The Wire

  • Decatur doctor accused of sexual assault responds to lawsuit

    Excerpt from WHNT:

    A Decatur doctor accused of sexually assaulting several of his patients is disputing all claims of wrongdoing. Dr. Michael Dick of Alabama Medicine and Rheumatology Clinic responded to a lawsuit filed on behalf of six women who claim to be his former patients. The doctor also filed a protective order asking a judge to stop the victims from sharing their stories with the media.

    A Birmingham-based attorney responded on behalf of Dr. Dick saying there is “no basis to contend he preys on female patients as alleged in the complaint.” The lawsuit filed against Dr. Dick says female members of the nursing staff were present with him. He says no misconduct took place, as alleged in the lawsuit. The response also says employees who work at the medical practice deny any misconduct.

  • Bobby Bright says ‘D.C. powerbrokers’ pushed Trump to endorse Martha Roby

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    Bobby Bright says ‘D.C. powerbrokers’ pushed Trump to endorse Martha Roby in Alabama’s District 2 race.

    “I understand politics and how Washington works. It appears the D.C. powerbrokers have gotten to the President on this issue. It’s truly a swamp of insiders controlled by big money special interests, the same crowd who’s bankrolling Martha Roby’s campaign to the tune of over $1 million just this year,” Bright said in a statement. “It’s a place where loyalty doesn’t exist. When you take that much money from D.C., New York and California, you lose sight of Alabama.”

    Incumbent Roby will face Bobby Bright — a former congressman she defeated in 2010 — in a runoff next month. Bright served one term in Congress as a Democrat, but switched parties to run against Roby in this year’s Republican primary.

  • Man accused of trying to run over police officer, charged with attempted murder

    Excerpt from ABC 33/40:

    A man accused of trying to run over a police officer was charged with attempted murder Friday, Shelby County authorities confirm.

    Chief Assistant District Attorney Roger Hepburn says Issai Serrano is the suspect connected with a Wednesday afternoon shooting involving an Alabaster Police officer. The shooting occurred at Morgan Road and South Shades Crest Road, said Hoover Police officers, who were the first to respond to the scene.

1 year ago

Expansion Evasion: Alabama’s Near Miss

In the waning weeks of 2014, a handful of Republican governors—fresh off the heels of their re-elections—began flirting with the idea of embracing Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Alabama’s own Republican governor admitted that he was “looking at” expansion, despite having kept a safe distance from the issue in his first term. While eleven Republican-led states ultimately did expand, several Republican governors—including Alabama’s—had their impulses impeded with help from their states’ own Republican-controlled legislatures.

On April 5, 2015, the Governor Robert Bentley announced the formation of the Alabama Healthcare Improvement Task Force—tasked, presumably, with a predetermined recommendation for him to expand Medicaid. Days later, an effort arose in the Alabama Senate to curb the momentum. It came in the form of a Senate Joint Resolution introduced by Senator Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) and co-sponsored by twenty of his Senate colleagues. The two-page resolution made a succinct case against expansion and concluded with these words:

    Whereas, the Legislature has no intention of allocating funds to support Medicaid expansion; Be it resolved…that we express our intention that the State of Alabama not expand Medicaid above its current eligibility levels.

In a way, these senators were “prophets in their own land,” bucking their party’s governor and other state figureheads attempting to exert pressure, and enduring a two-day tongue-lashing from Democrats on the Senator floor as punishment for the resolution’s passage. Pittman, who at the time served as Budget Chairman for the Education Trust Fund, recognized the fiscal dangers associated with expansion, especially given the near unsustainability of the state’s current Medicaid costs. He, along with many of his colleagues, also feared the very real possibility that Congress would eventually renege on its irresistible offer.

Eventually, talk of expansion dissipated—so much so, that the governor now seems pleased with the outcome. He recently remarked:

    We want to make sure that the states that did not expand Medicaid, that we are taken care of properly. They [Members of Congress] are not for expanding Medicaid further; in fact, there will be a reduction over time. We will be rewarded because we did not expand Medicaid…in the long run, we are gonna be better off for the way we handled it in the beginning.

As I have written about in greater detail here, Medicaid already accounts for one of Alabama’s most onerous financial obligations. At same time, it is one of the state-administered programs over which the state has the least amount of control and flexibility. Alabama’s share of Medicaid spending has now reached nearly $2 billion a year (for an Alabama total of $6.3 billion, including federal funds) and has increased by an average of 9.5% annually over the last decade. Not only would Medicaid expansion have driven up these costs, but it would have done so while the federal government simultaneously siphoned even more of the state’s already-nominal control over the program.

Today, after six failed years in existence and under the control of a Republican president and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the Affordable Care Act is on life support. Conservatives in the House of Representatives are fighting to see that Medicaid expansion is not only closed, but that payments to expansion states cease altogether. With Alabama’s estimated expansion price tag at (at least) $700 million, where would that have left the state financially? Would Alabama have been able to support the expansion population without jeopardizing funding for the lowest- income beneficiaries who were already enrolled? What about the able-bodied individuals who dropped out of the private market because they’d become newly eligible for Medicaid?

The foresight of the Alabama Senate should rouse Alabama’s congressional delegation to lead the fight for an end to Medicaid expansion, more state authority over Medicaid, and ultimately, a better method of healthcare delivery for low-income families. Those representing red states that acquiesced to the short-term political gains of expansion won’t have that freedom, but will instead be forced to defend the cost-prohibitive measure, and by extension the Affordable Care Act, likely to their long-term political detriment.


Katherine G. Robertson is a former counsel to then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and currently serves as Chief Counsel to the Attorney General of Alabama. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.

1
2 years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

1
2 years ago

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

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

By Katherine Robertson and Caleb Crosby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, this should be the hope that animates Alabama.

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

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2 years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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State Rep. Will Ainsworth

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

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Alexia Borden, Alabama Power

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

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Katie Britt, Butler Snow

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

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Will Califf, Office of the Senate President Pro Tem

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

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Mary Margaret Carroll, Fine Geddie

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

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Mark Colson, Business Council of Alabama

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

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Brandon Demyan, Office of the Senate President Pro Tem

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

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Katherine Robertson, Alabama Policy Institute

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

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Jeff Sommer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama

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

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Sommer Vaughn, Swatek Howe & Ross

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

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Jeremy Walker, Alabama Association of REALTORs

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

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R.B. Walker, University of Alabama

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

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Taylor Williams, PowerSouth

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

1
2 years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

1
3 years ago

Conservative, free market principles are the answer to Alabama’s poverty problem (opinion)

A man sits on his front porch in Selma, Alabama, (Photo: Joe Edmundite)
A man sits on his front porch in Selma, Alabama, (Photo: Joe Edmundite)
A man sits on his front porch in Selma, Alabama, (Photo: Joe Edmundite)

There is no shortage of ideological differences between conservatives and liberals or Republicans and Democrats, but perhaps the most divisive issue on the political spectrum is how to care for the poor. Admittedly, conservatives have done a fairly subpar job of connecting the dots between our principles and combatting poverty. While it is true that government’s bloated anti-poverty programs have not achieved the desired ends and levy a heavy cost on current and future taxpayers, the conversation should not end there.

This week, the Alabama Policy Institute is drawing awareness to conservative solutions to poverty in hopes of better communicating our perspectives and initiating more conversations around the dinner table on how we, as a state, should respond to poverty. As Alabama’s population is one of the ten poorest in the nation, poverty is an issue that–directly or indirectly–comes into play during every election, every budget hearing, and the meetings of every study committee or task force. Still, more of what goes on in Montgomery should be responsive to the drivers of poverty and proven solutions to it.

Since API’s founding in 1989, the organization has been dedicated to promoting the principles of free markets, limited government, and strong families. When we offer this tagline, we often fail to explain the “why”: that the cumulative effect of putting these principles into practice will yield the best results for our state and nation, including those living in poverty.

A free market economy allows for businesses to profit and hire, creating opportunities for individuals. A less invasive, limited government gets out of the way of growth and job creation by rolling back regulations and limits on competition and by reducing the tax burdens of individuals and businesses. And a strong family provides children with the best chance of receiving a good education, staying out of prison, and finding employment.

API’s prioritization of educational choice is driven by our desire to see Alabama’s most vulnerable school children escape the poverty trap. Studies from liberal and conservative academics across the country conclude that poverty hinders a child’s development and educational outcomes. For two and a half decades, API has pushed for expanded school choice in the state because of the inherent disparities that come when families cannot afford to choose a school that best fits their child’s needs.

We have also worked alongside state leaders to better understand and address the challenges in Alabama’s prison system. While in prison, an offender’s spouses and children suffer and are often left with even fewer resources and less stability in the home. When prisoners are released, they frequently lack employable skills and may be deemed ineligible for many jobs because of their criminal records. This is not meant to imply that individuals should be spared punishment for crimes to avoid such consequences, but the trends in these outcomes should be a consideration as we examine the cost-effectiveness of our system.

Our elected officials frequently tout the merits of expanding government entitlement programs-both in duration and eligibility. API opposes this when it is clear, as in most cases, that politicians and bureaucrats are ignoring the abysmal results of the programs, opting instead for feel-good talking points. Further, at times, addressing poverty is not even the sincere aim of maintaining or expanding these programs. Special interests and industries have become dependent upon money flowing through government grants and programs, and exert significant political influence to ensure that this continues.

We hope that the information generated this week will cause you to think more about how Alabama can use proven conservative policies to combat poverty; but, we also want to challenge you to participate directly in serving Alabama’s poor and vulnerable. We have provided links to model organizations on our website to give you some ideas for getting involved. If we agree that government is not the answer to poverty, we cannot then sit back and let the government serve the poor on our behalf.


Katherine Green Robertson is vice president for the Alabama Policy Institute. API is 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 email communications@alabamapolicy.org or call (205) 870-9900.

1
3 years ago

Robertson: It’s time to consider a sensible new solution to balance Alabama’s budget

general fund education budget
Special session No. 1 wound down in essentially the same posture as the regular session did. The governor still wants tax increases. House members tried to raise taxes, while senators opted to cut their way to the $200 million needed to close the General Fund shortfall.

It’s clear that what has been offered so far does not satisfy the majority. To gain a consensus in the second special session, the Legislature needs a plan that is tolerable to more of the State House’s warring factions and that can better bring the House and Senate together.

That plan may be one that was quietly filed early in the regular session by Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville. The proposal would nearly close the General Fund shortfall without raising taxes by sharing growth revenue between the state’s two main funds. At the end of each month, this new fund would distribute recurring revenues at a proportion of 78 percent to 22 percent between the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund.

At first glance, it may almost seem simplistic, but the proposal is good policy and achieves much of what legislators claim they want to see in a budget solution.

The General Fund needs around $200 million to balance the budget. Increasing costs of Medicaid and prisons, coupled with the flat or decreasing sources of revenue assigned to this fund, ensure that it will struggle year after year. In fact, in the short time since the regular session concluded, General Fund revenues are already projected to be $17 million less than expected.

The Sanford proposal would ensure that, from now on, the General Fund receives a slightly larger share of all recurring revenues. This seems fair in light of the public’s reaction to House-proposed Medicaid cuts and Senate-proposed cuts to courts and law enforcement.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Office, the 78/22 proposal would send roughly $150 million to the General Fund for FY2016. That means that $50 million in cuts would need to be found, rather than $200 million, significantly reducing the negative impact to General Fund agencies.

The proposal tackles the underlying distribution problems that impair the General Fund, but will still require the Legislature to stay focused on controlling the costs of Medicaid and prisons. The plan is part of a long-term solution, but not the cure-all.

The same public education proponents who shut down the use tax transfer will probably react similarly to this proposal, but it is worth their consideration for two reasons. First, the 78/22 split proposal is estimated to take roughly $75 million less from the ETF than the proposed $225 million use tax transfer.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that the ETF’s recurring revenue for FY2016 would go from $6.249 billion to $6.096–a decrease of only 2.44%. This decrease does not take into account a few revenue measures that were adopted during the special session to benefit the ETF. Further, the proposal would not disrupt the ETF budget that was enacted in June.

Second, for many legislators, the current shortfall has underscored the validity of consolidating the state’s two budgets. For education interests concerned about consolidation, the 78/22 proposal is far less risky, as it specifies the percentage of revenues that the ETF should receive.

The state’s receipts would not become a free-for-all, as is feared with consolidation, and education would remain the state’s top priority by a large margin. The bill also preserves the conservative Rolling Reserve Act, with the cap for FY16 reduced by the amount distributed to the General Fund.

Alabamians would surely applaud a sensible solution to the General Fund problem after being threatened with $500 million in tax increases, closed state parks or a collapsed Medicaid system. While taxpayers certainly recognize the importance of funding public education, they are also interested in adequately funding law enforcement, the courts and the district attorneys’ offices.

Given that there are plenty of appropriations from each fund for non-essential services, it is reasonable to expect the Legislature to find a way to provide these essential services without more of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.

Sen. Sanford’s proposal is a sensible solution to the current situation. Pushing this proposal would require some courage, but it will be far easier to defend than most of the alternatives we’ve seen thus far.


Katherine Robertson is vice president for the Alabama Policy Institute. API is 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 email communications@alabamapolicy.org or call (205) 870-9900.

1
3 years ago

Robertson: For the first time in my life, I fear my freedom may be at stake (Opinion)

Flickr/Tim Cummins
Flickr User Tim Cummins
Flickr User Tim Cummins

Raised to love my country and our flag, and because it’s reserved for time with my family, the Fourth of July is a day that I look forward to from the very first signs of summer.  For me, at least, I sense that this year will be somewhat bittersweet. When we celebrate America’s independence, we necessarily celebrate freedom–unprecedented and unmatched by any other nation. For the first time in my life, I fear that my own freedom might actually be at stake.

As the left tirelessly labels as hateful anyone expressing the slightest disappointment over the Court’s ruling on marriage, any objective constitutional scholar has to admit that this decision goes well beyond the simple act of requiring that marriage licenses be issued to any couple who seeks them. Rather, it tips the scales of justice against one of our nation’s foremost freedoms: the free exercise of religion.

As you have likely read and heard numerous times over the weekend, the Court has designated the right to marry as one that is “fundamental.”  Assigning this status to same-sex marriage places it on equal footing with the free exercise of religion, a freedom enumerated in the First Amendment. Such a designation for same-sex marriage has vast implications, of course, for anyone with a religious objection to it.  Precedent dictates that government action may limit a fundamental right if the action promotes a compelling or overriding state interest. Sadly, the Court made no effort in last week’s decision to assure the protection of religious liberty in the face of this new state interest in same-sex marriage.

The majority writes, “[m]any who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But (emphasis mine) when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied.”  In other words, if exercising your First Amendment rights, including that of religion, is interpreted as demeaning the fundamental right to a same-sex marriage, then your religious right will be deemed inferior.

To this end, Justice Alito did not mince words: “[The decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the courts of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.” Justice Thomas similarly opined, “[i]t appears all but inevitable that the two [rights] will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse [same-sex marriages]. The majority appears unmoved by that inevitably.”

This new, very real threat to our previously taken-for-granted freedoms will have one of two effects on those who revere the First Amendment.  Some may decide that the current is just too strong, the left’s talking points too convincing, and that a strict adherence to the Constitution or our own religious beliefs is no longer feasible. On the other hand, and hopefully more likely, others will awaken from complacency. They will choose to be more intentional about whom they allow to influence their stances, more confident in their convictions, and more thoughtful in how they go about expressing them.

As renowned  legal scholar, Judge Robert Bork, wrote in 1993, “[i]n our current culture wars, perhaps the most important of the virtues for conservatives is fortitude–the courage to take stands that are not immediately popular, the courage to ignore the opinion polls. Otherwise, we will never change the polls. That is what true conservatism means, or it means nothing.” This Independence Day, let’s reflect on the fortitude of the generations before us who fought for our freedoms and refuse to be the apathetic generation that lets them slip away.


Katherine Robertson is vice president 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.

1
3 years ago

Alabama lawmakers should reform, cut, and prioritize spending (opinion)

House money tax
As the debate over Alabama’s General Fund budget shortfall continues, four schools of thought have emerged on how to solve this problem: a) tax increases, b) gambling revenue, c) unearmarking, d) and across-the-board cuts. Each one of these proposals has been deemed the obvious, simple solution to the problem, but none would actually be that straightforward. As proposed, three of the four would require the second, overlooked step of prioritizing spending–a difficult task in a currently fragmented Republican majority.

For example, if taxes are raised or gambling is expanded, where is this new revenue going to go? Assuming it goes to the General Fund, which programs or agencies will receive it? Will it be spread across the board equally or dedicated to certain services? Who will decide which functions of state government outrank the others? Except for the DOA idea of a lottery to fund Medicaid, none of these questions has a clear answer.

Unearmarking comes with the same uncertainty. To be clear, unearmarking does not generate any new money. The practice would merely give legislators more flexibility to move money around, but with the same financial obligations as before. In theory, this is a good thing as it would allow legislators to pick and choose, but will legislators suddenly be able to agree which programs should be cut and which should be funded? If the unearmarked money is not prioritized in a systematic way and no cost-saving reforms are adopted along with it, we may not end up any better off.

What about the House budget proposal that makes across-the-board cuts? That may well be where we end up at sine die, but should it be? It’s the neat and clean approach, but again, allows legislators to shirk the duty of prioritizing spending. Do all agencies and programs provide services to Alabamians that are of equal importance? Some of these agencies seem to have been neglected and set up to fail in the past only to be underfunded again this year, while others ask for more and more funding without a high degree of results-oriented accountability.

Several cost-saving options that would help alleviate the need for across-the-board cuts have been proposed by various Republicans this session. Surprisingly, most have been met with disinterest or outright opposition from their own caucus.

The current dissension in solving the budget shortfall is fueled, in part, by a lack of clearly defined priorities. There is a pressing need for leadership in the discipline of priority budgeting now, but more importantly, for the long-term. Going forward, the legislature (ideally, with help from the Executive Branch) should develop a set of fixed priorities and performance-based metrics for government agencies and offices. That way, whether there is a surplus or a shortfall in the future, there is some methodical basis on which legislators can make their spending decisions.

The ideal, yet far from simple, solution for this year would hit on a sweet spot of cost-saving reforms, targeted cuts, unearmarking certain monies, and permanently directing some growth revenue to the General Fund. An agreement of this kind could gain support if decision-making as to the specifics was based on a clear outline of what the state’s priorities should be and which services best achieve those priorities. The current supermajority has the votes to move the state beyond the status quo. Principled, conservative legislators need to rally their colleagues around such a plan that will protect Alabama taxpayers from bearing the burden of legislative discord and unclear priorities.


Katherine Robertson is the Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute

1
3 years ago

Ala. Legislature reforms prisons in effort to ease overcrowding, avoid federal takeover

Alabama prison
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Legislature passed sweeping prison reform with only 5 dissenting votes last week, culminating several years of work by a broad coalition seeking to ease overcrowding in the system while maintaining public safety.

“This is not the final step,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), emphasized. “This is the first step in a long path forward. I’m just very proud our state has finally taken a meaningful step forward in prison reform.”

The legislation was handled in the House by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia).

The bill, once it is signed by Governor Bentley, is expected to shrink the prison system’s population by 4,500 inmates over the next 5 years. It also reduces the penalties for some nonviolent and drug-related crimes and strengthens the state’s parole program in an effort to reduce recidivism.

A companion bill, which has yet to gain final passage, would allow the state to issue $60 million in bonds to pay for an expansion of the system’s capacity, which is currently at nearly 200 percent. This would bring the state down to around 140 percent capacity over the next 5 years and presumably keep the federal government from taking over the system, as it has done in other severely overcrowded systems around the country.

Ward emphasized that public safety was the primary goal of these reforms, saying, “No one is getting released early. However, how we deal with inmates going forward as well as how we deal with inmates who are already on parole and their supervision will be dealt with and handled differently.”

Alabama Policy Institute Vice President Katherine Robertson, who was part of the task force that developed the bill, said in a statement, “This collaborative effort has provided the necessary catalyst of meaningful reform to Alabama’s prison system. The work isn’t over, but we have now taken a significant step towards solving a problem that has been decades in the making.”

But while the prison reform legislation has drawn almost universal praise, it still needs funding. Legislators must patch an estimated $250 million hole in the state’s General Fund Budget to ensure the implementation of the bill’s new mandates and programs.

Governor Robert Bentley is expected to sign the bill after a full legal review.


1

If gambling is expanded in Alabama, government will expand right along with it (opinion)

(Dallas1200am/Flickr)

Flickr user Dallas1200am
Flickr user Dallas1200am

We have known for months that a deal was in the works to expand gambling operations in Alabama either through a lottery, a tribal compact, or privately run casinos. This move under Republican leadership is disheartening, but not surprising. Any chance at a money grab, be it through tax increases or gambling, is far easier than taking a scalpel to the drivers of the current budget shortfall.

The General Fund woes present a very real challenge for our leaders, but the public is being fed a number of false choices as to how this problem must be solved. We should not be forced to choose which revenue generator is the least offensive. There are still plenty of good ideas and even bills on the table that would help the state do what the private sector does–scale back spending in a down year. The appeal of easy money through gambling is that those tough decisions can be sidestepped, but not without repercussions.

The Policy Institute’s position on using either of these tactics to generate money for the state has been well- publicized throughout our twenty-five year history. The success of lotteries and gambling, of course, depends upon the participation of the poor and vulnerable. The state then becomes addicted to these funding streams and politicians actually desire for more and more individuals and families to recklessly spend their money this way. Calls to further expand gambling will become incessant and government will be expanded right along with it. Simultaneously, Alabama’s leaders will become owned by these entities whose power and influence is made possible through money lost by our own state’s gamblers. Due to saturated markets, the only people visiting Alabama’s casinos will be Alabamians, especially its poorest, and local economies will be left to bear the brunt of this bad decision by state leaders.

While casino gaming is being advertised as a job creator, the jobs that typically come with gambling tend to be low-wage positions that, because of falling demand, are short-lived. In the past year alone, two casinos in Mississippi have closed. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, four casinos have closed or will close soon, including its newest one, the $2.4 billion Revel. Thousands of workers in both states who thought that gambling would be their ticket to success have been laid off.

The irony in all of this is that 20 other states currently face budget shortfalls. Most of these shortfalls are substantially larger than what we face in Alabama. Guess how many of the “shortfall states” have lotteries? All but one of them. Guess how many have casinos? 14 of them.

Unless a state’s spending problems are fixed–most of which are related to Medicaid, prisons, and public pensions–new revenues can’t keep pace with the rising costs of these services or programs. For instance, Alabama’s share of Medicaid costs has doubled in the past 10 years and shows no signs of slowing down. As a result, the state’s need for more of your money through one mechanism or another will never cease to be necessary.

API has proposed or supported a number of ideas that, if implemented, would help fill the budget gap. We’ve researched and recommended various cost-saving reforms to our public pensions, Medicaid prescription reform, eliminating vacant positions within state government, privatizing ABC and bidding out various nonessential government services, exploring tax amnesty to generate revenue already owed to the state, and bringing health insurance premiums of state employees more in balance with those of private sector workers. Some of these ideas are making their way through the legislature and some are not. All of them would be challenging to pass–they are all disfavored by one group or another–but none of them exploit the poor.

Using the excuse of a budget shortfall to pave the way for more gambling is irresponsible, the effects of which would plague our state long past the political careers of those leading this charge.


Caleb Crosby is the President and Katherine Robertson is the Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute.

1

EPA’s energy takeover will hit Alabama families where it hurts: Their wallets (Opinion)

Flickr user Peter Nijenhuis

Flickr user Peter Nijenhuis
Flickr user Peter Nijenhuis

In the torrent of overreaching directives coming from Washington to the states, Alabamians may not be aware of the ongoing effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to sidestep Congress and stage a takeover of American energy. Not only are these regulations likely unconstitutional, but they would have a particularly negative impact on Alabama’s economy and our most vulnerable citizens.

Late last year, the Obama Administration announced a sweeping new regulatory scheme, the Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The Plan would force electric suppliers to: 1) spend money on so-called efficiency projects that produce less energy at higher costs, 2) invest in unproven renewable energy projects that produce less energy than less-expensive, conventional methods, 3) artificially limit the amount of electricity customers can use, 4) operate gas-fired power plants even if other, less expensive energy sources are available, and 5) unjustifiably deny consumers access to existing, lower cost coal-fired plants that were paid for through current low rates. If a state does not comply, a “federal plan” will be imposed.

As Attorney General Strange recently testified before the U.S. Senate, the Plan ignores well-established limits of its executive authority under the Clean Air Act and aims to fundamentally alter the way America produces and uses energy. This latest executive overreach will lead to enormous uncertainty about the way many states, including Alabama, produce and use energy and will give rise to harmful economic effects.

Not only will the cost of energy go up, unduly harming those on fixed incomes, but it will directly increase the cost of many goods and services. There are even concerns of threats to energy grids during peak months. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration has largely ignored these likely consequences and has gone to great lengths to disguise the negative economic, social, and reliability impacts that its new regulations will have.

For Alabama, the EPA ruling requires the state’s power plants to cut carbon emissions by 27 percent by 2030. To put that in perspective, consider this: over half of all the electricity Alabama Power generates in the state comes from coal-fired plants and more than 16,000 Alabama jobs are dependent upon the coal industry, which has an estimated $1.3 billion positive economic impact on the state.

The story gets even worse for the individual family. A November 2014 study by Energy Venture Analysis indicates the EPA’s proposed rule would increase the average annual Alabama household energy bills by more than $800 (or 36%) in 2020. In Alabama, EPA’s plan would grow the total annual cost of energy to almost $15 billion in 2020. That is a $5.2 billion annual cost increase for energy in Alabama.

These costs will deal an especially heavy blow to households earning less than $10,000 per year. Nationally, those families already spend an astounding 60-80 percent of their income on energy. Even households earning between $10,000 and $30,000 per year still spend more than 20 percent of their income on energy.

In short, the EPA is attempting to make fundamental and irreversible changes to American energy production that will jeopardize Alabama families’ economic well-being by making states do what the EPA cannot. While environmental stewardship is vital, ceding more power to the federal government rarely produces the desired results. Economic growth, environmental stability, and energy reform are best achieved through open markets and innovation.

Attorney General Strange joined 11 other attorneys general last August in suing the EPA to block implementation of its costly and controversial carbon emission rule which will force Alabamians to live in the dark in order to satisfy the Obama Administration’s political agenda.

As was noted in the Wall Street Journal just this week, “the more states that refuse to give in to the EPA’s demands, the more likely it is that the agency will be forced to hold back the most burdensome elements of its Clean Power Plan.” The Alabama Attorney General’s Office and the Alabama Policy Institute are united in the fight against this most recent, brazen attempt by the federal government to coerce state action while dismissing the very real threats that these regulations pose to our economy and citizens.


Katherine Robertson is the Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute, and Luther Strange is the Alabama Attorney General.

1
3 years ago

Alabama should reject expanding government healthcare through Medicaid (opinion)

ObamaCare

In 2013, Arkansas’s then-Governor Mike Beebe (D) pushed a non-traditional Medicaid expansion program that gives low-income individuals subsidies to use toward private coverage, rather than enrolling them into Medicaid. This initiative was marketed as a “state-based” plan for reform and one that inserts flexibility and innovation into expansion as outlined under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

While nearly all Republican governors took a firm stand against traditional expansion, some now perceive Arkansas’s model as a means to get their hands on federal money while distancing themselves from the ACA. Unfortunately, as Arkansas can now attest, Medicaid expansion remains a bad deal for states and cannot truthfully be sold as a fiscally prudent or free market idea.

When you get beyond the rhetoric, Arkansas’s expansion has been a disaster. There are (at least) five lessons from Arkansas that Alabama’s leaders should bear in mind as they consider expansion:

1. Describing expansion through waivers as state-based, flexible, or innovative is misleading. Arkansas’s model is a far cry from a block grant and the few concessions offered from Washington are mere window dressing. No state has been granted the work requirements that were promised ad nauseam by governors. No state has been able to assign any meaningful cost-sharing requirements to beneficiaries. And no state has successfully negotiated any eligibility threshold that is more limited than that of the ACA. Additionally, any state-initiated waiver agreed to by the federal government is time-limited, whereas expansion itself goes on forever.

2. Expansion provides a disincentive to work. The population of newly-eligible Medicaid recipients is largely made up of those who ought to be in the workforce and states can’t do anything to change that. Estimates for Alabama show that over 75% of the newly-eligible would be able-bodied adults with no dependents. Furthermore, states that have expanded Medicaid inevitably create a welfare cliff for these individuals. For those on the cusp of the 138% poverty threshold, earning only a few more dollars a year in income kicks them out of Medicaid and into the ACA’s exchange plans that subject them to potentially thousands of dollars more in out of pocket costs.

3. States that expand Medicaid allow thousands of non-disabled, childless adults into the program which puts at risk the Medicaid safety net for truly vulnerable patients and families. States like Arkansas and Alabama already struggle to serve their Medicaid populations. With expansion, the poor and disabled who truly need this healthcare–those who Medicaid was created to serve–will be competing with those who are able-bodied and without dependent children for the time and attention of the state’s limited number of providers.

4. Much like traditional expansion, the private option is driven neither by fiscal responsibility nor free markets. The Government Accountability Office reported that Arkansas’s private option expansion will cost nearly $1 billion more than traditional expansion. Following implementation, Arkansas’s spending was over budget every month for the whole first year until the federal reimbursement cap was raised. This affirms that the Obama administration will recklessly agree to spend whatever it takes to pressure states into expansion. Again, this is because the federal government-not the state-maintains the real control, and the strict parameters agreed to leave very little room for free market competition. Furthermore, there is zero cost-sharing required for enrollees below the poverty line. While the state is now implementing an optional cost-sharing program for some enrollees, the federal government will not allow non-payers to be disenrolled from the program.

5. Expansion imposes a substantial cost to the state, despite the federal government’s guarantee. Medicaid spending already consumes 35% of Alabama’s General Fund. Medicaid costs continue to increase year after year, inevitably siphoning resources away from other budget priorities (the same is true for federal budget priorities like defense spending). Expansion is not a solution to this problem. While the federal government agrees to pay 100% of the cost of expansion for the first few years, this reimbursement tapers off to 90% in 2020. The 10% price tag alone represents millions of dollars, but does not even include the added administrative costs that the state will immediately incur if Medicaid is expanded. To further complicate matters, Congress is already moving to cut the enhanced match for expansion so, in reality, the total cost to the state is immeasurable.

Medicaid expansion was bad for Arkansas and there is no reason to believe that Alabama’s experience would be any different. Alabama’s conservative legislators should learn from Arkansas’s mistake and commit to saving their state from a similar disaster.


Bryan King is a member of the Arkansas Senate and represents the 5th District. Katherine Robertson serves as Vice President for the Alabama Policy Institute, 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 authors, please email info@alabamapolicy.org or call (205) 870-9900.

1
3 years ago

Heritage Economist: Bentley should abolish state income tax, not push tax hikes


(Video Above: Heritage Foundation Chief Economist Steve Moore discusses Gov. Bentley tax hike proposal)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In video for the Alabama Policy Institute (API), Heritage Foundation Chief Economist Steve Moore says Governor Bentley’s proposed tax increases are the wrong way to increase revenue for the state, and in fact will only serve to drive businesses and workers—the real sources of growth—away from the state.

“When states raise their taxes, especially when they raise their tax rates, that it actually leads to jobs leaving the state, it leads to higher unemployment, it leads to income decline in the state,” Moore said. “The problem with the Alabama budget right now is that the state is not growing fast enough, not enough jobs are being created. If you raise taxes on the business creators and on the workers, and on the investors, you’re going to get less businesses and you’re going to get less workers, and less investors. Under that kind of circumstance, you’re actually going to have higher unemployment, so I don’t get the logic behind raising taxes to try to balance the budget.”

Instead Moore recommends a structurally lower tax system, including making Alabama the 10th state to abolish the state income tax.

“The goal of Alabama should be to be more like Texas, not to be more like New York, where taxes keep going up year after year, and jobs and businesses keep leaving,” Moore quipped.

API Vice President Katherine Robertson also expressed concerns on Tuesday that the Governor’s proposed tax increases are not “dead on arrival” in the legislature, as was previously hoped.

“As the Alabama Legislature considers various proposals for closing the budget gap in our state General Fund, API continues to push for reforms to the very programs that are causing repeated budget shortfalls as an alternative to raising taxes,” Robertson said.

API is publishing two new research papers in the coming weeks, focusing on cost-saving reforms the legislature can consider in place of the Governor’s tax increases.

“Advertising higher taxes as the only option for closing the budget gap without cutting government services presents a false choice,” said API’s press release accompanying the video. “Rather, the current budget crisis should serve as an impetus for substantive reforms that tackle the real drivers behind the shortfall and will provide the state financial stability for the long-term. Alabama’s lawmakers should continue on in this worthy pursuit and stay true to their campaign promises.”

Pieces of Governor Bentley’s proposed $541 million tax increase have Republican sponsors in the legislature, but none of the tax hikes have been brought before a committee to this point. The legislature is expected to begin working on the budget next week, when they return from Spring Break.


1
3 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court halts same-sex marriages

gay marriage alabama
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Supreme Court issued a writ of mandamus ordering the state’s county probate judges to stop issuing gay marriage licenses Tuesday evening.

The 148-page ruling will allow 5 days for probate judges to submit arguments for why they should be allowed to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The writ of mandamus was requested by the Alabama Policy Institute (API). According to API vice president Katherine Robertson, the Institute had standing to file the request for the writ because they are a public policy institute that has studied and analyzed the importance of traditional marriage on a family and the children involved.

“As it has done for approximately two centuries, Alabama law allows for ‘marriage’ between only one man and one woman,” the order said. “Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to this law. Nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides this duty.”

Vocal gay marriage opponent Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore appears to have recused himself from the case, as he is not listed as a concurring or dissenting judge on the order.

The order also gives Mobile County probate judge Don Davis until Thursday to argue why he should not be bound by the order. Davis had previously asked to be excluded from the lawsuit because he had been specifically been ordered to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples by Mobile federal district judge Callie Granade.

The Alabama Policy Institute issued a statement Tuesday night celebrating the order.

“Today, the Alabama Supreme Court granted our request for a writ of mandamus directing Alabama’s probate judges not to issue same-sex marriage licenses in violation of Alabama’s Constitution,” API said. “The ongoing confusion caused by the federal court’s action in January needed to be clarified in a formal opinion by the State’s highest court and the Alabama Policy Institute was well-suited to pursue such a remedy. This decision by the Alabama Supreme Court finally, in the words of Justice Scalia, gives the people of Alabama the respect that they deserve by preserving our law until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the issue. The sanctity of marriage—an institute that has always been reserved for the states—is a cause worth fighting for, for as long as the States still have their rightful say in the matter.”

This story is breaking and will be updated as more details emerge


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Facing pressure to raise taxes, Alabama legislators must decide what their legacy will be (Opinion)

YH Dont Tread on Me Flag

Lately, Alabamians have struggled to discern any difference between what they thought they voted against in November and what they might be getting in the coming months. A commitment to oppose tax increases is now being replaced with a “bold” move to increase taxes, without any reference as to how this could impact bringing new jobs to the state. Along those same lines, getting Alabamians back to work and keeping able-bodied individuals out of a dependency program is now being abandoned for attempts to increase the number of Alabamians on Medicaid through expansion, despite the fact that 75% of those made eligible through expansion would indeed be able-bodied individuals with no disabilities and no dependent children.

Facing a budget shortfall and variety of proposed solutions, it appears that the first session of the new quadrennium will be a true test of fortitude within the legislature. It would be naïve to ignore the pressure on our legislators to give in and renege on their promises to voters. In fact, some legislators have already been threatened with decreased funding for their districts if they don’t.

Nonetheless, this is nearly the same group of individuals who offered their handshake with Alabama in 2010– to create jobs and economic opportunities, to control wasteful spending, and to block the power grab coming from Washington, D.C. With this agenda as the foundation, significant progress was made over the last four years that must be built upon. To backslide in the face of mounting budget pressures and mixed signals from the executive branch would be a massive defeat.

Voters reelected this majority, and even expanded it, because they share the principles upon which this majority campaigned and believe that Alabama is headed in a good direction. Had they wanted the failed policies of Washington, voters would have selected candidates more closely aligned with the President.

The new legislature must now decide what its legacy will be. It should view the crises of the moment as an opportunity to pursue real reforms, to make the tough choices that have, in the past, been viewed as politically impossible. Rather than opt for the least difficult or disagreeable ways to fill the budget gap, the slow leaks of Medicaid, corrections, and pensions must be plugged and automated spending through earmarks should be reexamined.

“Free money” from a federal government that glorifies government dependency should be rejected; and instead, cost-saving reforms to our existing Medicaid program should be pursued. The false choice of new taxes or a reduction in government services should be dismissed, given that Alabama’s ratio of public to private sector jobs is the 10th highest in the country with costs of employee benefits that continue to rise. Opportunities to expand competitive contracting or privatize non-essential government functions should be given new consideration. State-owned real property should be more effectively utilized, as other states have generated millions of dollars in new revenue as a result of improved property management.

In his list of “Ten Conservative Principles,” Russell Kirk noted, “[a]ny public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.” Some of the proposals being floated may bring about a temporary advantage and others may even be popular, the negative effects of which would not be seen during the careers of many of our current legislators. Nonetheless, principled leaders should not turn a blind eye to the impact that short-sighted plans will have on the generations of Alabamians who will follow them.

As voters, we must be on guard against actions that are out of sync with what we were promised in November. We must also support those legislators seeking to do the right thing and encourage them to stay the course, even in the face of changing political headwinds.


Caleb Crosby is the President and Katherine G. Roberts is the Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute.

1
3 years ago

Alabama Supreme Court to consider whether probate judges should cease issuing gay marriage licenses

gay marriage alabama
MONTGOMERY — In a relatively rare move, the Alabama Supreme Court has issued a writ of mandamus requested by the Alabama Policy Institute allowing the opportunity for the court to officially rule on whether or not Alabama’s probate judges are violating the Alabama constitution by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

A writ of mandamus is an “order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.”

According to Alabama Policy Institute lawyer Eric Johnston, the writ essentially provides an opportunity to argue before the Alabama Supreme Court that probate judges must abide by the Alabama Constitution’s Sanctity of Marriage amendment.

It was previously questioned whether or not Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore had the authority to compel probate judges stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

If the Alabama Supreme Court rules that probate judges must abide by the Sanctity of Marriage amendment, the only court that can overturn their ruling is the US Supreme Court. The same-sex marriages performed in the state during the last week would remain in limbo until the US Supreme Court rules this summer.

“That’s one of the disappointing things is [judge Granade’s] ruling is putting all these people in the position of thinking they’re married, and what if some of them die and want to inherit from each other… It just causes confusion and should not have been done,” Johnston told Yellowhammer Friday evening.

According to Alabama Policy Institute vice president Katherine Robertson, the Institute had standing to file the request for the writ because they are a public policy institute that has studied and analyzed the importance of traditional marriage on a family and the children involved.

Robertson told Yellowhammer Friday evening that several probate judges on both sides of the aisle approached the Alabama Policy Institute seeking clarification.

“Our main motivation in doing this was for the probate judges who were left in limbo and fearful of standing firm on the Alabama Constitution and their own consciences,” Robertson said.

“We are confident that our pursuit for the preservation of Alabama’s Sanctity of Marriage Amendment is one that a majority of Alabamians would have pursued had they had the standing to do so,” Robertson said. “Our conversations with judges and concerned elected officials affirmed to us that somebody needed to do something.”

This story is developing and will be updated.


1
3 years ago

Obama Admin. rooting for BentleyCare Medicaid expansion, touts similar Pennsylvania plan

BentleyCare

WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials are celebrating New Years early by touting a spike in government healthcare enrollment, and are rooting hard for more states, including Alabama, to expand their Medicaid programs under ObamaCare in early 2015.

“As of October 2014, approximately 9.7 million additional Americans were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP – a 17 percent increase over the average monthly enrollment for July through September 2013,” said Cindy Mann, Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and Director of the Centers for Medicaid and CHIP Services. “(S)tates can expand their Medicaid programs to cover more people at any time. And, even more Americans could access affordable coverage if all states take the Medicaid expansion option.”

As of today, 26 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded their Medicaid programs under ObamaCare.

“Coverage for newly eligible adult beneficiaries is fully federally paid for under the Affordable Care Act through 2016, and never less than 90 percent for the years following,” said Mann. “Pennsylvania will become the 27th state when coverage starts on January 1, 2015.”

The Obama Administration is particularly excited about the Pennsylvania expansion because it is being spearheaded by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

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

Mann said the Administration is optimistic that Alabama and other Republican-controlled states will follow in the footsteps of Pennsylvania in the near future. She also trumpeted the fact that government healthcare enrollment has increased much faster in states that have expanded Medicaid.

“Several other states have recently indicated their plan to pursue expansion in 2015,” she said. “This is encouraging because Medicaid and CHIP enrollment in states with expanded Medicaid programs rose by over 24 percent since before the initial open enrollment in Marketplace began, in comparison to nearly 7 percent in states that have not expanded Medicaid.”

But while the Obama Administration is optimistically waiting for Gov. Bentley to expand Medicaid, conservative groups in Alabama have already begun preemptively pushing for him to stick to his campaign promise to not take the expansion.

Two dozen grassroots conservative leaders from across Alabama wrote a letter to the governor last week.

“You campaigned specifically on not expanding Medicaid, and according to recent media reports from multiple outlets, you are now open to expanding it,” they wrote. “Therefore, we are writing to encourage you, if not demand of you, that you immediately put these rumors to rest and state for the record once and for all that Medicaid expansion will not happen under your watch now or ever.”

Katherine Robertson of the Alabama Policy Institute, the state’s leading conservative think tank, also penned an op-ed warning that Alabamians should not be fooled by a “backdoor approach to Medicaid expansion.”

“Republican Governors and legislators who have repeatedly laid out principled cases against Medicaid expansion should not be permitted to repackage expansion under new nomenclature,” Robertson concluded. “We should not be fooled. These state-sponsored alternatives are merely a backdoor approach to Medicaid expansion as introduced in the Affordable Care Act. Such plans are costly, unsustainable, inflexible, and most of all, not free.”

But while Gov. Bentley has — since being re-elected — expressed his desire to expand Medicaid coverage to individuals up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, he has maintained that whatever plan he proposes will not violate his promise to not expand Medicaid.

“I’ve said that I’m not going to expand Medicaid, and I’m not,” Bentley said on the Matt Murphy Show. “What I was talking about is if the federal government would give me block grants — that means gives us the money with no strings attached, basically — so that we could help — help — those in the 100 to 138 percent poverty level that are already working or in workforce training.”

The core problem Republican governors have had with expanding Medicaid in any form is that the Obama administration has to sign off on any proposal. For instance, Bentley has often mentioned some form of work or workforce training requirement for new individuals receiving insurance under his plan, but similar requirements in Pennsylvania were dropped when the Obama Administration balked.

“The chances are that the federal government’s not going to do that,” Bentley said. “But if the federal government would give me the block grant money and let me design it through Blue Cross or United Health or someone like that, (we could) let them design a program to help people temporarily as they try to better themselves with workforce training and those in the lower socioeconomic group, but they have to be working.”


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4 years ago

API: Alabamians should not be fooled by ‘backdoor approach to Medicaid expansion’

YH Medicaid Expansion

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Katherine Robertson, vice president of the staunchly conservative Alabama Policy Institute, warned Alabamians on Wednesday that they should not be “fooled” by a potential “backdoor approach to Medicaid expansion as introduced in” ObamaCare.

In several states around the country, Republican governors have recently proposed plans that eerily resembled Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, but have used new “nomenclature,” or terminology, to cloak the plans in conservative-sounding rhetoric.

“This week, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced his proposal for a ‘Medicaid expansion alternative’ that would expand the program to nearly 200,000 currently ineligible individuals in the state,” Robertson explained by way of example. “Also called a ‘hybrid plan,’ Haslam’s version of expansion would provide Medicaid-funded vouchers to be used for premiums and other expenses for employed individuals making less than 138% of the federal poverty level,” the same level set by ObamaCare’s expansion requirements.

Robertson also said that the Republican governors of Arkansas and Pennsylvania have essentially expanded Medicaid, “while simultaneously characterizing ObamaCare expansion as a bad idea.”

She explains what happened in both states:

Arkansas Governor Beebe received approval to expand Medicaid through waivers allowing Medicaid dollars to go toward the purchase of private insurance for those falling below 133% of the federal poverty line. In the agreement, the federal government imposed a per-person cap on the cost whereby anything beyond a certain amount would be paid for by the state (taxpayers). Shortly after implementation, the plan’s cost went well over the limit and the state was left asking for a raise in the caps due to difficulties encountered in predicting the cost. A September 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office found that Arkansas’s cost assumptions were so far off that the plan would cost the federal government nearly $800 million more than traditional expansion. Even though Arkansas’s private option expansion has proven to be a failure, it is still being hailed as a worthy blueprint by some Republican governors seeking a way out of their commitments to reject new federal money for Medicaid.

In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett also pushed his “Healthy PA Plan” as an “alternative” to Medicaid expansion under the ACA. The plan is expected to expand Medicaid to over 500,000 uninsured individuals, but it is considered an alternative because, much like Arkansas’s plan, federal Medicaid money would be used to provide private health insurance to beneficiaries. The plan “created in Pennsylvania, for Pennsylvania” was supposed to contain tougher premium requirements, but the approved plan contained even less stringent requirements than those already in place. Corbett also touted his plan’s job search requirements for enrollees which never made it into the final waiver approved by the federal government.

The Arkansas and Pennsylvania plans both bear similarities to some of the Medicaid expansion proposals Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is weighing.

Similar to the Arkansas plan — which has seen its costs to state taxpayers even surpass traditional Medicaid expansion — Bentley has said he’d like to be able to funnel federal tax dollars through the state government and into private insurers, who would cover the uninsured individuals.

Similar to Pennsylvania’s unsuccessful pitch to the Obama Administration, Bentley has mentioned some form of work or workforce training requirement for new individuals receiving insurance.

“Republican Governors and legislators who have repeatedly laid out principled cases against Medicaid expansion should not be permitted to repackage expansion under new nomenclature,” Robertson concluded. “We should not be fooled. These state-sponsored alternatives are merely a backdoor approach to Medicaid expansion as introduced in the Affordable Care Act. Such plans are costly, unsustainable, inflexible, and most of all, not free.”


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4 years ago

More belt-tightening is needed in Alabama’s budgets (opinion)

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

(This is Part 2 of the Alabama Policy Institute’s 3-part “Budget Basics” series: exploring Alabama’s budget system, the current fiscal climate and related challenges, and the implications for taxpayers. Part 1 can be read here.)

The Alabama state budget process begins with the Alabama Department of Finance’s Executive State Budget Office (EBO), as required by Alabama law. The EBO puts together the Governor’s Executive Budget and presents it to the Legislature. The Legislature reviews the Governor’s budget and drafts its own, with assistance from the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO). The two appropriations bills then go through the typical legislative process, starting with consideration by the relevant committees: the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation- ETF, the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation-GF, the House Ways and Means Education Committee, and the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

The Governor’s proposed FY2015 General Fund budget was not substantially altered as it made its way through the legislative process. The Governor recommended $1.82 billion and a $1.83 billion budget was enacted. On the other hand, the Senate reduced by $75 million the Governor’s $5.99 billion proposal for the ETF, while the House version decreased the appropriation by around $60 million (which was adopted). The main source of disagreement was the Governor’s inclusion of a 2% pay raise for K-12 educators at a cost of $68 million and a $72 million increase for education employee insurance. If both of these items had been adopted, the ETF’s statutory spending cap would have been exceeded by $92 million. The Legislature opted to focus resources on the education health insurance without providing for a pay raise, and exceeded the cap by a much smaller margin. On April 11, 2014, the Governor signed the FY15 budget, allocating $1.8 billion to the General Fund (up 5.1% from last year) and $5.9 billion to the Education Trust Fund (up 2.9% from last year).


Simply put, it has become more and more difficult to maintain level funding, much less increased funding, for all of the obligations of state government.


As previously mentioned, the Alabama Constitution requires a balanced budget. Proration is declared when revenues from income, sales and other taxes fall short of estimates and across-the-board cuts are implemented, or prorated.

Since 1980, the State has declared proration 11 times for the Education Trust Fund and eight times for the General Fund. In the last decade alone, the ETF went into proration six times and the GF three times. Notably, since the Republicans took power, the ETF has not gone into proration, because the 2011 adoption of the Education Rolling Reserve Act (ERRA) caps the appropriation limit. Proration was declared for the General Fund in 2012. Poor stock market conditions and tornado recovery funds were cited as contributing factors.

In some fiscal years, to avoid proration or to reduce its impact, money has been borrowed from the State rainy day accounts. The rainy day accounts, one for the ETF and one for the GF, are part of the Alabama Trust Fund. The Alabama Trust Fund was established in 1985 and is funded by the State’s oil and gas revenues. In 2008, the ETF and GF Rainy Day Accounts were set up within the Trust fund.

There are constitutional limits on how much money can be withdrawn in a particular fiscal year. Most recently, in 2009, the maximum withdrawal–$437 million–was made from the Education Rainy Day Account. The ETF must fully repay the remaining balance of $162 million by July 2015. In FY2010, $161 million was withdrawn from the General Fund Rainy Day Account. At present, there is no set schedule for repayment but it must be repaid by 2020. In September 2012, voters approved a constitutional amendment to withdraw $437 million from the Alabama Trust Fund over the course of three years to make up for General Fund shortages. When the Legislature reconvened in 2013, a bill sponsored by Sen. Taylor (R-Prattville) and former Rep. Love (R-Montgomery) was passed to require an automatic payback of this withdrawal by 2026.

The Alabama economy continues to experience stagnant economic growth. Simply put, it has become more and more difficult to maintain level funding, much less increased funding, for all of the obligations of state government. Republican-led efforts in the last quadrennium to pass legislation limiting ETF spending according to past growth, consolidating agencies or offices, streamlining a variety of operations, and ensuring the repayment of debts owed to the various savings funds are a solid step in the right direction.

As it currently stands, more ‘tightening of the belt’ will be required. Providing for more flexibility in the allocation of resources will be another necessary consideration.


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(at)alabamapolicy.org.

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4 years ago

Legislators must reform Alabama’s prisons or risk a federal judge doing it for us

Alabama prison


QUICK HIT:

  • Alabama’s prisons are currently operating at twice their capacity
  • The vast majority of Alabama inmates are non-violent offenders
  • The cost of housing inmates ($400 million/year) is busting the state’s budget
  • The Supreme Court ordered the release of 46,000 criminals in California because their prisons were overcrowded
  • The same could happen in Alabama if state lawmakers don’t act

Bringing real reform to Alabama’s congested prison system may be an idea whose time has finally come.

To say the state’s prisons are overcrowded would be an understatement. They’re currently operating at almost twice their capacity.

While 1 in every 190 Americans is serving a prison sentence of a year or more — which is absurd in the “Land of the Free” — in Alabama that number jumps to 1 in every 148.

As of July 2010, only 43 percent of Alabama’s prisoners were serving time for violent crimes. So the vast majority of Alabama’s prisoners are locked up for non-violent, typically minor drug offenses.

The costs of housing these inmates is skyrocketing.

Alabama has seen a 95 percent increase in the cost per inmate over the last two decades. As of 2008, the state was spending $15,178 per inmate each year. That’s $41.47 for each inmate every single day — cash that’s coming straight out of our paychecks.

This is putting a huge strain on the state’s beleaguered (i.e. disastrous) General Fund Budget. But it’s the overcrowding issue that Alabamians should be most concerned about right now.

To put it plainly, Alabama has the most serious prison crowding problem in the country. It’s so bad that we’re running the risk of federal courts stepping in and ordering the haphazard release of thousands of prisoners from the state’s lockups.

That’s not fear mongering, just ask the State of California.

In the 2011 Supreme Court case Brown v. Plata, the Court effectively required the State of California to remove 46,000 criminals from its prisons by forcing The Golden State to cut its prison population to 137.5 percent of “design capacity.”

The Public Policy Institute of California found that property crime increased by 7.6 percent the year after the mass releases. Car thefts rose almost 15 percent. In short, 24,000 more people had their car stolen in California in 2012 as a result of the state not being able to get its prison overcrowding problem under control.

And remember, Alabama’s prisons are currently at roughly 187 percent capacity, 50 percent higher than the level the Court mandated for California.

This week, the situation inside Alabama’s prisons got national media attention due to inmates staging protests at several facilities. Some of the prisoners refused to cook food or do laundry. Some even demanded pay for their work. That’s silly.

However, a corrections officer called into talk radio station WYDE on Monday and said he believes the protests may have been organized from outside the prison by activist groups looking for an opportunity to introduce a lawsuit or to simply gain the attention of the courts.

“Last night felt like it was about to get out of control,” the officer said. “Tensions are real high. They’re trying to draw us into a confrontation so they can sue us.”

The protests have already gotten the attention of State Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who has been one of the Alabama legislature’s leading advocates for prison reform.

Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster

“We’re dealing with a box of dynamite in our prison system,” Ward told AL.com’s Mike Cason Tuesday. “I would rather us as a Legislature deal with it … as opposed to a federal judge coming in slashing and burning.”

Ward said he believes Alabama’s prison system is the “greatest threat to state budgets” and suggested following the lead of other states that have successfully reformed their prison system in recent years.

One such state could be Texas, which opted not to build new prisons about 5 years ago. Instead, the state improved its probation and parole systems and in-prison reform programs. They saved over $3 billion dollars by not building new prisons and saw their crime rate hit its lowest point in a half century.

North Carolina is another state that achieved a significant reduction in its prison population by prioritizing space for violent offenders, strengthening probation and parole supervision and sending low-level drug offenders to drug courts.

Katherine Robertson of the Alabama Policy Institute said it best, “(Our) leaders must act to improve and expand alternatives to incarceration for low-risk and nonviolent offenders to ensure that costly prison space is focused on those who pose a long-term threat to our public safety, not those we are simply mad at.”

The high-cost, low return system we currently have is broken. Instead of improving the state’s infrastructure, adequately funding our judicial system, or any number of other potentially beneficial uses of General Fund dollars, Alabama is spending just under $400 million a year (!) on a corrections system that doesn’t even work.

This is a tough issue that is not going to be solved in one bill or even one session. It’s going to take years.

But it’s a huge opportunity for Alabama legislators to step up and get us headed in the right direction before a federal judge swoops in and does it for us.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

(Note: much of the data in this article came from excellent research done by the Alabama Policy Institute. It can be found here and here.)

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5 years ago

Senator Durbin targets Alabama think tank on ‘Stand Your Ground’

YH Dick Durbin

On August 6, the Alabama Policy Institute received a letter from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) inquiring into the Institute’s affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and specifically ALEC’s support of “stand your ground” laws. Unfortunately, the letter appears aimed more at political intimidation of an organization that directly promotes policies Senator Durbin opposes than fostering a healthy debate about self-defense laws.

In 2005, ALEC drafted model legislation that would remove the duty of an individual to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense or the defense of another. That law, adopted by many states including Alabama, has become known as “stand your ground.” Durbin’s letter, sent to more than 300 corporations and non-profits, asks whether the recipient organization has provided any recent funding to ALEC and whether or not the organization supported the “stand your ground” legislation.

Alabama’s “stand your ground” law dictates that “a person who is justified … in using deadly physical force in self-defense or in defense of another, who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in any place where he or she has the right to be, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.” Alabama has also adopted the “castle doctrine” which means that a person is authorized to use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a dwelling, residence, or vehicle under certain circumstances. Similar laws can be found on the books in over half of the states in the union. In fact, as a state legislator, President Obama voted in favor of Illinois’ “stand your ground” law when it passed in 2004.

Katherine Robertson
Katherine Robertson

The Alabama Policy Institute has and will continue to support the constitutional right to bear arms, as provided in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and in Article I, § 26 of the Alabama Constitution. We also agree with the Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller that “the inherent right of self-defense [is] central to the Second Amendment right.” Senator Durbin apparently does not share this view. Given the broader context of the large-scale IRS targeting scandal exposed earlier this summer, it is difficult to consider the letter as anything other than an attempt to stifle the right of free speech and free association amongst groups that stand for policies that Senator Durbin is against.

Near the end of the letter, Durbin notes his intention to hold a hearing on “stand your ground” laws and that any responses to his letter will be made publicly available at that time. As a non-profit think tank, publicizing our stances on policy issues is fundamental to the mission of API; thus, Senator Durbin’s perceived attempt to have us shy away from defending Second Amendment rights and from supporting likeminded groups will fail. However, if Durbin is successful, for-profit corporations will be reluctant to support organizations that promote policies like “stand your ground” for fear of blatant targeting and backlash levied by politicians who oppose them.

The Alabama Policy Institute appreciates Senator Durbin’s review of our work, as we seek to promote and protect the rights provided to Alabamians by our state and federal constitutions. API will also continue to fight against pervasive federal intrusion in areas like criminal law, over which states have always enjoyed sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment.


Katherine Green Robertson serves as senior policy counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute (API). API is an independent, 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.

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