass.

“It is essential for citizens of a Republic to be literate in civics in order to comprehend the process and consequences of government action,” Pittman said in the release.

Arizona recently passed a similar law, and lawmakers in at least 11 other states have proposed similar legislation.

The questions are what most would consider Civics 101, but can Yellowhammer readers pass the test?


1
3 years ago

Top 20 potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates

Potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates
Potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates
Potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates

The 2016 presidential race will be the next big battle on the national political scene, but Alabama’s 2018 gubernatorial contest looms just over the horizon.

Here is Yellowhammer’s way-too-early list of potential 2018 contenders, presented in alphabetical order.

Tommy Battle

The Huntsville mayor has made it abundantly clear that he’s interested in the big job. Battle openly said in 2013 he was considering challenging Bentley. He ultimately decided to pass, but not before testing the fundraising waters by forming a political action committee called “Moving Alabama Forward.”

Strength: People in North Alabama know who he is.
Weakness: No one outside of North Alabama has a clue who he is, and he’s a Democrat, whether he runs as one or not.

Scott Beason

The tea party firebrand most well known for sponsoring Alabama’s toughest-in-the-nation immigration law decided last year to leave the legislature after two terms in the house and two more in the senate, but he’s indicated he plans to stay engaged in the political debate.

“There are three primary issues I’m going to be focusing on: gun rights, school choice and energy,” Beason told Yellowhammer in a recent interview announcing he’s hitting the statewide speaking circuit.

After coming up short twice attempting to run for Congress, the question is whether Beason’s brand of conservatism can translate outside of his Gardendale legislative district.

Strength: Unquestioned conservative street cred.
Weakness: Has not shown an ability to raise the money needed to be a viable statewide candidate.

Slade Blackwell

The Mountain Brook state senator stayed mostly below the radar during his first term in the legislature, but recently made waves by being one of the first lawmakers to openly criticize Gov. Bentley for floating the idea of raising taxes.

Strength: Successful businessman from a wealthy family with a proven ability to raise big bucks. Money won’t be a problem.
Weakness: Low name recognition and uncertainty about how his Over the Mountain appeal will translate in rural areas.

Jo Bonner

The former south Alabama congressman is now running the University of Alabama System’s governmental affairs operation, but those close to him say he may not be done scratching his political itch. He decided not to run for governor in 2010, and after watching Bentley come out of nowhere, he may now regret it. Bonner has become a regular on the rotary and chamber of commerce speaking circuit.

Strength: His skills as a retail politician are borderline legendary, even Clinton-esque.
Weakness: By 2018, he will have been out of office and out of the minds of voters for over five years.

Young Boozer

The low-key, but well-liked state treasurer has the best accidental rapper’s name in Alabama political history. He raised some eyebrows at this year’s inauguration festivities by rattling off the names of all 67 Alabama counties in alphabetical order — by memory.

Strength: His name is unforgettable and he could self-finance his campaign.
Weakness: May have trouble connecting to average voters.

Will Brooke

The wildly successful Harbert executive ran a spirited but ultimately ill-fated campaign for Congress last year, and those close to him say the loss was particularly difficult because Brooke isn’t accustomed to losing at, well, anything. Don’t be surprised if the former Business Council of Alabama chairman returns for a statewide run in 2018.

Strength: Money, money, money.
Weakness: Congressional campaign was dogged by personal donations he made to Democrats in the past. That will be an issue in any GOP primary.

Rick Burgess

Burgess of Rick & Bubba fame has built an unparalleled level of trust with his army of loyal listeners over the years. He got more politically active in 2014 and was undefeated in the handful of races in which he made an endorsement. Most notably, Burgess is widely credited with playing a major role in Gary Palmer’s unexpected congressional victory. He hasn’t publicly indicated an interest in running for office, but has been a vocal advocate for Christians stepping up and getting more involved.

Strength: Huge trust among evangelicals, which make up a major chunk of Alabama voters.
Weakness: Completely unknown quantity as a candidate.

Bradley Byrne

The south Alabama congressman made a name for himself on the state level as the teachers’ union’s public enemy number one. It might have cost him the governorship, considering the AEA spent big in 2010 to take him out and usher Bentley in. He’s quickly proven himself to be an able lawmaker in D.C., and with recent revelations that Bentley plans to propose tax hikes, Byrne’s probably sitting down in south Alabama thinking, “I told you so.”

Strength: Been there, done that.
Weakness: There may be some lingering effects after he was massacred by negative ads in 2010.

David Carrington

The Jefferson County Commissioner and former Commission chairman would likely make the case to voters that he led Alabama’s most populous county out of bankruptcy and onto more stable financial footing.

Strength: Likable guy with a compelling personal, business and political story.
Weakness: It’s a long, long way from the Jefferson County Courthouse to the governor’s mansion.

Mike Hubbard

The State House Speaker has arguably been the most powerful politician in the state over the past four years, but recent legal troubles have at least temporarily sidetracked what was an almost certain 2018 gubernatorial run. If he beats the charges, he’ll be stronger than ever in Montgomery. If not, ballgame.

Strength: Unmatched ability to raise money.
Weakness: Even if he beats the charges against him, it’s too early to tell how the flow of negative press will effect him in in 2018.

Walt Maddox

Democrats’ bench is so shallow that Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, is about the only potential statewide candidate that regularly comes up in conversations about 2018.

Strength: By 2018 he’ll be a four-term mayor of Alabama’s fifth largest city.
Weakness: He’d have a “D” beside his name.

Del Marsh

The unquestioned leader of the Alabama Senate made the most daring state house maneuver in recent memory by pushing through Alabama’s first school choice bill in 2013. Since then he’s grown the Republican majority in the senate to an unprecedented level. He’s now arguably the state’s most powerful lawmaker. Those close to him say this is almost certainly his last term in the senate. The question is, does he want to exit the political scene, or just move on to a new challenge in the executive branch?

Strength: Staunchly anti-tax and can raise big bucks out of the business community.
Weakness: Lack of name recognition in the southern part of the state.

Roy Moore

Moore’s back on the national scene, getting name-dropped by the president, attacked by liberals and cheered on by social conservatives. He surprised a lot of political prognosticators by winning his current job without a runoff, but previous runs for governor suggest he may be bumping up against his ceiling in his role as Chief Justice.

Strength: Name recognition and intense support among the state’s most ardent social conservatives.
Weakness: Extremely polarizing, even among Republicans.

John Merrill

No one who’s spent more than five minutes with Alabama’s new secretary of state would deny that he is probably the most ambitious politician in the state. He recently tried to get out ahead of a quasi-sex scandal that has been rumored for months. The story hasn’t gained much traction outside of Montgomery, but would get a lot more scrutiny if he tries to climb up the next rung of the political ladder.

Strength: Relentless campaigner. He put hundreds of thousands of miles on his car in 2014.
Weakness: Personal integrity questions will be tough to shake with Alabama’s wide swath of values voters.

Arthur Orr

It looks like the Alabama Senate General Fund Budget Chairman is more likely to move up to Senate President Pro Tem than run statewide, but if he did take a crack at governor, he’d be able to raise a lot of money out of north Alabama.

Strength: Savvy political operator with serious governing experience.
Weakness: Totally unknown by most people outside of his Decatur-area state senate district.

Trip Pittman

The Senate Education Budget Chairman is a larger-than-life presence, both physically and as a political operator in the senate. He considered not running for re-election in 2014 so he could spend more time running his business, so it’s a reasonable bet that by 2018 he’ll be ready to move up or get out.

Strength: Libertarian streak (he was a Ron Paul delegate) would make him somewhat unique in the potential field.
Weakness: His refusal to take PAC money would make it more difficult to round up the cash needed for a statewide run.

Rob Riley

The Birmingham trial lawyer has taken a pass on every potential run for office since his dad left the governor’s mansion in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested. He remains a player behind the scenes, and would immediately have the name recognition and network to be a contender.

Strength: Network of donors remains intact thanks to the Rileys’ continued involvement in legislative races even after the governor left office.
Weakness: Having a former governor for a dad comes with both advantages and baggage.

Martha Roby

In a crowded 2018 primary full of men, simply being a credible female candidate would instantly give Roby a big leg up, maybe even securing her place in an almost guaranteed runoff. It is unclear at this point if she’d be willing to give up her safe seat in congress to take a shot at governor, but she hasn’t actively shot down rumors that she’s considered it.

Strength: The only credible female candidate whose name frequently comes up in conversations about 2018.
Weakness: Lacks name recognition and fundraising ability outside of the 2nd Congressional District.

Sandy Stimpson

Mobile’s popular mayor ran an impressive campaign in 2013, culminating with an improbable victory over a two-term incumbent. Stimpson’s been a staple in the Alabama political scene for years, sitting on a number of influential boards. He’s frequently said he is focused on Mobile and has no desire to run for higher office, but if he changed his mind, he’d have the money to be a contender.

Strength: Serious personal wealth, unrivaled network in the business community.
Weakness: Totally unknown to voters outside of Mobile.

Luther Strange

It has long been assumed that Strange would run for U.S. Senate someday, but with Sessions in office until at least 2020 and Shelby running for another six-year term in 2016, he will have to either head to the sidelines for a couple of years or take a shot at governor.

Strength: The most statewide name recognition right out of the gate.
Weakness: The way his office has handled recent investigations has significantly damaged him with key members of the business community and major donors, and there has been some grumbling in the grassroots that he hasn’t been active enough in the gay marriage fight. It’s too early to tell if those issues will linger until 2018.


1
3 years ago

Gov. Bentley: ‘For the next four years we are going to raise taxes’

Gov. Robert Bentley addresses more than 1,200 farmers at the opening session of the Alabama Farmers Federation's 93rd annual meeting Dec. 7 at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: Contributed)
Gov. Robert Bentley addresses more than 1,200 farmers at the opening session of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 93rd annual meeting Dec. 7 at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: Contributed)

BIRMINGHAM — “We are going to raise taxes,” Governor Robert Bentley told the audience at the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) conference Friday.

After months of floating hints of his plan to raise taxes to patch the $700 million hole in the state’s general fund budget, Gov. Bentley quit dancing around the issue and told PARCA conference attendees what “raising revenue” really means.

“After four years of saying we’re not raising taxes, and we have not, I’m telling you, for the next four years we are going to raise taxes,” Gov. Bentley said.

Bentley openly advocating for tax hikes is a relatively new development—he was elected twice on a platform of unreservedly opposing tax increases.

During a 2010 gubernatorial campaign debate, then-State Rep. Bentley unequivocally said “I am not for raising taxes,” citing tax hikes’ negative impact on businesses. “When you hurt businesses and you tax businesses, you’re going to lose jobs and we need to be creating jobs,” he said. He went a step further and signed Americans for Tax Reform’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” committing himself in writing to opposing all tax increases. During his most recent campaign, Gov. Bentley’s re-election ads also prominently displayed the words “No New Taxes.”

In December, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), the country’s leading anti-tax group, criticized Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley for proposing the elimination of certain state income tax deductions as a solution for the state’s budget woes.

“Enacting legislation that burdens taxpayers with higher taxes and fees to fuel exorbitant state spending, goes against his written promise to the people of Alabama to ‘oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes,’” the group wrote on its website.

Bentley also told PARCA conference attendees Friday he was considering “all options,” including closing loopholes and even creating entirely new taxes.

In a plan that sounds eerily like one from President Obama’s recently proposed—and almost certainly doomed—budget, Bentley spoke of taxing corporations outside the state.

“I want taxes to be fair,” he said. “I don’t want to raise them on people if there are giant corporations outside the state not paying them.”

“We’re not in the same boat, but we’re going down the same stream,” Bentley said of the lawmakers with whom he will have to deal and compromise to pass a budget during the upcoming legislative session.

Convincing the Alabama State Legislature, the body tasked with passing and implementing the state’s appropriations is going to be a tough sell. Many legislators, including those in leadership in both houses, ran on a “no new taxes” pledge.

State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the leader of the Alabama Senate, has been adamant in his opposition to tax increases.

“I’m not going to support any tax increase,” he said. “I look at this as a further opportunity to right-size government.”

“There’s a lot that needs to be done before you talk about raising taxes on working families,” State Senator and chairman of the General Fund Budget Committee Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) added to the Decatur Daily.

The Governor said specifics of his proposal might be ready next week.

The Alabama State Legislature will convene for the 2015 session on March 3rd, and will have 30 legislative days, spread out over about three months, to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

(H/T The Decatur Daily)


1
3 years ago

Bentley won’t expand gambling to address budget shortfall

Gov. Bentley signing bills in his office (Photo: Office of the Governor)
Gov. Bentley signing bills in his office (Photo: Office of the Governor)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Ala.) alarmed many conservatives this week by openly floating tax raises as a way to close the gap in the state’s general fund budget.

Now the Governor is taking a proposed tool for revenue generation out of the discussion.

“The only thing that is not on the table is gambling, we’re not proposing gambling as a solution to this problem,” the Governor told reporters Wednesday.

Bentley is personally opposed to gambling, but during the 2014 campaign, the Governor mentioned a possible compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians or a state lottery—a favorite of his gubernatorial opponent Parker Griffith—as ways to shore up state funds. A state lottery would need to be approved by voters via a constitutional amendment.

The Alabama State Legislature is set to convene on March 3rd and the Governor is expected to deliver his proposed budget the following day.

Legislators agree with Gov. Bentley on the need to patch the hole in the General Fund, but vehemently disagree on how.

“I’m not going to support any tax increase,” said state Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the leader of the Alabama Senate. “I look at this as a further opportunity to right-size government.”

“There’s a lot that needs to be done before you talk about raising taxes on working families,” State Senator and chairman of the General Fund Budget Committee Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told the Decatur Daily.

While Gov. Bentley can propose a budget, and the tax increases to pay for it, the Alabama Legislature is the body tasked with passing and implementing any appropriations.

Whatever proposal the Governor ultimately sends across the street to the Legislature for consideration, it sounds like it won’t include gambling.


1
3 years ago

Bentley teases ‘bold’ tax hike proposal

Gov. Robert Bentley addresses more than 1,200 farmers at the opening session of the Alabama Farmers Federation's 93rd annual meeting Dec. 7 at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: Contributed)
Gov. Robert Bentley addresses more than 1,200 farmers at the opening session of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s 93rd annual meeting Dec. 7 at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre. (Photo: Contributed)

MOBILE, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told a group of state legislators and Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce members Monday that he is pursuing “bold” options to raise taxes in the coming year.

The governor estimates a $700 million shortfall in the state’s General Fund for the coming fiscal year—approximately $250 million required to balance the General Fund, and an additional $450 million needed to repay various rainy day funds the state has tapped in recent years.

To patch the hole, Gov. Bentley told reporters Monday he plans to propose dropping some tax deductions and “unequally paid taxes,” but conceded that his proposal will be a tax increase. “If we don’t fix the budget this time,” he said, “the changes to fix it in the long term are pretty slim.”

Bentley openly advocating for tax hikes is a relatively new development — he was elected twice on a platform of unreservedly opposing tax increases.

During a 2010 gubernatorial campaign debate, then-State Rep. Bentley unequivocally said “I am not for raising taxes,” citing tax hikes’ negative impact on businesses. “When you hurt businesses and you tax businesses, you’re going to lose jobs and we need to be creating jobs,” he said. He went a step further and signed Americans for Tax Reform’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” committing himself in writing to opposing all tax increases. During his most recent campaign, Gov. Bentley’s re-election ads also prominently displayed the words “No New Taxes.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Bentley told Yellowhammer Alabama’s economic success under his leadership has pulled the state out of the recession, and he now believes the economy can handle what he’s preparing to propose.

“Alabama has dramatically improved from the recession that crippled our state a few years ago,” said Jennifer Ardis, the governor’s communications director. “The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in six years, and we have continually seen salary and wage employment increase. On top of that, the Governor has recruited more than 63,000 new and future jobs for Alabama. He recognizes that there is still work to be done, but we are in a much better place today than after the recession hit.”

State Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) told AL.com Monday she is “very excited” about the prospect of tax reform, but “shocked” to see hear the governor’s proposal. “He doesn’t like to use the word taxes,” she noted.

Although Bentley has been open about his desire to raise taxes since winning re-election, details on his plan are still murky. Across the street from the Capitol, Republican legislative leaders — many of whom also ran on the promise of not raising taxes — are anxiously awaiting his proposal.

State Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the leader of the Alabama Senate, has been adamant in his opposition to tax increases.

“I’m not going to support any tax increase,” he said. “I look at this as a further opportunity to right-size government.”

“There’s a lot that needs to be done before you talk about raising taxes on working families,” State Senator and chairman of the General Fund Budget Committee Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) added to the Decatur Daily.

While Gov. Bentley can propose a budget, and the tax increases to pay for it, the Alabama Legislature is the body tasked with passing and implementing any appropriations.

Realizing that some of his proposals may be a tough sell to an increasingly conservative Legislature, Bentley has his sales pitch ready.

“I (helped) some of our Republicans win and I am counting on them to remember that and help me do those things we need to do to address the problems we need to address,” he said.

The legislature convenes for the 2015 session on March 3rd and will have 30 legislative days to come to an agreement on the budget.

Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted State Sen. Figures.


1
4 years ago

Alabama has more food stamp recipients than public school students

EBT

The federal food stamp program in Alabama (officially knows as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) has almost 20 percent more enrollees than Alabama’s K-12 public school system, according to an analysis of both programs.

In 2014, Alabama’s monthly average SNAP enrollment was 902,073 and its estimated K-12 enrollment was 734,300, meaning there were 18.6 percent more people enrolled in food stamps than in Alabama’s public schools.

The correlation between the two programs is not necessarily meaningful, other than to illustrate that any state having to give more food assistance to adults — justifiably or not — than education assistance to children should perhaps at least consider the reasons why.

Alabama is actually one of 27 states around the country in which the number of SNAP enrollees outpaces public school enrollment, and nationally the number of enrollees for the two programs is roughly the same.

Unsurprisingly, “States with higher poverty rates tend to have higher ratios of SNAP-to-schoolkids,” writes the Washington Post’s Philip Bump.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between the years of 2009 and 2013, an average of 18.6 percent of Alabama’s roughly 4.8 million population was living below the poverty line. That makes Alabama the sixth poorest state in the nation per capita over that time period.

But while there are undoubtedly many Alabamians in need who are helped by the SNAP program, fraud and abuse have also been found to be widespread.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources issues more than $109 million in benefits every year, and recovered $4.5 million dollars in food stamp fraud in 2013 alone.

In an effort to cut down on fraud an abuse, the Alabama Legislature in 2014 pushed through a package of bills that drastically reformed the state’s taxpayer-funded public assistance programs.

The four-bill package included measures to increase penalties for fraud; require welfare applicants to submit job applications before receiving benefits; prohibit spending of welfare benefits on liquor, tobacco, casinos and strip clubs; and allow for drug testing of welfare applicants who’ve had a drug conviction within the past five years.

“It is a serious exploitation of a well-intended program, and quite frankly a slap in the face to taxpayers, for these public dollars to be used in such a way that is 180 degrees opposite of the program’s intent,” said State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who sponsored the welfare reform package. “This kind of abuse shows a complete disregard for those who are genuinely in need.”


1
4 years ago

Republican lawmakers squirm as Bentley keeps floating tax hike

Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)
Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — “We’re going to be raising revenue,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said late last week. “Our goal is to raise revenue. We have to raise some revenue.”

The governor and legislative leaders have in recent weeks been laboring over what to do about an estimated $260 million hole in the state’s General Fund Budget.

In recent years, the state has relied on one-time fixes in the form of cash from the federal government or loans from various rainy day funds to prop up the state’s operations. In the mean time, Republicans have cut over $1 billion a year from the budgets.

Legislative leaders say they hope to do more.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done before you talk about raising taxes on working families,” State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told the Decatur Daily. Orr Chairs the General Fund Budget Committee in the Senate, making him a leading player in the search for a longterm budget solution.

At the top of the list of priorities for Republicans in the Legislature is more consolidation and streamlining of state government agencies.

“I’m not going to support any tax increase,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said earlier this year. “I look at this as a further opportunity to right-size government.”

Marsh has led an effort to reduce the size of state government through attrition. The state’s workforce has been slashed by 11 percent since 2011. Marsh believes there may be ways to cut it by 9 percent more.

Bentley praises the combined efforts of the Administration and Legislature to scale back the size of the state bureaucracy.

“For the last four years, we have really worked hard to streamline government,” he said in a recent radio interview. “We have made it more efficient. We have saved $1.2 billion annually… and we have actually cut the size of government by twelve-and-a-half percent. There’s no state in the country that has cut their government… like we have. And no one has saved that amount of money — percentage-wise — of their budget.”

But while most legislative leaders have shown an intense aversion to raising taxes, Gov. Bentley — who once signed a pledge to Alabama voters promising he would never raise their taxes — has tossed aside his campaign rhetoric and openly pushed for tax hikes since winning re-election.

Most notably, Bentley floated the idea of revoking Alabamians’ ability to deduct the amount they pay in federal income taxes from their state income taxes, as well as eliminating the deduction for FICA payments — the 7.65 percent from employees’ paychecks that goes toward Social Security and Medicare.

That idea was met with a firm “no” from House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who said that eliminating the federal income tax deduction “would basically require individuals to pay state taxes on their federal taxes, which is money they never even received.”

House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur) also said he would be “standing firm” against any tax hike proposals.

Lawmakers are particular concerned about being asked to raise taxes in 2015 after having just declared 2014 the “Year of Taxpayer Relief.”

With bills such as the Small Business Tax Relief Act, the Business Tax Streamlining Act, the Tax Elimination Act and the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, 67 percent of the bills on the 2014 Alabama House agenda were either a tax credit, a tax cut or an attempt to otherwise ease the tax burden on individuals and small businesses.

Republican’s opposition to tax hikes was most evident after a recent speech Bentley delivered during the legislature’s new member orientation.

Bentley urged legislators to follow his lead, noting that he would not have to face re-election again. “Don’t cower away from the difficult things we’ve got to face,” he said.

Lawmakers expressed optimism that the moment to find a longterm solution to the state’s budget woes may have finally come, but were dismayed at the prospect of raising taxes because they, unlike Bentley, will have to face the voters again in four years.

“I think there’s an appetite to do something bold and even some excitement about what’s going to be proposed,” one Republican operative told Yellowhammer. “But a lot of the members (of the Legislature) don’t think raising taxes is bold. They think it’s political suicide and compromising their principles.”

The governor says he will begin talking more specifically about his proposal in January. The Legislature will convene for the 2015 session in March.


RELATED COVERAGE:
1. GOP lawmaker says if Bentley wants to be ‘courageous,’ he should lead massive budget reform
2. Norquist: There’s no ‘wiggle room’ in Bentley’s pledge not to raise taxes
3. Bentley concedes eliminating deductions is a tax hike, discusses asking Obama for Medicaid waiver
4. Alabama Rep: Abolish state income tax, move to consumption tax — ‘It’s the only tax illegals pay’
5. Americans for Tax Reform hits Bentley for trying to ‘raise taxes on Alabama families’
6. Sims: Bentley’s claim that eliminating deductions isn’t a tax hike is ‘absurd’


1
4 years ago

Alabama Rep: Abolish state income tax, move to consumption tax — ‘It’s the only tax illegals pay’

Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)
Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)

ENTERPRISE, Ala. — Alabama State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) on Sunday added his opinions to the growing debate over what the state should do to address the shortfall in its General Fund Budget, which Senate General Fund Budget Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) predicts could be in the neighborhood of $260 million.

But unlike Gov. Bentley, who has suggested revoking some of the tax deductions Alabamians currently enjoy in an effort to bring in more revenue, Moore said he’d prefer doing away with the state income tax all together and moving entirely to a consumption tax.

Many conservatives have long advocated for a consumption tax, even on the federal level. The Fair Tax is the most widely known proposal. It would “replace all federal income taxes, payroll taxes, gift taxes, and estate taxes with a single broad national consumption tax” on new goods and services.

A host of free market economists have predicted that moving to a consumption tax would significantly boost economic growth. But in a tweet on Sunday, Moore pointed out another benefit many conservatives see in the consumption tax as it relates to one of the hottest debates currently raging at the national level, illegal immigration.

“Instead of illegal immigrants just getting a free ride, we could at least collect from them when they buy goods and services,” Moore said. “Right now, they’re driving on roads and taking advantage of government services and Alabama taxpayers are the ones who have to foot the bill.”

But Moore also sees added benefits for Alabama families.

“Alabamians would get to bring home more of their paychecks, since the state would no longer be withholding income taxes,” he said. “That gives middle class families more control over their budget.”

He does acknowledge, however, that there would be some challenges to crafting a system that could work for Alabama.

“We would have to look at big ticket items and adjust accordingly to keep consumers from going across state lines to buy them,” he said by way of example. “I know it would take a great deal of work, but it would not penalize working families the way the tax system does now. And I think it could ultimately be part of a larger solution to our General Fund Budget problems, as well.”

In Moore’s tweet, he also became the second legislator in as many weeks to advocate for combining Alabama’s budgets.


RELATED: GOP lawmaker says if Bentley wants to be ‘courageous,’ he should lead massive budget reform


Alabama is one of only three states in the country that operates out of two separate budgets — the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which funds the state’s education system, and the General Fund (GF) that funds everything else. As a result of the control the Alabama Education Association (AEA) had over Alabama’s state government for decades, the vast majority of the growth taxes are funneled into the ETF, often leaving the GF incapable of meeting its obligations.

Since combining the budgets would amend the Alabama Constitution, it would require a vote of the people, in addition to a bill passed by the Legislature. It would be a politically difficult move that would likely require the full-throated support of Gov. Bentley to pull off.

“The Governor has always supported the idea of combining the state budgets,” said Jennifer Ardis, Bentley’s communications director. But the Administration has not yet gotten into the specifics of the governor’s highly anticipated budget proposal.

Yellowhammer spoke to House Educated Budget Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) on Sunday about the possibility of combining the budgets. Poole said that it could potentially be helpful, but only in the context of a much larger overhaul of the state’s current budget structure.

“I would only support merging the budgets as part of a comprehensive structural budget reform,” Poole said. “Siphoning off education dollars in order to prop up prisons and Medicaid in a vacuum doesn’t address any of the problems, but rather perpetuates the problem.”

In order for a push to combine the budgets to garner widespread support among legislative leaders, it would probably have to piggy-back on other major reforms. Potential ideas could including further government cuts; readdressing tax credits that create marketplace advantages; getting a better handle on the growing costs of Medicaid and prisons; and — perhaps most notably — un-earmarking.

88 percent of Alabama’s tax revenue is earmarked. That’s by far the highest percentage of any state in the country, and it leaves very little flexibility for lawmakers to increase government efficiency or to move money around to patch holes.

There will be many different ideas floated by lawmakers over the next several months before the 2015 legislation sessions begins in March. The Governor is expected to be the first out of the gate with a concrete proposal. But judging by the recent comments from Republican legislators, they’re hoping Bentley produces something bold that addresses the structural issues with the state’s budgets without sacrificing conservative principles.


1
4 years ago

GOP lawmaker says if Bentley wants to be ‘courageous,’ he should lead massive budget reform

Gov. Bentley signing bills in his office (Photo: Office of the Governor)
Gov. Bentley signing bills in his office (Photo: Office of the Governor)

Gov. Robert Bentley issued a bold challenge to Alabama legislators on Thursday: “Don’t cower away from the difficult things we’ve got to face.”

Bentley, discussing the state’s undeniably dire General Fund Budget crisis, said lawmakers could either continue kicking the can down the road by patching the deficits with one-time fixes, or they could take on the daunting challenge of reforming the system for the long haul.

According to Senate General Fund Budget Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the General Fund is facing a shortfall of roughly $260 million in the next fiscal year.

Bentley said he believes the state needs more revenue. He has not made an official proposal, but has floated a variety of ideas ranging from expanding gambling to raising taxes by eliminating deductions.

But one Republican lawmaker on Thursday told Yellowhammer he’d like to see the governor take the bold step of leading the wholesale reform of Alabama’s budgets, solving some of the state’s most pressing and recurring problems once and for all.

“Gov Bentley today told the legislature, ‘Don’t cower from the difficult things we’ve got to face.’ Significant changes ‘have to be done this year,'” Said Rep. Ed Henry, a Republican from Hartselle who was just elected to his second term in the House. “The question is, what significant changes is he planning? If Gov. Bentley really wants do something courageous, he should use his political capital to combine Alabama’s budgets and solve our budgeting problems for the longterm.”

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle)
Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle)

Alabama is one of only three states in the country that operates out of two separate budgets — the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which funds the state’s education system, and the General Fund (GF) that funds everything else. As a result of the control the Alabama Education Association (AEA) had over Alabama’s state government for decades, the vast majority of the growth taxes are funneled into the ETF, often leaving the GF incapable of meeting its obligations.

Making matters worse, 88 percent of Alabama’s tax revenue is earmarked. That’s by far the highest percentage of any state in the country, and it leaves very little flexibility for lawmakers to increase government efficiency or to move money around to patch holes.

Henry’s idea of combining Alabama’s budgets is not a new one. However, in spite of the vast majority of Republican legislators agreeing that it would do the most to solve Alabama’s budgeting woes, it has not gotten significant consideration. The reason is that it requires more than just the legislature passing a bill and the governor signing it, it would also require voters approving a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot.

A ballot initiative like that would prompt the AEA — a group that just spent roughly $20 million trying to unseat Republicans this election cycle — to do everything in its power to stop it. In 2012, for example, the AEA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an ad campaign to defeat an amendment that would have simply removed language regarding segregated schools and poll taxes from the Alabama Constitution. And that was in spite of the non-partisan Alabama Law Institute publishing a legal opinion that it “would not have any impact on the rights, funding, implementing, or structure of public education in Alabama.”

That ballot initiative went down in flames because there was not a group supporting it who had the deep pockets to compete with the AEA’s opposition. And it’s easy to imagine a similar scenario playing out if there were a ballot initiative to combine the budgets and roll back earmarking, although it’s also conceivable that groups could support the initiative financially, as well.

But the one thing that no amount of money could buy is a popular governor who is not facing another election using his political capital and the bully pulpit his office affords him to lead the charge.

A spokesperson for Gov. Bentley told Yellowhammer Thursday that the governor supports the idea of combining the budgets, but has not yet publicly announced what will make it into his budget proposal.

“The Governor has always supported the idea of combining the state budgets,” said Jennifer Ardis, the governor’s communications director. “He was clear today about the difficult decisions needed to solve the budgeting problems for the long term, and he will be making bold recommendations soon.”

Lawmakers are anxiously awaiting Bentley’s proposal, but it will take much more than the governor’s “support” to pull off a heavy lift like combining the budgets, it will take courage and leadership.

“That would take a remarkable leader with a lot of political influence to pull off,” said Rep. Henry. “And I think Gov. Bentley could do it.”


1
4 years ago

Hidden camera report uncovers Alabama food stamp fraud costing state millions

WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Local NBC affiliate WSFA sent a reporter undercover with a hidden camera and exposed just how easy it can be to commit food stamp fraud in Alabama.

“In Alabama more than 900,000 people receive food assistance,” according to WSFA’s report. “Most of them are in need of the help, but some are taking advantage of the system, stealing hard earned tax dollars and taking money out of your pocket.”

In spite of laws prohibiting food stamp recipients from using their benefits to purchase items like alcohol, tobacco or tattoos, or in places like strip clubs, some individuals are still able to game the system.

So how exactly are they doing it?

At one store WSFA’s hidden camera reporter visited, he attempted to by a cigar with an EBT card. The clerk clearly new the law, and explained that he must ring it up as a food item in order for the undercover reporter to purchase it.

“We are determined to find those people and stop the abuse of the program,” Department of Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner told WSFA. “Food assistance benefits are only supposed to be used to buy edible food items. It’s not supposed to be used for cigarettes and alcohol — any non-food item, even laundry detergent.”

DHR issues more than $109 million in benefits every year, and recovered $4.5 million dollars in food stamp fraud in 2013 alone. “That’s only what they’ve collected, not all they’ve uncovered, and certainly not all that has been taken illegally,” WSFA points out.

Food stamp recipients who are caught gaming the system are typically kicked out of the program from a period of time ranging from as little as one year to as much as the rest of their life. A retailer caught engaging in food stamp fraud could lose its ability to take EBT payments from that point forward.

“There are several things we do to get the money back,” Buckner explained. “We work up an agreement, they pay it back monthly, we intercept their federal tax returns, or state tax returns to get the money back. Then, sometimes we prosecute. We have people spending time in prison.”

Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) sponsored a welfare reform package during the 2014 legislative session that directly addressed some of these issues. SB114 made it a crime to defraud many state and federal government-funded assistance programs like Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance and public housing. SB116 prohibited welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits on alcohol and tobacco, and at strip clubs and gambling facilities.

“It is a serious exploitation of a well-intended program, and quite frankly a slap in the face to taxpayers, for these public dollars to be used in such a way that is 180 degrees opposite of the program’s intent,” Orr told Yellowhammer. “This kind of abuse shows a complete disregard for those who are genuinely in need.”

1
4 years ago

Here’s what every Alabama taxpayer’s share of the state’s debt is, and why

Money

Every Alabama taxpayer’s financial burden for the state’s debt is $14,000, according to a new analysis by Truth in Accounting, a non-profit government watchdog group. That’s the 17th highest financial burden per state taxpayer in the nation.

According to The Daily Signal, a conservative blog backed by The Heritage Foundation, “Taxpayer burden is calculated by determining each taxpayer’s share of state debt after setting aside capital-related debt and assets.”

$14,000 per state taxpayer is nothing to sneeze at, although it pales in comparison to the roughly $152,000 per taxpayer that is owed on the U.S. federal debt. But it’s also relatively small compared to the share of debt per taxpayer in many other states around the country.

Truth in Accounting refers to the state’s where debt is the greatest burden per taxpayer as “sinkhole states.” The top 5 — better yet, the bottom 5 — sinkhole states have an average taxpayer burden of $36,400. In Connecticut, where state debt per taxpayer is the highest in the country, the burden is an astounding $48,000 per taxpayer, followed by Illinois ($43k/per taxpayer), New Jersey ($36k) Massachusetts ($28k) and Hawaii ($27k).

On the flip side, states where taxpayers have the lowest debt burden are called “sunshine states.” Taxpayers in the top 5 sunshine states are actually not in debt at all, but enjoy a surplus. Alaska has a surplus of almost $47,000 per taxpayer, followed by North Dakota ($22k+), Wyoming ($20k+), Utah ($2.7k) and South Dakota ($2.7k).

So what’s the difference between sinkhole states and sunshine states? That’s complicated, of course, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. But as The Daily Signal rightly points out, the debt in many states, including Alabama, is “primarily unpaid pension and retirement health promises.”

The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) is the entity that handles the public pensions for Alabama’s state employees, including the Teachers’ Retirement System, Employees’ Retirement System and Judicial Retirement Fund.

According to the RSA’s most recent Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), those three systems are only 66.5, 65.7, and 61.6 percent funded. In other words, the State of Alabama has less than two-thirds the amount of money it needs to fulfill its obligations to retired state employees, which is why Alabama taxpayers have been propping up the RSA to the tune of about $1 billion a year.

That’s obviously not sustainable, and continues to add to each Alabamian’s share of the state’s debt year after year.

Promises made to current state employees should be kept, but in spite of the often difficult politics surrounding pension reform, momentum seems to be building in favor of change.

Free market think tanks like the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and the Alabama Policy Institute have made pension reform one of their top priorities in recent years. And the Alabama Legislature already moved to stabilize the RSA in 2012 at a time when estimates said it would run out of money by 2023. The plan, which was spearheaded by state senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) saved the state an estimated $162 million per year.

With every Alabama taxpayer’s share of the debt already at $14,000, more changes to the state’s public pensions systems are likely on their way.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

1
4 years ago

Ala. senators continue push for Constitutional Convention to rein in Federal government

State Sens. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, at the Mount Vernon Assembly in Dec. 2013.
State Sens. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, at the Mount Vernon Assembly in Dec. 2013.

Alabama Senators Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) have for the past several months been engaged in a coordinated process with legislators from around the U.S. to move the country toward at state-led Constitutional Convention for the first time in history.

In short, a convention of the states is widely viewed as a last-ditch effort to push back against an overreaching federal government. Potential amendments being kicked around include term limits on federal lawmakers and caps on taxation and spending.

Roughly 100 state legislators from 32 states assembled at Mt. Vernon, Virginia last December to begin laying out ground rules that would be followed should such a convention ever be convened.

That process continued late last week when the Assembly of State Legislatures met again at the Indiana State Capitol in Indianapolis.

The Assembly divided themselves into three committees: Judicial, Rules and Procedures, and Communications and Planning.

Sen. Orr was selected to serve on the Judicial Committee, which discussed how many states are currently calling for a convention, what type of notification is required for a call to be received by Congress, and other matters relating to the legal process of calling for a convention.

Sen. Pittman was selected to the Committee on Rules and Procedures. Among other things, Pittman’s committee affirmed the Assembly’s commitment to one state, one vote, meaning voting at any potential future conventions would not be based on each state’s population. It takes an affirmative vote from three-fourths (38) of the states to actually amend the Constitution.

No issues were formally discussed during the meeting. The group worked instead on the process, procedures and planning.

The Assembly’s focus on a “strict framework” stems from the fact that Article V of the U.S. Constitution leaves some ambiguity in the process of calling for a convention of the states. That has led to some concerns that a convention would be an unruly affair.

Sen. Pittman sought to ease those concerns after last December’s meeting, noting that several checks were being put in place to make a “runaway” convention impossible.

“We’re just meeting to put some rules and procedures in place, but this would be very structured,” he said. “The only way I’d support it is if it was a specific issue convention.”

Pittman reaffirmed his commitment to that process after last week’s meeting.

“Limiting the Federal Government is not going to happen inside the political culture and process of Washington, D.C.,” he told Yellowhammer. “It will require the States utilizing the Article V amendment process to reign in the excesses of the Federal authority. The first step is to draft and approve rules under which an Amendment Convention could safely take place. During this past week’s meeting in Indianapolis, I served on the Rules and Procedures Committee. We adopted the historical and fundamental rule of each state delegation having one vote. Now we can move forward with the additional rules and procedures necessary for a limited Article V Amendment Convention.”

Sen. Orr said he believes it is a positive step that legislators from all over the country have come together to start discussing an Article V convention.

“The meeting was but one more small step in what will be a very, very long process,” he said. “But one of the reasons, I believe, states have never come close to an Article V convening is that the state legislators from among the states rarely talk to one another and never have the ability to establish relationships of mutual trust. This process is changing the status quo.”

What do you think about the the potential for a Convention of the States? Do you think it’s a good idea? Let us know in the comment section below, or by tweeting @YHPolitics.


Check out more of Yellowhammer coverage of the Assembly of State Legislatures:
1. Alabama senators discuss potential constitutional convention at Mt. Vernon Assembly
2. Ala. Senators propose bills laying out guidelines for Convention of States
3. Alabama House passes resolution calling for Convention of the States


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

1
4 years ago

Alabama Legislature completes massive welfare reform push

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur

Over the loud objections of Democrats in the Alabama House, Republicans pushed through a package of bills that will drastically reform Alabama’s taxpayer-funded public assistance programs.

The four-bill package includes measures to increase penalties for fraud; require welfare applicants to submit job applications before receiving benefits; prohibit spending of welfare benefits on liquor, tobacco, casinos and strip clubs; and allow for drug testing of welfare applicants who’ve had a drug conviction within the past five years.

The bills were sponsored by the two Alabama Senate Budget Chairmen, Sens. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Trip Pittman, R-Montrose.

Pittman’s bill, SB63, allows for drug testing of welfare applicants who have a prior drug conviction.

“Drug addiction is a serious, often life-threatening problem,” Pittman said. “By putting this check in the welfare application process, it will serve as an incentive for those who have a drug problem and are also in need of assistance to get help, and it protects hard-earned taxpayer dollars from enabling a dangerous habit.”

Alabama Senator Trip Pittman Yellow Hammer Politics
Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose

Sen. Orr sponsored the other three bills in the reform package.

SB114 makes it a crime to defraud many state and federal government-funded assistance programs like Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance and public housing.

SB115 requires welfare applicants to apply for at least three jobs before receiving benefits, a measure Orr said is intended to encourage applicants to utilize the benefits only as a last resort.

“Everyone wins when a welfare applicant is able to find a job instead of having to rely on public assistance,” Orr said. He added that the state of Pennsylvania denied as many as eight out of every ten welfare applicants after enacting a similar rule known as the pre-approval work search.

The final bill in the package, SB116, prohibits welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits on alcohol and tobacco, and at strip clubs and gambling facilities. According to reports from other states, millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded public assistance funds have been spent on alcohol, tobacco and at casinos and strip clubs.

“It is a serious exploitation of a well-intended program, and quite frankly a slap in the face to taxpayers, for these public dollars to be used in such a way that is 180 degrees opposite of the program’s intent,” Orr said. “This kind of abuse shows a complete disregard for those who are genuinely in need.”

Democrats lashed out at Republicans for passing the reform measures, accusing them of targeting minorities and the poor. In spite of their protestations, the bills now go to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

1
4 years ago

Robertson: Ala. should push back against the embrace of the welfare state

SNAP

Under the Obama Administration, “reforms” to federal assistance programs have simply increased the programs’ recipients and spending rather than implementing more oversight or accountability. Specifically, the Administration has taken proactive steps to recruit Americans into programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and water down eligibility requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF). Work requirements for recipients, previously tied to TANF eligibility since 1996, were rendered optional by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for state enforcement in 2012.

These work requirements have now been waived by nearly every state in the union. Categorical eligibility has been shamelessly promoted by the USDA in an effort to increase SNAP participation by individuals who would not meet SNAP eligibility requirements standing alone, but are deemed automatically eligible given their participation in other assistance programs. And, of course, all of this expansion requires more taxpayer dollars year after year.

It is perplexing that the Executive Branch of a country that is $17 trillion in debt appears to want more Americans in a very expensive system that can lead to a lifetime of government dependency and with no pressure to work.


RELATED: STUDY: Welfare benefits in Alabama can be worth much more than a job


Still, the federal government’s is not the only pocketbook to be considered when it comes to welfare and food stamps. In FY2012, the State of Alabama spent roughly $80 million in state money on TANF and $40 million on SNAP. Of course, these numbers do not scratch the surface of what the state spends in total on entitlement programs each year.

While welfare caseloads expectedly increased during the recession, many states have sustained these increased numbers even six years later. As such, both traditionally conservative and liberal-leaning states have looked for opportunities to tighten eligibility requirements and put in place policies that they hope will get more individuals back into the work force. Currently, states have the greatest flexibility over the administration of TANF.

This session, we have seen Alabama’s Legislature consider several proposals to bring Alabama’s TANF programs in line with practical reforms of other states. SB115, by Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) would require TANF applicants to apply for at least three positions of employment prior to their eligibility determination, in addition to the job search requirements already in place for able-bodied TANF recipients. Similar requirements for applicants have recently been considered by the legislatures of both Massachusetts and Maine in the past year, as a result of significant reductions in caseloads for states with the provision already in place.

Orr’s SB116 would ban the use of TANF debit funds for purchase of alcohol or tobacco and would prohibit their use in tattoo parlors, casinos, or adult entertainment establishments. This bill has been offered in two previous sessions and would help satisfy a federal requirement that states restrict the use of welfare benefits for certain purchases or risk losing some federal block grant money for TANF. Lastly, SB114 would criminally punish fraud in obtaining public assistance.

There is no indication that an about-face on growing our welfare system will come from Washington anytime soon. While the U.S. House managed to gain some concessions on food stamp reform in the 2014 farm bill, the final version fell far short of the comprehensive reforms or massive cuts that Republicans had set out to achieve. In many cases, the states have little say and are fully reliant on their representation in Washington to stand up to the constant expansion of these programs through relaxed eligibility requirements, lax oversight, and increased spending.

However, in instances where states are given greater flexibility, such as with TANF, Alabama should push back against the embrace of the welfare state by implementing proven reforms that promote accountability, work, and independence from government assistance while ensuring that these benefits are available to those in genuine need.


Katherine Green Robertson is senior policy counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute (API), an independent non-partisan, non-profit 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 call (205) 870-9900 or email her at katheriner@alabamapolicy.org.

1
4 years ago

Ala. Senate: no more alcohol, tobacco, strippers or gambling with welfare checks

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur

The Alabama Senate passed a package of welfare reform legislation on Wednesday, including a bill prohibiting welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits in certain ways.

Senate Bill 116, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would prohibit welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits on alcohol and tobacco, and at strip clubs and gambling facilities. According to reports from other states, millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded public assistance funds have been spent on alcohol, tobacco and at casinos and strip clubs.

“It is a serious exploitation of a well-intended program, and quite frankly a slap in the face to taxpayers, for these public dollars to be used in such a way that is 180 degrees opposite of the program’s intent,” Orr said. “This kind of abuse shows a complete disregard for those who are genuinely in need.”

Several other welfare reform bills passed by the Senate on Wednesday including:

• SB63, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, which allows for drug testing in instances where welfare applicants have a prior drug conviction.

SB87, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, which requires able-bodied adult food stamp recipients without dependents to participate in at least 20 hours of work, job training or community service a week within three months of obtaining benefits.

• SB114, sponsored by Sen. Orr, which makes it a crime to defraud many state and federal government-funded assistance programs like Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance and public housing.

SB115, sponsored by Sen. Orr, which would require welfare applicants to apply for at least three jobs before receiving benefits


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

1
4 years ago

Alabama Senate to welfare applicants: Work for it

Senators debate bills on the floor of the Alabama Senate
Senators debate bills on the floor of the Alabama Senate

The Alabama Senate passed a package of welfare reform legislation on Wednesday, including two bills that would require applicants to put in some work before receiving their taxpayer-funded check.

Senate Bill 87, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, requires able-bodied adult food stamp recipients without dependents to participate in at least 20 hours of work, job training or community service a week within three months of obtaining benefits. Similar requirements were included in the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act passed in 1996, but states have been allowed to apply for waivers under the Obama Administration.

“On the federal level, these requirements were passed in 1996 with the bipartisan support of President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich,” said Taylor. “While they have been suspended at the federal level, it’s time to reinstate this common-sense provision to ensure we are helping move people from dependency on government to self sufficiency.”

Senate Bill 115, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, would require welfare applicants to apply for at least three jobs before receiving benefits, a measure Orr said is intended to encourage applicants to utilize the benefits only as a last resort.

“Everyone wins when a welfare applicant is able to find a job instead of having to rely on public assistance,” Orr said. He added that the state of Pennsylvania denied as many as eight out of every ten welfare applicants after enacting a similar rule known as the pre-approval work search.

Two other welfare reform bills passed by the Senate on Wednesday including:

SB63, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, which allows for drug testing in instances where welfare applicants have a prior drug conviction.

• SB116, sponsored by Sen. Orr, which would prohibit welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits on alcohol and tobacco, and at strip clubs and gambling facilities.


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4 years ago

Ala. Senate passes bill allowing drug testing of some welfare applicants

Senate Education Budget Chairman Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, speaking at the Business Council of Alabama April 9, 2013
Senate Education Budget Chairman Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, speaking at the Business Council of Alabama April 9, 2013

The Alabama Senate passed a package of welfare reform legislation on Wednesday, including a bill requiring drug testing of welfare applicants who have a drug possession or distribution conviction in the past five years. If the bill ultimately becomes law, individuals would be cut off from receiving benefits after three failed drug tests, but others in the household could continue receiving them.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, said the bill ensures that taxpayer-funded benefits are not enabling a reckless lifestyle.

“Drug addiction is a serious, often life-threatening problem,” Pittman said. “By implementing this check in the welfare application process, it will serve as an incentive for those who have a drug problem and are also in need of assistance to get help, and it protects hard-earned taxpayer dollars from enabling a dangerous habit.”

Democrats vocally opposed the bill, especially Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who summed up his colleagues’ opposition by saying, “All of these are about hitting poor people on public assistance.”

The Senate also passed four other welfare reform bills on Wednesday, including:

• SB87, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, which requires able-bodied adult food stamp recipients without dependents to participate in at least 20 hours of work, job training or community service a week within three months of obtaining benefits.

• SB114, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, which makes it a crime to defraud many state and federal government-funded assistance programs like Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance and public housing.

• SB115, sponsored by Sen. Orr, which would require welfare applicants to apply for at least three jobs before receiving benefits

• SB116, sponsored by Sen. Orr, which would prohibit welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits on alcohol and tobacco, and at strip clubs and gambling facilities.


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4 years ago

Alabama House passes resolution calling for Convention of the States

Alabama House of Representatives
Alabama House of Representatives

The Alabama House of Representatives today passed House Joint Resolution 49, an application to Congress calling for a Constitutional Convention under Article V of the United States Constitution.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution says that a convention of the states can be convened if two-thirds of the state legislatures (34) approve an application for the convention to occur.

By design, that’s a high bar to clear. And the bar gets even higher when it comes to actually passing a constitutional amendment. It takes an affirmative vote from three-fourths (38) of the states to actually amend the constitution. Each state would only get one vote on proposed amendments.

The resolution passed today by the Alabama House strictly limits the purpose of the proposed convention to three areas:

1) imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government through a balanced budget amendment; 2) limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government; and 3) implementing term limits on federal elected officials.

Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, told Yellowhammer that he introduced the resolution because he believes a convention is the last available option to force the federal government to live within its means.

“We’re calling for restraints on the federal government,” Johnson said. “That means an amendment that forces them to balance the budget and stops these overreaching federal mandates. We’re also calling for term limits on federal elected offices.”

Johnson said it is important that the states are able to limit the scope of the convention ahead of time, which his resolution does, to mitigate the risk of a “runaway convention.”

“Because we’ve never done it, the idea that there could be a ‘runaway convention’ is always brought up as a concern,” Johnson said. “The convention would be limited to a small set of issues. But on top of that, the safeguard is that it only takes 13 states to kill any runaway convention. If there aren’t 13 conservatives states left, we’re in trouble, period. And Washington is a runaway train right now anyway. How much more damage could be done?”

This resolution, unless rescinded by a succeeding Legislature, constitutes a continuing application until at least two-thirds of all State Legislatures have made application for a convention to provide for these purposes.

It now goes up to the Senate, where several legislators have already been actively involved in the process leading up to a potential Constitutional Convention.

In December of last year, Alabama state senators Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, joined roughly 100 state legislators from 32 states at Mt. Vernon, Virginia to discuss the ground rules of a potential Convention of the States.

State Sens. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, at the Mount Vernon Assembly
State Sens. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, at the Mount Vernon Assembly

The full resolution passed by the Alabama House today can be read below.

WHEREAS, the Founders of our Constitution empowered state legislators to be guardians of liberty against future abuses of power by the federal government; and

WHEREAS, the federal government has created a crushing national debt through improper and imprudent
spending; and

WHEREAS, the federal government has invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative process of federal mandates, most of which are unfunded to a great extent; and

WHEREAS, the federal government has ceased to live under a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States; and

WHEREAS, it is the solemn duty of the states to protect the liberty of our people, particularly for the generations to come, to propose amendments to the Constitution of the United States through a Convention of the States under Article V to place clear restraints on these and related abuses of power; now therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA, BOTH HOSUES THEREOF CONCURRING, That the Legislature of the States of Alabama hereby applies to Congress, under the provisions of Article V of the Constitution of the United States, for the calling of a convention of the states limited to proposing amendments that impose fiscal restrains on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Secretary of State is hereby directed to transmit copies of this application to the President and Secretary of the United States Senate and to the Speaker and Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, and to the members of the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States Congress from this state; and to also transmit copies hereof to the presiding officers of each of the legislative houses in the several states, requesting their cooperation.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That this application constitutes a continuing application in accordance with Article V of the Constitution of the United States until the Legislatures of at least two-thirds of the several states have made applications on the same subject.


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4 years ago

Democrats continue to go the way of the Dodo in North Alabama

Dodo Bird

North Alabama, a Democrat stronghold up until recent years, is fast becoming one of the most reliably Republican areas of the state.

Sen. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, was one of the last remaining North Alabama Senators after the Republican surge in 2010. However, redistricting left her in a much more conservative district, leading her to announce Wednesday that she will not seek re-election in 2014.

“It is with a heavy heart, but after much thought and prayer, I have decided not to seek reelection to the Alabama State Senate,” Irons said in a statement. “I have been honored and humbled by the people of The Shoals who have shown great faith and confidence in me, having elected me twice to the Alabama House of Representatives, and then to the Alabama Senate.”

Irons cited her newly drawn senate district as the primary reason for her decision.

“The new Senate District 1, which takes effect in November 2014, stretches all the way from West Lauderdale County to Memorial Parkway in Huntsville and is geographically more like a Congressional District,” Irons said. “I am concerned that covering such a large territory would take even more time away from my law practice at a time when I have many commitments this year. I am also looking forward to spending more quality time with my family.”

Irons said she was most proud of the legislative work she did to prevent elder abuse, reform the juvenile justice system, protect the Tennessee River and preserve jobs in The Shoals area.

Although former Democrat legislator Mike Curtis, who was defeated in 2010 by Republican Lynn Greer, is rumored to be considering running as a Democrat, the Senate District 1 seat looks like another prime pickup opportunity for the GOP.

Three Republicans have already qualified for the seat, including small businessman Jonathan Berryhill, Dr. Tim Melson, and early favorite Chris Seibert, an Athens City Councilman and former Univ. of Alabama football player.

A broader look at North Alabama’s political landscape reveals an area that is quickly becoming a real power center for the state GOP.

Reps. Marcell Black (Tuscumbia), Greg Burdine (Florence), Johnny Mack Marrow (Red Bay), Laura Hall (Huntsville) and John Robertson (Scottsboro) are just about the only remaining North Alabama Democrats in the Alabama House. Longtime Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, is the the last North Alabama Democrat holding on to his seat in the Senate. Redistricting appears to have been much kinder to him than it was to Irons.

But on the Republican side of the aisle, North Alabama is home to some of the top power players in state government, as well as numerous up-and-comers.

Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur holds one of the most powerful positions in state government as Chairman of the Senate General Fund Budget Committee. House Majority Leader Micky Hammon is also from Decatur. Mac McCutcheon of Huntsville is the House Rules Chairman. Rep. Mike Ball of Madison Chairs the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee. Reps. Terri Collins of Decatur and Ed Henry of Hartselle, along with Sen. Clay Scofield of Guntersville, are all considered to be among the next generation of legislative leaders.

In short, it’s a good time to be a Republican in North Alabama.


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4 years ago

Sweeping welfare reform package advances in Ala. Senate

Senators debate bills on the floor of the Alabama Senate
Senators debate bills on the floor of the Alabama Senate

Quick Hits:
• Four bills reforming Alabama’s public assistance programs passed out of committee this week
• Senate Bill 63 allows drug testing of welfare recipients with a prior drug conviction
• Senate Bill 114 makes it a crime to defraud public assistance programs
• Senate Bill 115 requires welfare applicants to prove they’re trying to get a job
• Senate Bill 116 prohibits welfare recipients from spending benefits on alcohol, tobacco, strippers and gambling


A package of bills that will reform many of the state’s public assistance programs were passed out of committee Wednesday with bipartisan support.

The four-bill package includes measures to increase penalties for fraud in taxpayer-funded public assistance programs, prohibit spending of welfare benefits on liquor, tobacco, casinos and strip clubs, require welfare applicants to submit job applications before receiving benefits, and allow for drug testing of welfare applicants with a drug conviction with the past five years.

The bills are being sponsored by the two Alabama Senate Budget Chairmen, Sens. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Trip Pittman, R-Montrose.

“With out-of-control spending on the federal level, we have an obligation to taxpayers to ensure the state is taking the necessary steps to protect these programs designed to help those genuinely in need,” Pittman said.

Pittman’s bill allows for drug testing of welfare applicants who have a prior drug conviction.

“Drug addiction is a serious, often life-threatening problem,” Pittman said. “By putting this check in the welfare application process, it will serve as an incentive for those who have a drug problem and are also in need of assistance to get help, and it protects hard-earned taxpayer dollars from enabling a dangerous habit.”

Sen. Orr is sponsoring the other three bills in the reform package.

Senator Arthur Orr Alabama Yellow Hammer Politics
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur

One of them makes it a crime to defraud many state and federal government-funded assistance programs like Medicaid, Social Security, food assistance and public housing. Studies indicate that Alabama is losing millions of dollars each year to health care fraud and abuse alone.

Another one of Orr’s bills would require welfare applicants to apply for at least three jobs before receiving benefits, a measure he said is intended to encourage applicants to utilize the benefits only as a last resort.

The final bill in the package would prohibit welfare recipients from spending public assistance benefits on alcohol and tobacco, and at strip clubs and gambling facilities. According to reports from other states, millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded public assistance funds have been spent on alcohol, tobacco and at casinos and strip clubs.

“It is a serious exploitation of a well-intended program, and quite frankly a slap in the face to taxpayers, for these public dollars to be used in such a way that is 180 degrees opposite of the program’s intent,” Orr said. “This kind of abuse shows a complete disregard for those who are genuinely in need.”


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4 years ago

Two top Ala. Senators propose bills laying out guidelines for Convention of States

From Left: Sen. Trip Pittman, Sen. Arthur Orr, Rep. Ken Johnson, Rep. Barry Moore
From Left: Sen. Trip Pittman, Sen. Arthur Orr, Rep. Ken Johnson, Rep. Barry Moore

Two top-ranking Alabama State Senators today held a press conference to stress the importance of establishing guidelines for amending the U.S. Constitution through a Convention of the States, as outlined in Article V of the Constitution.

Working with lawmakers from 31 other states through the Mt. Vernon Assembly, Senators Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, are sponsoring two bills that would set parameters on delegates to an amendment convention in the event one is called to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Under Article V of the nation’s governing document, an amendment convention can be convened if two-thirds of state legislatures, or 34 states, approve an application for the convention to occur. Proposed amendments would then have to be ratified by three-fourths, or 38 states.

The proposed bills in the Alabama legislature designate a process by which delegates are selected to represent Alabama at the convention and establish guidelines for delegates to follow.

Senate Bill 199, sponsored by Pittman, is designed to hold potential delegates accountable by requiring the Legislature to adopt instructions for delegates, in addition to providing that a vote by a delegate outside the scope of the Legislature’s instructions is void.

“From out-of-control spending to seemingly endless gridlock, it’s easy to see why so many Americans think Washington is broken,” Pittman said. “Fortunately our nation’s Founding Fathers had the foresight to provide states with a mechanism to hold the federal government accountable. Article V of the U.S. Constitution is an important protection tool for states to use against a runaway federal government. It’s equally important, however, that the states have checks in place to ensure delegates honestly represent the views and beliefs of Alabamians, not special interests. These two bills will ensure that Alabama’s delegates are accountable to the people if and when a convention of states is convened.”

[RELATED: Alabama legislator introduces resolution calling for Convention of the States]

Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Orr, establishes qualifications for delegates and gives the Legislature the authority to appoint and recall delegates.

“Nearly three out of four Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction,” Orr explained. “The national debt is skyrocketing, only to be compounded by trillions of dollars in unfunded entitlement programs. By many accounts, the federal government has far overstepped its bounds with unprecedented regulations into numerous areas of our economy and everyday lives. Given the dire outlook, many are realizing that a state-led amendment convention is our best hope for a positive change of direction. If nothing else, this movement of states is a sharp reminder to Congress that we mean business.”

Orr and Pittman also pointed out that while all amendments to the U.S. Constitution to date have been proposed by Congress, 20 states, including Alabama, have petitioned Congress to call a state-led convention on a balanced budget amendment to control unchecked federal spending. This coalition, they said, shows a positive trend of states that are ready and willing to take on a crucial problem Congress has long ignored.

In 2011, the Alabama House and Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 100, sponsored by Orr, formally petitioning Congress to call a convention under Article V for the specific purpose of passing a federal balanced budget amendment, requiring that, in the absence of a national emergency, federal spending for any fiscal year not exceed total federal revenue.

Both SB199 and SB200 have received their first reading and are pending action by the Senate Committee on Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections.


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5 years ago

Bill would allow participation in Ala. government meetings by phone or video conference

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur

A proposal passed Thursday by the Alabama Senate seeks to save taxpayer resources by allowing government bodies to meet remotely by means of telephone or video conference.

Senate Bill 58, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, aligns Alabama with 38 other states and the District of Columbia in providing for some form of remote participation in government meetings. Under current law, Alabama is one of two states nationally that has statutory language expressly prohibiting meetings conducted through electronic communications.

According to a cost-savings estimate from Alabama’s Legislative Fiscal Office, the proposal could save the state up to $2.1 million.

Orr said the proposal is an example of lawmakers’ commitment to looking in every corner of state government to identify cost-savings opportunities.

“Our commitment to voters is that we will leave no stone unturned when looking for ways to cut state spending,” Orr said. “That’s what the people of Alabama elected us to do and they deserve no less. My colleagues and I are fully dedicated to delivering on the promise to restoring fiscal accountability and responsible spending to state government.”

Senate Bill 58 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.


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