5 months ago

Text of Ivey infrastructure bill released as support for the plan grows

MONTGOMERY — Shortly after a Friday afternoon press conference in which prominent city and county leaders from across the state spoke in support of Governor Kay Ivey’s Rebuild Alabama plan, the governor’s office released the text of the bill to the public.

The just-finalized bill, which was made available to state legislators earlier in the day, has been released in time to be studied before the start of the 2019 regular Alabama legislative session, which convenes Tuesday at noon. State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) will be filing the bill.

A wide cross-section of Rebuild Alabama proponents was on display at the press conference, including Ivey’s top opponents from the 2018 election cycle: Mayor Tommy Battle (R-Huntsville) and Mayor Walt Maddox (D-Tuscaloosa).

Battle said, “The whole process of this is to add to the economy of the state of Alabama. Governor, thank you for taking this up – it’s not an easy thing to take on, but we know what’s good for Huntsville is good for Mobile is good for Jasper is good for Auburn/Opelika. As we take care of this infrastructure, we add to the economy of the state, and we make the state stronger.”

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s firm support of the governor’s plan is also especially significant, considering his and his family’s longtime leadership in the state’s forestry industry.

At the press conference, Stimpson joined Battle, Maddox and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange in thanking Ivey, emphasizing, “This is a generational opportunity to do something that’s desperately needed.”

Paraphrasing something Ivey has previously said, Strange said, “We need to do the right thing – this is it – we need to do it the right way – and this is it – and we need to do it right now. Time is of the essence to get this done.”

Strange’s emphasis on addressing the state’s infrastructure needs now was a key focus of representatives of the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama (ACCA) at the press conference, too.

ACCA President Tony Cherry, who is a commissioner in Choctaw County, remarked, “It’s going to take all 67 counties to get this done.”

ACCA President-elect David Money, who is a Republican, the probate judge and the county commission chair in Henry County, presented the association’s report entitled, “The Cost of Doing Nothing.” The new report was released to the public during the press conference.

Money outlined that the state’s infrastructure has correspondingly declined as the state gas tax’s buying power has plummeted since it was last adjusted in 1992.

“Doing nothing is no longer an option,” he said.

Blount County Commission Chairman and Probate Judge Chris Green also spoke in favor of the Rebuild Alabama plan, highlighting the benefits it would have for rural farm-to-market roads.

This came after the Alabama Farmers Federation on Wednesday released a statement supporting Ivey’s plan.

“We commend Gov. Ivey for her courage and foresight to tackle some of Alabama’s biggest challenges,” Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell said. “The Federation supports increased and equitable funding for farm-to-market roads, and the governor’s plan addresses this need. Our members rely on roads and bridges to receive supplies; get their crops, livestock and poultry to market; and travel for work and school. Poor and inadequate infrastructure is one of the greatest barriers to rural Alabama enjoying the same economic growth as larger cities. We appreciate the governor putting forth a plan that is reasonable, accountable and benefits all Alabama residents.”

To conclude the press conference, representatives from the Alabama League of Municipalities (ALM) also spoke.

Bessemer City Council and ALM President Jesse Matthews gave his strong support for Rebuild Alabama, stating, “We look forward to working hand-in-hand with Governor Ivey and the state legislature to make this dream become a reality.”

Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller wrapped up the statements from local leaders, again thanking the governor and offering his endorsement of the plan.

Important details become clear with bill’s release

The release of the exact bill will answer lingering questions some residents have about Rebuild Alabama.

The revenues raised from the new proposed fuel tax will not be able to be put towards salaries or other compensation that are not direct project costs; purchase or maintenance of equipment; or building structures or buildings that are not installed as part of a road or bridge project.

ALDOT’s portion of the revenues from the tax will be put in the new “Rebuild Alabama Fund,” which will be annually audited and reported to the Joint Transportation Committee with a mandatory itemization of specific projects.

This is part of why Ivey stressed that the bill has “strong accountability” measures to ensure the new revenues are being spent correctly and transparently.

In the press conference, the governor also confirmed that she is moving to stop the recent annual diversion of money from the Road and Bridge Fund to pay for shortages in Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA, which includes state troopers) and the court system funding. In her budget she will propose to the legislature this year, what has been a yearly diversion of approximately $63 million will be cut in half. Ivey hopes to bring that number down to zero in the coming years.

“I’m still protecting the courts and ALEA will be protected,” she explained, noting that the diversion needed to be phased out to accomplish this.

Ivey will ask the legislature to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) out of the education trust fund so the general fund can accommodate the approximately $30 million not being diverted from ALDOT in the coming budget.

The Alabama Transportation Institute has estimated the fuel tax increase will cost the average Alabama driver $55 per year.

A report released earlier this week by a nonprofit transportation research group concluded that Alabama drivers are losing between approximately $1,300-$1,800 annually due to deficient infrastructure.

Hybrid and electric vehicle fees are included in the bill. A large portion of the registration fees for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids will be used to fund the electric transportation infrastructure grant program.

The purpose of this grant program will be to help alleviate the lack of charging infrastructure in the state and to help drivers have access to adequate infrastructure for electric transportation.

You can read a one-page summary of the Rebuild Alabama bill here.

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

5 hours ago

Alabama Democratic Party chair: Trump and ‘a lot of folks’ in Alabama are ‘racist’ — ‘I guess we all are to a little extent’

On Friday’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Alabama Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Worley reacted to tweets from President Donald Trump attacking “The Squad,” made up of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Some deemed the attack “racist,” to which Worley concurred. Worley argued such rhetoric was part of Trump’s appeal in the South.

“Well, Don, you know he is very strong in the South,” Worley said. “Southerners like big talkers, little doers. That’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin. And Trump’s good at talking. I don’t think he’s been a particularly good president at all, but he’s good at talking.”

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“And he can go out and say outrageous things, and it captures the attention of a lot of southerners, and others in the country – not just in the South. But I think when he says things to these four women, all who have been elected by their constituents to Congress, and he tells them if they don’t like something, just go home – well, their home is here,” she continued. “Their home is right here in the country. Maybe their families immigrated here, but we’re all the products of immigrants – I mean, every single one of us unless you can trace your lines back to some very long ago Native Americans, we’re all immigrants. So, if you start telling everybody in America to go home, you’ll clean out the country because there won’t be many Native Americans. It will be an empty country. I think it was wrong for him to say that to women who were elected by their constituents. He probably wouldn’t have said that to four men.”

“And that’s just interesting that people will say things to females who are elected that they won’t say to males,” Worley added. “I do think it is deplorable of the President to criticize four women who were elected by their constituents. You may not agree with them. You may not like how they dress. You may not like what they say. But you should respect their office. As much as I don’t like the President of the United States, I respect that office.”

Worley went on to call Trump “a racist” but said that was not unlike “a lot of folks” in Alabama, and she caveated that by saying “we all” are racist to an extent.

“There’s no doubt – he benefits when he race-baits, you know?” Worley added. “And he’s racist. But there are a lot of folks right here in Alabama who are racist. I guess we all are to a little extent because we see things from our perspective – whatever race we are, we see it from our perspective. But in his case, I think he does it knowingly because he simply gathers more support in the South and in Rust Belt areas and other parts of the country. I think it’s economic in many cases because they say, ‘Oh, those immigrants are coming in and getting my job.’ They base it on their pocketbooks. But they really just don’t like someone who looks differently from them. And I think it is most unfortunate that the President of the United States would stoop to those kinds of tactics. But it works for him in the South. He’s obviously trying to shore up his base here.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

6 hours ago

Ashley Chestnut getting students up to speed with history in ‘Down in the Ham’ series

For Ashley Chestnut, her home state of Georgia runs deep in her bones. She moved to Alabama to attend ministerial school and after completing classes was hired by the Church at Brook Hills.

Birmingham has “grown on her.” Several years ago, Chestnut decided to really get involved in her new community.

From the scenery to its food scene, the Magic City checked all the boxes for Chestnut’s home away from home. But there was one particular area where she wanted to have an impact.

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Ashley wanted to inspire children from Birmingham’s neighboring communities to visit Alabama’s largest city. The result two years ago was a documented list of history lessons in “Down in the Ham – A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham.”

Local author sheds light on events and history ‘Down in the Ham’ from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Inspiration in unusual places

The notion to write a book about Birmingham, combined with a coloring book, didn’t come the way one might think.

She was hours away, more than four hours in fact, visiting friends in Greenville, South Carolina. While there, her friends’ children were boiled over with excitement about visiting downtown Greenville to find, of all things, mice sculptures.

They’d read a book and couldn’t wait to find these animals that had been brought to life in the pages of literature.

In her downtime driving back home, Chestnut fondly remembered the excitement of the kids – and then it hit. Why not recreate a book about Birmingham’s downtown with hopes of fueling excitement among young readers?

Chestnut wasted no time putting her idea into action – to inspire children to love and explore their city.

It’s in the art

The words came fairly quickly for her book, but Chestnut knew it was not done until she secured an illustrator to make it come to life.

She saw the artist’s work before they even met. While at an auction, she noticed one particular piece. It not only caught her eye, but she wanted to reach out with the idea that this artist would be the perfect “fit” for her book project. And that’s what she did.

Artist Abby Little Jessup had a full plate, but after hearing from Chestnut, she knew “Down in the Ham”was a project she should illustrate.

Their collaboration is not only making history, but led to a fast friendship.

Birmingham’s Vulcan gives a tour in the book, but it packs other family-friendly activities for adults and children.

More fruitful works

The original “Down in the Ham” series not only includes the children’s book, but also “Color the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book.” Children can read about and then color sites in the Magic City.

Other communities haven’t been left out of the fun, either, with their latest project. “Around the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book” reaches beyond Birmingham to highlight communities from Homewood to East Lake and everywhere in between.

It was released in June – two years after her first book.

Chestnut’s books can be found in the gift store at Vulcan Park and Museum atop Red Mountain or can be ordered online at downintheham.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

Roy Moore on 2020 US Senate race: ‘A different race,’ ‘I don’t think it will be as notable, vicious’

One of the concerns of many regarding the 2020 U.S. Senate race is with the presence of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore as a candidate, the competition will draw media scrutiny from all over the country.

On the eve of Moore’s announcement, national outlets sent reporters to be in Montgomery for his rollout.

However, in an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Saturday, Moore said to host Shannon Moore that he did not think 2020 would be a repeat of the “vicious” 2017 contest given all of the other election campaigns that will be underway at the same time.

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“I think it’s a different race,” Moore said on the “Politics and Moore” show. “I think it’s different because that was a special election. There weren’t other races going on across the country. There are hundreds of races going on across the country. Of course, you’ve got your presidents. You’ve got how many contenders for the Democratic [nomination]. There’s a lot going on that wasn’t going on then. I don’t think it will be as notable, as vicious. I mention Project Birmingham — things like that probably won’t occur because there are so many other races. Project Birmingham was a disinformation campaign, as you know, by some Democratic gurus and billionaire Reid Hoffman and George Soros, to stop my candidacy. And it was 80-something Republicans. So, I don’t think that will go on.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

8 hours ago

Alabama-based Apprenticeship Readiness Program graduates first students

Hard work pays off. That was a lesson learned by participants of the Central Alabama Building Trades’ Apprenticeship Readiness Program (ARP) hosted by Jefferson State Community College. The first Alabama-based ARP program had a 92% graduation rate, surpassing national benchmarks and preparing the students for the workforce of the future.

Over an eight-week period, students received hands-on training and educational services, introducing them to union crafts and the construction industry before they select a specific career trade.

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North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) sponsors ARPs, which are designed to prepare residents, particularly those from underrepresented communities and transitioning veterans, for registered Building Trade apprenticeship programs. These programs develop plumbers, electricians, ironworkers and other skilled professionals who propel growth in the state.

In celebration of the students’ accomplishment, a graduation ceremony was held in June at Alabama Power corporate headquarters in Birmingham. Participants and their families were in attendance, along with leaders of the local business community and higher education and national union leadership.

NABTU Secretary-Treasurer Brent Booker praised the graduates for their drive and completion of the program.

“What you’ve put into this is what you’ll get out of it. Through the Apprenticeship Readiness Program, you’ve changed your life. You’ve changed the next generation of your family and you’ve changed the economic trajectory of where you’re going. Stay on that track,” Booker said, challenging the graduates.

“We are pleased to have our first graduating class of Birmingham and plan to offer future ARPs in Alabama,” said Brandon Bishop, NABTU Southern representative.

Potential students interested in the next class starting in July should contact Terry Davis, ARP coordinator, at trdavis@centurytel.net by July 15.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

Auburn professor pens new book on Neil Armstrong, travels globe to discuss ‘First Man’

AUBURN — James Hansen vividly recalls how the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon brought Americans and the world together. Five decades later, the author of “First Man”—the only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong—is continuing to tell the story of that unifying moment in history by giving talks around the globe and through a new book that’s set to launch in October.

“I’m putting the finishing touches on a book that is going to be published with selected letters to Neil Armstrong,” said Hansen, professor emeritus at Auburn University, of the upcoming book titled “Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind.”

Through letters written by people all over the world to Armstrong, Hansen said readers can learn more about the astronaut who was the first to step foot on the moon.

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“What’s interesting about this book is what we can learn from reading the types of letters that were written to Armstrong not just immediately after Apollo 11 but for the rest of his life,” Hansen said

Hansen said nostalgia for the moon landing is high, especially with this weekend’s 50-year anniversary of Armstrong taking his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And this week, that excitement can even be seen in Langholm, Scotland—where Hansen was invited to attend celebratory events surrounding the big moment in history. The location has a unique connection to Armstrong as it’s his ancestral town.

“Neil went there in 1972 to great fanfare and enjoyed himself a lot, so I thought that would maybe be the most unique and interesting place to actually be on the day of the anniversary itself,” Hansen said.

After Hansen wraps up his stay in Scotland, he will then focus not only on his new book, but also in exploring a documentary on moon rocks, many of which have gone missing over the years.

“From six [moon] landings, something like 850 pounds of moon rocks were brought back and deposited in what was known as the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston,” he said.

Many of the rocks are still there, while a number of them were parceled out to researchers and lunar scientists around the world.

NASA recently announced that it would be unsealing some of the samples that have been preserved since the Apollo missions. Hansen said in the early 1970s, when the rocks were being brought back, NASA chose to seal some of the rocks so that future generations, with access to better technology and instrumentation than was available then, could study the rocks.

Hansen said he believes the rocks will continue to be parceled out over time as better technology comes available or another mission to the moon brings back more rocks.

“Until that happens, these are pretty precious commodities,” he said. “You need to save some of them for future scientific generations.”

Each story surrounding Apollo 11 has always held a fascination for Hansen, who remembers the day history was made.

It was on a summer Sunday between James Hansen’s junior and senior years of high school when Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. Hansen was gathered in the living room of his family’s home watching it on one of only two televisions in the house.

“The landing took place itself in the mid-to-late afternoon, depending on your time zone,” he said. “I was watching a baseball game, and actually the baseball games were recognizing it and everyone stood up at one point and prayed for the Apollo astronauts and then when it was announced that they landed, it was on the scoreboard and they stopped the game and everyone applauded.”

As the landing neared, he and his family turned to CBS, where Walter Cronkite was covering the event. It was well before the days of VCRs and DVRs, so the only way Hansen could capture what was happening on the screen was to take a picture of it with his Polaroid camera.

“That was important memorabilia and a lot of people did that. The moon walk itself took place about three hours after they landed. That was in the early evening and lasted until late in the evening. I was old enough that I didn’t have to have special permission from my parents to stay up and watch it all but a lot of smaller children did and I’ve heard a lot of stories from people over the years about where they were and how their parents let them stay up or they woke them up in time to hear Neil Armstrong say, ‘One small step,’” he recalled.

And while nostalgia is high today about the moon landing and how it unified the world in a shared monumental accomplishment, the historian in Hansen also recalls how the lead up to the landing wasn’t always met with full public support.

“They look back at nostalgia to this era when the moon landings happened and just sort of assumed that the American public, which was footing the bill because this was a U.S. federal government project, that the public was overwhelming in support of the moon landing program,” he said.

Hansen said that while the American public supported space programs on the whole, they weren’t demanding that moon landings take place.

“It was really the politicians within the context of the Cold War and the race with the Soviets in space that drove the project, and then the American people just kind of went along with it and didn’t oppose it too actively,” he said. “But, when they were polled, they didn’t seem too supportive.”

Even today, Hansen said there still are those who ask him if the landing really happened.

“We just can’t get past that,” Hansen said. “For some reason, there are people who just question it. I think everybody likes a good conspiracy theory but the evidence for the moon landing having been real is so tremendously overweighing anything that’s questionable. It’s a little upsetting but as a historian I find it interesting that people continue to believe or disbelieve things that are clearly believable or unbelievable.”

He said many people think we only went to the moon one time.

“There were actually six missions, Apollo 11-17,” he said. “There would have been seven landings if Apollo 13 had not had its emergency.”

When a malfunction in an oxygen tank on the service module exploded, Apollo 13’s crew was fortunate to make it back to Earth, but the lunar landing did not happen on that mission.

“If you’re questioning, ‘Did the moon landings actually happen?’ it’s not just questioning one, it’s questioning six of them,” he said.

Hansen is on his own mission to tell the story of what did happen and through his books and talks he is doing all he can to keep that moment in history alive.

“I feel a responsibility to the story and to Armstrong and to historical accuracy,” he said.

(Courtesy Auburn University)