Uber is a ride-sharing mobile application that matches up people seeking rides, with drivers. Uber is incredibly popular in cities that it operates in. Uber is not coming to Birmingham (probably).
It’s not because Uber doesn’t want to be in Birmingham. No, Uber has foresight and sees a growing market… It’s because the Birmingham City Council has once-again positioned itself between Birmingham and progress. The Transportation and Communication Committee of the Birmingham City Council, headed up by Councilor Kim Rafferty, is recommending an ordinance that would regulate ride-sharing services like UberX.
While not outright banning UberX, councilors like Kim Rafferty and Jonathan Austin have made it clear that they are against the service setting up in the Magic City. Why? Because these are not smart people we are dealing with.
Well that, and the aforementioned geniuses tend to be against anything what is new and could help Birmingham.
It’s actually a simple one and only contains two parts. Firstly, transportation in Birmingham is awful and the current companies are horrendous. Most importantly though, Uber could make our lives safer and bring more money downtown. On to the first point.
The current cab companies that operate in Birmingham are so bad at what they do that calling them a transportation service would be a very liberal usage of what it means to transport something. Try calling for a cab right now anywhere in Birmingham. If you wait less than thirty minutes I’ll put you on my back and take you there myself next time.
Once, I called to schedule a cab to go from Cahaba Heights to the Loft district at 7:30 p.m. The company told me it would be anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. That is cable company level efficiency right there. I would have felt more at ease if they had told me: “We could pick you up, or you could go screw yourself. It’ll either be one or the other.” That concludes my argument as to why cab companies in Birmingham are terrible things.
So if they are so awful why should we bring in another? Well for starters, UberX probably won’t suck. The company is just run better than traditional cab companies that tend to view their drivers as indentured servants and pay them as such. People usually have good reviews for the service and it has become popular in part because of that reputation.
Better transportation in Birmingham will ultimately drive (puns) more people to move downtown, which will inject more money into the area, which will attract more businesses into downtown, which will result in more tax money for the city.
Better and cheaper late night transportation in Birmingham will convince more people from the surrounding areas to seek libations downtown. Which will bring in more money to local businesses and will also make the roads safer as less people feel the need to drunkenly drive.
Well that sure does sound swell. A company could come in to fill a need, and it could result in more tax money for the city government. So, why aren’t we doing it? Because the city council hates Birmingham. That is quite possibly the only explanation for it.
Kim Rafferty is the chair of a committee that is utterly failing in Birmingham. One of the biggest digs on the city is that we have no working system of transportation. It’s something that will probably contribute to us losing out on hosting big events. Why should a couple thousand people come to Birmingham for a convention/event when the public transportation is a joke and the private transportation services emulate that? Those are some sweet restaurants we have downtown, good luck getting to them without your car.
It’s time two things happen. One, our councilors start working to fix the problems in Birmingham, not put themselves in between us and the future. And, two; we start to care enough to get rid of the ones who are exceptionally bad, like Kim Rafferty.
We can’t talk about prison reform without a quote from the iconic Shawshank Redemption, the 1994 film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. If you’ve ever watched TNT on any given weekend, you’ve seen it. So here’s a fitting quote from Morgan Freeman’s character, Red:
“These walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That’s institutionalized.”
Alabama’s prison system has been the subject of investigation and debate the past several months, starting with Julia Tutwiler prison for women in Wetumpka. Recently, the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections, Kim Thomas, stated Alabama spends $43 per day per inmate to house prisoners. This is well below the national average of $70 per day. With only $43 per inmate per day to work with, Thomas said that leaves no room to fund rehabilitation programs to help prisoners assimilate into society as law-abiding citizens after their release.
In January, the U.S. Department of Justice released investigation results which found Tutwiler prison’s conditions were in violation of the Constitution and cited “a history of unabated staff-on-prisoner sexual abuses and harassment.” Not to mention Tutwiler prison currently houses almost 300 more inmates than it was designed to hold. This is deplorable in the fullest sense of the word.
Without opportunities for rehabilitation prisoners go back into society at a huge disadvantage and much more likely to end up back in prison. If they have no skills and haven’t been counseled on how to get their life back together after prison and obey the law, they will – just like Red on Shawshank said – eventually depend on the walls of prison because it’s all they know. It’s not that all these ex-cons want to keep breaking the law — though I’m sure some do — but for the most part they need someone to show them they care and that there’s a better way to live.
Ministers and volunteers can only do so much. We need more education, rehabilitation, and better conditions for our state inmates. I’m not suggesting we give inmates a pillowtop mattress, plush bath robes, and concierge service. I’m talking about basic human dignity and basic human living conditions, which we are not currently meeting.
Prison reform is not a “sexy” issue for politicians to work on. It’s not a big vote-winner, either, and it requires upsetting some people as a result of diverting more funds to prisons and away from other things. This could be why so many legislators only give the need for prison reform lip service – “Oh yes, prison reform is definitely needed. Next question.” But, thankfully Senator Cam Ward is one of the few in our legislature to step up to the plate and be an advocate for this issue.
The Alabama State House is not known for being a showcase of our brightest and best, but Senator Ward (R – Alabaster) is an exception, bringing a refreshing combination of competence and good sense to a body badly in need of both. He has become the legislature’s “face” on this issue, which is encouraging as reform might actually happen with his leadership. Senator Ward said recently it will take more than him, though, for real change to take place, noting that public support must be present for it to really be successful. He also noted if we do nothing the federal government will fix our prisons for us.
We certainly don’t want the feds messing with our prisons… that would be a disastrous and an unconstitutional overreach of this increasingly-tyrannical federal government (that’s sarcasm). Governor Bentley’s inauguration speech in 2011 included a “screw Washington”-type passage, including the quote, “I will defend our right to govern ourselves under our own laws and to make our own decisions without federal interference.”
Ok, that’s great. We want to be self-sufficient. We should want that. “We dare defend our rights,” as our state motto says. Why is it, though, states like Alabama (which was recently ranked 49th out of 50 for most federally dependent states) are the most vehemently anti-Washington? If Washington, D.C. said “no more funding for you, Alabama,” we would quickly fall on par with third world countries.
So this basically has two points. First, we should reform our prisons on our own, and thankfully, we have some competent leaders working on it. However, we still have a long way to go. Second, we should chill with the anti-Washington rhetoric, lest we be reminded how poor we really are when on our own. If Governor Bentley and our legislators really want to demonstrate that we don’t need Washington to help us run our affairs, this is a prime opportunity for them to put our money where their mouth is.
Briefs written, dockets filed, bills amended, coffee poured, 140 characters tweeted… You most likely already know about the players in Montgomery who have been around for 30+ years… but what about those young professionals who are driving politics in Alabama behind the scene?
The following list of young politicos was derived from extensive interviews with several Alabama political consultants, elected officials, and even judges from both sides of the aisle. If you want to know which names will be running Alabama politics once the current generation of politicos step aside, this list is a good place to start.
Marshall’s resume reads like a who’s-who list when it comes to Montgomery jobs. Gov. Robert Bentley — worked for him. Fmr. Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb — worked for her, too. Alabama Policy Institute — you get the point… he’s well-rounded.
Marshall is a 2011 graduate of Auburn University, and is now a candidate for his Juris Doctor from Cumberland School of Law where he expects to graduate in 2015. Amidst mountains of legal briefs he must read for law school, memos he must write, and oral arguments he must give in moot court, Marshall also finds time to serve as political director of Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden’s re-election campaign.
“I graduated from Auburn University in 2011 with a degree in Political Science and minor in History. I realize that picking a side in the football rivalry is considered the 3rd rail of Alabama politics but it is critical to understand how I got involved,” Yates said. “I got involved in Alabama politics during my senior year. One of my fraternity brothers had been working on the 2010 state legislative campaign for Senator Tom Whatley and encouraged me to get involved. Once I started, I really enjoyed meeting people and finding ways to help my community. While walking door-to-door for a cause, I truly found my calling in politics.”
Tucked away inside the minority party on Goat Hill, Holly Caraway just may be the driving force keeping the Alabama Senate Democratic Caucus going. Caraway is a 2004 graduate from the University of Alabama, with a bachelors in psychology. In 2010, she graduated, again, from the Capstone with both a law degree and MBA. When it comes to education, it suffices to say, she has it.
In 2012, she rose from being a staff attorney for a non-profit to being the chief of staff for the senate democratic caucus. They say those who keep friends and not enemies end up being the best at what they do. That may hold true everywhere, but never more so than in Montgomery politics. Whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, Holly Caraway can make you feel like a long lost friend from years past.
One Republican strategist describes Holly as the wayward cousin, who’s wrong on all the issues but you love to be around her anyway. “She has a knack for cultivating friendships on both sides of the isle,” the strategist wrote. “She commands all conversation with intellect, grace and humor; so whether it’s on the subject of some awkward language in the upcoming budget, or reminiscing on the previous Alabama football game, Holly will articulate her point so that the average citizen, or someone with two doctorates, can understand.”
Originally from Bay Minette, Ala., Trace came to Montgomery by way of Huntingdon College, where he studied political science and chemistry. At an early age, he jumped head first into the deep end of politics. A former intern for both United States Sen. Jeff Sessions and Fmr. Congressman Jo Bonner, Trace knows his way around Washington well. He also knows the ins-and-outs of Goat Hill, where he worked for three years as an aide to Senators Dick Brewbaker (R – Montgomery) and Greg Reed (R – Jasper).
Upon graduating Huntingdon, Trace worked for veteran Montgomery strategist Brent Buchanan and his firm, Public Strategy Associates (PSA). There, he was instrumental in electing Rep. Dimitri Polizos (R – Montgomery) in a special election where his two opponents drastically out-fundraised him. In December 2013, Trace left PSA to assist in starting a new political consulting firm, Spot On Strategies Group.
“Very few people understand the elections game like Trace,” said a Republican pollster. “In politics you have data guys, and then you have ‘gut’ guys, who can make smart decisions based on their instincts — their gut feelings. The thing that makes Trace so damn scary is he has both qualities and knows how to use them in perfect unison.”
The big news out of last week’s political primaries is that there was no news. The results of every race came down almost precisely as was predicted.
The prevailing hypothesis among experts that there would be a low voter turnout was fulfilled. The turnout was around 20% statewide, as was expected. The reason for the sparse voter participation was because there was very little reason to go vote. Most of the major statewide and constitutional races were decided before the first vote was cast.
Our junior U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions is running unopposed for his fourth six-year term in Washington. Attorney General Luther Strange, State Treasurer Young Boozer and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan all ran unopposed. As is the practice now, none of these four aforementioned gentlemen’s names even appeared on the ballot.
Gov. Robert Bentley may as well have been running unopposed in his quest for the GOP nomination for a second term. Going into this year’s election cycle his polling numbers on reelectability, likeability and trustworthiness were stratospheric. Therefore, he received no significant opposition. He garnered an amazing 90% of the GOP primary vote for Governor. Those are pretty good numbers even against token opposition.
On the Democratic side Parker Griffith won his newfound party’s nomination for Governor by a 63% to 37% margin. This sets the stage for a contest in the fall between two 72-year-old retired doctors.
Kay Ivey won an impressive victory in her bid for a second term as Lt. Governor. Her 62% to 38% victory over challenger Stan Cooke in the Republican primary should propel her to victory in the fall.
The lack of competition at the top of the ballot left the two inconsequential bureaucratic posts of Secretary of State and State Auditor as the best races to watch. It was expected that Tuscaloosa State Representative John Merrill would lead the ticket in the three man race for Secretary of State. He was able to outspend his two older opponents, Probate Judges Reese McKinney and Jim Perdue, by a two to one advantage. However, McKinney, the former Probate Judge of Montgomery County ran him neck and neck.
Merrill received 40% to McKinney’s 39% with Perdue receiving 21%. Merrill and McKinney will faceoff in a July 15 runoff, which should be the best statewide race on the ballot that day.
Perennial candidate Jim Ziegler parlayed his name recognition into almost winning the State Auditor nomination without a runoff with four men on the ticket. He received 47% of the vote. Ziegler will face another zany character, Dale Peterson, in the July 15 runoff. Peterson garnered 24% of the vote.
Peterson’s wife, Kathy Peterson, ran a very close race to Jeremy Oden for Place 1 on the Public Service Commission. Despite being outspent almost ten to one, she only lost to Oden by 47% to 53%. Oden was appointed by Bentley two years ago. His victory last Tuesday assures him four more years on the PSC. There are no Democrats running.
The same is true for Place 2 on the PSC. The winner of the runoff between Chip Beeker and Terry Dunn will be elected. Beeker led the ticket 39% to Dunn’s 33%. The other 28% of the vote went to challengers Jonathan Barbee and Phillip Brown. Their votes should gravitate to Beeker, since Dunn is the incumbent.
The best race on the ballot was for the GOP nomination for the 6th District Congressional seat being vacated by the retirement of 20-year veteran Spencer Bachus. This suburban Birmingham area seat is rated in Washington as one of the most Republican seats in America.
There were seven gentlemen vying for the seat in Washington. It was an expensive slugfest as is usually the case when there is an open congressional seat. State Representative Paul DeMarco impressively led the ticket. He garnered 33% of the vote and will be favored to win in the July 15 runoff.
Surprisingly, longtime conservative think tank founder Gary Palmer finished second with 20% of the vote. Three other candidates each received approximately 15% of the primary vote. Gardendale State Senator Scott Beason, Orthopedic Surgeon Chad Mathis and businessman Will Brooke finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
The winner of the July runoff between DeMarco and Palmer will go to Washington. The district will be the winner whichever one wins. Both of these guys are erudite gentlemen who are conservatives with class and dignity.
See you next week.
Believe it or not we are less than one week away from the 2014 Primary Elections. The Republican and Democratic primaries are next Tuesday. The turnout may be historically low. The reason is simple. There are no good statewide races on the ballot.
The Governor’s race is usually a marquee event. However, Gov. Robert Bentley is essentially running unopposed. The same is true for Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, State Treasurer Young Boozer and Attorney General Luther Strange. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey has a viable opponent but Stan Cooke is running a grassroots campaign with no money in a race for an office where there are no issues, only name identification.
Former Huntsville State Senator and Congressman Parker Griffith should garner the Democratic nomination for Governor. However, he will face long odds against a very popular incumbent in the fall. Even if Bentley was not unbeatable on his own, winning the GOP nomination for Governor is tantamount to election in Alabama.
The most spirited statewide races will be for the inconsequential positions of Secretary of State and State Auditor. There are also two seats on the Public Service Commission up for grabs.
The Secretary of State contest has drawn three quality opponents seeking this open position. Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue, former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney and Tuscaloosa State Rep. John Merrill are vying for the GOP nomination. This one will more than likely be decided in the July 15 runoff.
Merrill should lead the ticket. He has run a very formidable initial statewide race. He started two years ago and has never stopped. He picked up the endorsements of most of the business groups and raised a lot of money for this obscure office. His television ads are the best seen in the state in quite a while.
The Auditor’s race has four male GOP candidates. Republican incumbent Samantha Shaw has served two terms and cannot run again. One time PSC Commissioner and perennial candidate Jim Ziegler, former State Conservation Official Hobbie Sealy, Adam Thompson, who is a Secretary of State official and Shelby Countian Dale Peterson are running for an office that may eventually be abolished. Adam Thompson has lined up most of the business endorsements. He and Ziegler will be favored to make the July 15 runoff.
Dale Peterson’s wife, Kathy, is challenging incumbent PSC member Jeremy Oden. Gov. Bentley appointed Oden two years ago. He should be easily elected to a full term on Tuesday.
The best PSC race is for Place 2. There are four men seeking the GOP nomination. Jonathan Barbee, Phillip Brown and Chip Beeker are striving to remove first term commissioner, Terry Dunn who won the seat by accident four years ago and has had a bizarre ride. He has openly sided with Democratic anti coal groups in a pro coal state. The business groups have given tepid support to Beeker in this race.
There will be pockets of moderate turnout around the state due to hotly contested local races. The best race will be for the open 6th District Congressional seat in suburban Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Blount Counties.
There are also several good state Senate races to watch. The Senate seat in St. Clair and Talladega Counties was expected to be very close. However, private polling indicates that Dr. Jim McClendon may beat incumbent Jerry Fielding by as much as 60/40.
AEA gave Garreth Moore $150,000 to run against popular incumbent Jimmy Holley in the South Alabama seat made up of Coffee, Covington, Dale and Pike Counties. Polls reveal Holley will win by 60/40 or more.
Incumbent Democrat Mark Keahey dropped out of the Southwest Alabama Senate seat 22. There are a handful of GOP aspirants. Either Greg Albriton, Danny Joyner or Stephen Sexton is favored to prevail. This will be a pickup for the GOP in the State Senate.
Todd Greeson looks to be edging out Steve Livingston in the open Northwest Alabama Senate seat made up of Jackson, DeKalb and Madison Counties.
The open Senate seat in North Jefferson and Blount Counties has six GOP aspirants. Gayle Gear, Shay Shelmutt and Jim Murphree are the favorites fighting for a runoff spot.
Most Goat Hill eyes are intensely watching East Alabama. Popular veteran lawmaker Gerald Dial is being challenged by Tim Sprayberry of Cleburne County. Polls are showing that challenger Andy Carter could beat incumbent State Senator Tom Whatley in the Lee County Senate seat. A lot of folks also will be following Speaker Mike Hubbard’s reelection contest. There has been a lot of money spent on both sides. Challenger Sandy Toomer is expected to make this race interesting.
We will see next Tuesday.
Last summer the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages which took place in states where it is legal. It also prevented many married gay couples from receiving benefits like insurance and healthcare that their straight counterparts were entitled to by virtue of being married. The interesting thing about the DOMA ruling is that they cited the 14th Amendment which contains the Equal Protection Clause as their rationale for striking down DOMA.
Now, I’m not a lawyer…yet. But when the ruling was issued last year it seemed that by using the 14th Amendment as a rationale, SCOTUS was painting with a rather large brush stroke which many rightly predicted would open up more legal challenges as a result of DOMA’s demise. If each state’s ban on same-sex marriage were a domino, the Supreme Court flicked the biggest one first and the rest are tumbling down one by one.
Since DOMA was struck down, no ban on same-sex marriage or benefits has survived when challenged in court. Zero. Nada. None. As of today, 19 states recognize same-sex marriage with several others in limbo. A classic talking point for those opposing same-sex marriages was that only a few crazy liberal states on the northeast and “left” coasts recognized it and they were a secular minority that would never infiltrate the traditional Midwest or pious South.
They were wrong.
Only 2 states either do not recognize same-sex marriage or are not currently facing legal challenges to its ban on it: North Dakota and South Dakota. 48 of our fifty states either recognize same-sex marriage or are in legal battles which will likely result in the overturning of most if not all of the remaining states’ bans. Which brings me to the Heart of Dixie.
When asked about it last week, Governor Robert Bentley gave a diplomatic and respectable answer. He said he and Attorney General Luther Strange would defend Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage, telling one reporter, “I have to defend the constitution…I don’t pass the laws. The legislature passes the laws, the people vote on the constitutional amendments.” He added, “Laws change; people’s ideas change. The people of Alabama voted 81 percent to have the ban on same-sex marriage, and it’s in our constitution. Whatever the people vote on, I support. I believe in the people’s right to vote and this is how they feel, so I support the people.”
Governor Bentley’s statement, even if you disagree with him, made his position clear while respecting people on both sides of the issue. He didn’t turn into a holy roller or predict the impending doom of the republic; and for that, I am relieved. Our state’s Chief Justice could learn from him.
A similar response came from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, also a Republican, last week when a federal judge struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. He issued a statement, saying, “Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal.” The Governor included a distinction between his personal views and his duty as Governor by noting “As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not wavered. I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. My duties as Governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the Courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal.”
Thankfully, another high-profile conservative whose words and acts can explain to the rest of us the difference between civil and religious marriage has come forward. After all, as I’ve pointed out before, using the government to usurp people’s rights is anything but conservative.
There are two sides to a marriage: legal and spiritual. Civil marriage just means that it’s recognized by the government and you receive the legal benefits of marriage such as joint insurance, next of kin status, etc. Religious marriage means your faith recognizes and celebrates your union in accordance with the teachings and traditions of that faith denomination. You can have one or both aspects in a marriage.
In the United States, a couple can get a marriage license at the courthouse, have a minister officiate the wedding, and both the civil and religious entities recognize the marriage as a result of one ceremony. But, in many European countries all couples are required to first go through a civil marriage officiated by a government official and after that a religious ceremony is at the couple’s discretion.
If one’s religious beliefs prohibit same-sex marriage, my only suggestion would be to attend a church and a denomination that does not perform them. That’s a religious matter. As a legal matter, two consenting adults should be able to do just about whatever they want as long as it does not infringe upon the legal rights of others.
That’s freedom. That’s America.
My early and continuous prognostication that this would be a lackluster political season has been justified. It may very well be the least interesting gubernatorial politicking year in memory.
The fact that Gov. Robert Bentley is waltzing to reelection with essentially no opposition is the primary reason for the lack of activity. In addition, the offices of Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General and Treasurer are held by popular incumbent Republicans who have no significant opposition.
Television stations, newspapers and radio stations are lamenting the loss in revenue. This lack of media exposure exacerbates the obvious lack of interest on the part of Alabama voters. Most Alabamians are probably not aware that our primaries are less than two weeks away.
My prediction is that turnout on Primary Day, June 3, will be the lowest in history. It will not be a poor reflection of the electorate. It is just that there are no contests and therefore no media advertisements to spur our interests.
As expected the only interesting race in the state is in Birmingham. The 6th Congressional District seat is open. Spencer Bachus has retired after 20 years in Congress. There is a bevy of good candidates seeking this congressional seat, which encompasses the suburbs of Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Blount Counties. It has been categorized in Washington as one of the most Republican districts in the nation.
There are seven Republican men vying for the seat. They are raising and spending a lot of money. Therefore, this area will have the largest turnout in the state on June 3. It is more than likely that two of these gentlemen will wind up in a July 15 runoff. The winner of that primary runoff battle will go to Washington.
State. Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood has run the most impressive campaign. He has raised the most money with a very diverse base of support. He has raised close to a million dollars from close to 1,000 different contributors. His average contribution has been $845 with 98% coming from Alabamians. He also appears to have the best grassroots support and social media presence.
Wealthy businessman Will Brooke has raised and spent right at $600,000. He has the personal resources to double that easily through self-financing in the closing days. He has sophisticated advisors and pollsters who will tell him that if he spends another half million of his own money it will guarantee him a place in the runoff.
He began his media presence with a controversial YouTube ad with him shooting high-powered guns into a copy of the Obama Care legislation. It was a little over the top and has been the subject of nationwide ridicule. The ad in my opinion backfired not only because it was weird and sensational, but it was designed to attract the bubba voter. However, the guns that Brooke uses look like those used by multi millionaire African safari hunters and exposed Brooke to blue-collar GOP voters as a silk-stocking Mountain Brook millionaire.
The wildcard in the 6th District Congressional race is Gardendale State Senator Scott Beason. Beason began the race with the best name identification. He has served two terms in the State Senate and has been at the forefront of controversial high profile right wing issues like guns and immigration. He also ran against Bachus in 2012 and garnered some name identification. However, he has raised very little money and appears to have done very little campaigning. He should be the darling of the Tea Party. We will see if that is enough to carry him to victory. At last report he had only raised $15,000.
Longtime Alabama Policy Institute leader, Gary Palmer, has run a good campaign and has excellent television ads. He has raised over $400,000 and should have a loyal hardcore following.
Shelby County physician Dr. Chad Mathis has run an excellent and professional campaign. He has also raised and spent about $400,000. His media buy has been concentrated on conservative radio and social media.
Polling indicates that Beason, DeMarco and Brooke are jockeying for the two spots in the runoff. We will see in less than two weeks.
See you next week.
In 1967 when Lurleen Wallace became governor, one of her first missions was a trip to Bryce Mental Hospital in her native Tuscaloosa. The conditions she saw at Alabama’s primary mental health facility were beyond deplorable. It was a heart wrenching and Damascus road experience for the demure and soft-spoken lady. However, she roared like a lion with determination to remedy this blight on the state. She implored her husband’s legislature to appropriate significant increases in the Mental Health Budget and she passed bond issues to relieve overcrowding.
Our current Governor, Robert Bentley, also a Tuscaloosan, may have had a similar conversion experience a few months ago. Our state prisons are in a crisis situation. The ghastly horror stories that have come out this year surrounding our largest women’s prison facility have reverberated around the nation. We are teetering on the federal courts taking over our prisons. The population is well beyond what the courts view as basic human rights. The revelation at Julia Tutwiler Prison further exacerbated the crisis.
Our kindly country doctor governor toured Tutwiler in early March and quietly said, “we are probably going to have to build some new prisons in my second term.” This is probably a foreshadow of what we will see in a second Bentley administration. You may see the Governor move from the right to the middle and moderate somewhat on the need for some new revenue for the beleaguered General Fund. It cost money to build prisons and as well as to simply perform the basic functions of state government.
The General Fund has had no new revenue enhancement measures in 30 years. There are several benign measures that would be easy to tap. Our cigarette tax is the lowest in the southeast. A state lottery would pass overwhelmingly if the legislature would allow people to vote on it and there must be some creative ways to tax the Indian casinos that are hauling in millions of untaxed profits from low income Alabamians.
Several other issues that have remained unresolved in this quadrennium will be the subject of debate during this year’s campaigns and will be at the forefront for the new legislature beginning next year. The 2015 legislature may again look at rewriting Alabama’s lengthy and cumbersome state constitution article by article. Our Alabama Constitution was written in 1901 and is the longest of any state with more than 800 amendments.
Every election year candidates espouse one prevalent theme, “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” We are creating industrial jobs in Alabama. However, we are buying them with tax abatements. This is depleting tax dollars that would go towards education in the state. We may need to do more to help our small business owners who do not get any tax breaks. We also need to invest heavily in technical job training in the state.
Education issues will be at the center of the spectrum of discussion next quadrennium. How do we improve education for students? Has this term’s legislature hurt education by lowering teachers’ salaries over the last four years? Have programs like the Alabama Accountability Act hurt public education in the state? Will charter schools be the next initiative mounted by conservatives?
The most talked about issue this year was the Common Core issue. It was tabled and swept under the rug during this year’s legislative session. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be front and center when the new legislature convenes in 2015. It has been a hot topic of debate during this year’s legislative contests.
Legislators will be asked again to decide whether to support the national Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Gov. Bentley and the current legislative leadership are adamantly opposed to accepting this expansion. They say we cannot afford what we have now, much less more cost. It is doubtful that the Governor or a Republican legislature will change their position on this issue. We will see.
See you next week.
The 2014 Regular Legislative Session, which ended last month, was the last of the quadrennium. It ended on the same note it began on four years ago. This group of super majority Republican legislators has placed an indelible conservative stamp on Alabama state government.
There has been no benchmark right wing social issue that has failed to be addressed. They began in the first year with what they proclaimed was the most pervasive anti illegal immigrant legislation in the country. It was quickly cast aside in a cursory federal court opinion as unconstitutional.
Then came a far-reaching pro gun bill that was designed for the 1890’s Wild West. This year they passed an anti abortion bill, which the sponsors as well as any sixth grade civics student, should know is unconstitutional. It is not even close to being in line with Roe v. Wade.
These theatrical panderings play well to Alabama’s conservative electorate. During the 1960’s Alabama legislators spent entire sessions passing meaningless resolutions espousing anti-segregation edicts. This group has taken a page from that era with their posturing. For example, they passed legislation stating Alabama does not have to comply with Obama Care. I am sure that will have a lot of influence in deterring a piece of federal legislation. The last time I checked we were still a part of the United States so that same sixth grade civics student can instruct the legislature of Alabama that federal law supersedes state law.
Well at least it makes for good politics. George Wallace was the master of it. These guys are novices. Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door by George. We want to send them a message.
The problem with spending the entire legislative session passing popular but blatantly unconstitutional measures is that it cost money. At least George Wallace paid to send Washington a message. He was a progressive at heart. The state’s economy was not in the doldrums and Wallace passed tax increase measures to make up any shortfalls.
To the contrary, this group is determined to not raise any new revenue. You have got to give them credit. They are consistent. They are as conservative on fiscal actions as they are on social issues.
The State General Fund is in dire straits. That is the fund that has to pay to defend these measures. The General Fund has had no new money since 1983 when George Wallace was in the first year of his last term. Things like cars, gas, desks and computers have gone up a lot in 30 years yet the General Fund has had no increase in revenue.
This fund, unlike the Education Trust Fund, cannot grow itself out of its dilemma because all of the growth taxes, which are primarily sales and income taxes, are earmarked for the Education Budget. Medicaid and prison costs have grown exponentially. These two money-eating monsters have driven the poor General Fund to the wall.
Essentially, the Legislature has balanced both the State General Fund and Education Trust Fund on the backs of state employees and teachers during this quadrennium. Both of these groups have taken pay cuts over this four-year period. They were required to pay more for their health insurance and retirement benefits in the first year and have not had any pay increase to offset this loss in take home pay.
There is one note of hypocrisy on the part of legislators when they say they are different than their Democratic predecessor majorities. They continue to put pork in the Education Budget to dole out in their districts just like they ridiculed the Democrats for doing in prior years.
Some of these state senators are going to find out that some of these schoolteachers are not going to forget come Election Day. There are also a lot of retired schoolteachers who have not gotten a cost of living raise in four years either. These folks vote. We will see how mad they are in a few weeks.
See you next week.