25 Oct 2012
- Published Date
By Senator Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) and Representative Mike Ball (R-Huntsville)
On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Alabama voters will have a unique opportunity: voting to cut state lawmakers’ pay.
A “yes” vote on Amendment 8 will:
Repeal the 62% backdoor pay raise the Democrat-led legislature gave itself in 2007 (under the guise of an "expense allowance").
Repeal lawmakers' automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments (which have boosted minimum legislative compensation to more than $55,000 a year today).
Cut legislative pay down to Alabama's median household income.
And constitutionally prohibit the Legislature from voting itself a pay raise ever again.
But not everyone is for Amendment 8. In hopes of scaring voters into killing Amendment 8, the opponents -- mostly Democrats who voted for the 2007 pay raise and want to keep it -- have concocted the fairy tale that the measure entitles lawmakers to a host of new expenses.
Absolutely not true.
Remember that under current law, the legislative "expense allowance" is not a cap on a lawmaker's expenses. The $55,022 to which lawmakers are currently entitled is in addition to the right to request reimbursement for all manner of official expenses, like office equipment, supplies, and out-of-session travel.
So here's the truth about Amendment 8. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office, Amendment 8 would cut legislative pay by more than $8,000 per lawmaker (using the most recent median income data). And that's even after taking into account reimbursements for typical legislative expenses, such as mileage and lodging during the session.
Moreover, Amendment 8 absolutely prohibits lawmakers from receiving any expenses at all unless they submit receipts on signed vouchers showing they actually incurred the expense. Even then, the legislative leadership can refuse the reimbursements to keep costs under control and prevent abuse. Amendment 8 also caps lawmakers' expense reimbursements at the same rates that apply to all state employees. And it bans legislators who live within 50 miles of the capital from receiving session travel expenses.
Finally, Amendment 8 mandates that legislative pay and expenses be posted online every year by the State Personnel Board, so that the press and the public will be able to hold lawmakers accountable.
Because of the resulting pay cut for lawmakers, passage of Amendment 8 is expected to save the taxpayers at least $1.1 million a year.
Even if Amendment 8 didn't do all that, repealing the COLA increases would be reason enough to vote for it. In 2012 alone, the COLA boosted legislative pay by another $1,608, while, according to the Census Bureau, the median income of Alabama families went down by over $300.
In other words, if Amendment 8 were already the law today, legislators would have gotten an automatic pay cut this year rather than another pay raise. In fact, Alabama's median household income has gone down every year since 2008 while the COLA has continued to go up.
Tying lawmakers’ pay to median household income establishes a type of performance-based pay for legislators. If we’re successful in enacting policies that help grow the economy, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for the people we serve, Alabamians' incomes will go up, and legislators will share in that success.
But, perhaps more importantly, if the Legislature fails on the economy and median household income goes down, lawmakers will be forced to share in the pain by way of an automatic pay cut.
Amendment 8 has been endorsed as a common-sense, conservative solution by the Alabama Republican Party, the Alabama Policy Institute and many other grassroots organizations across the state. It repeals the 2007 law, holds lawmakers publicly accountable for their expenses and takes legislative pay out of the hands of the Legislature forever. It puts legislative pay back in the hands of the people -- right where it belongs.
25 Oct 2012
- Published Date
From the Office of Senator Tripp Pitman
MONTGOMERY – Lawmakers in charge of crafting Alabama’s education budget said today that by implementing conservative budgeting practices, the state completed the 2012 fiscal year with a balanced budget that did not include any midyear cuts or tax increases, while setting aside $14 million to repay money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund. The 2012 Education Trust Fund budget was the first in four years that was not subjected to midyear cuts, or proration. It followed budget cuts that equaled 6.5 percent, 18 percent, 9.5 percent, and 3 percent from 2008 through 2011.
Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), Chairman of the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee, and Representative Jay Love (R-Montgomery), Chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, joined students, teachers and local education officials at Wilson Elementary in Montgomery Wednesday to highlight the accomplishment.
Both Pittman and Love credited conservative, responsible budgeting practices and an increase in economic activity with ensuring that spending didn’t exceed revenues.
“It’s a testament to the new legislative majority that the first education budget we passed was balanced without midyear cuts or increasing taxes,” Pittman said. “Drafting a budget in the midst of difficult economic times is never easy, but we made the best choices to prioritize education spending and managed the money we had available to spend. In addition to covering our budget, we also had a surplus of $14 million that we were able to put toward repaying the state’s Education Rainy Day Account within the Alabama Trust Fund. This underscores our commitment to repaying the money the Education Trust Fund has borrowed from the ATF during the last quadrennium. Obviously the revenues the state received were a result of the hard work and economic activity of all the citizens across this great state.”
“In 2012 we were able to protect funding for K-12 education and fully fund some of the state’s proven education reform programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, and ACCESS Distance Learning program,” Love said. “Fortunately revenues exceeded our expectations for the 2012 fiscal year and we ended the year with a surplus. The Legislature and Governor Bentley have a shared commitment to repay money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund, and we were able to put $14 million of the surplus toward that repayment.”
23 Oct 2012
- Published Date
By Minority Leader Craig Ford
In two weeks, we will cast our votes in several crucial elections. But there will be more than just political offices on our ballots. This year’s ballot also includes eleven statewide amendments, some of which will have significant impacts on our state.
To help voters have a better understanding of what these amendments will do, I have written a summary of each one and provided my personal opinion (and I stress that these are my personal opinions and not necessarily those of other Democrats in the legislature) to help voters make their own decisions.
Amendment 1: This amendment reauthorizes the Forever Wild Land Trust for another 20 years.
Forever Wild protects Alabama’s natural beauty by purchasing land for public use and recreation, including hiking trails, wildlife preserves, and ten state parks. The program has been supported by people from all sorts of backgrounds, most recently in a TV ad featuring former Alabama and Auburn football coaches Gene Stallings and Pat Dye. Taxpayer money purchases the land, but the land is maintained and protected without relying on taxpayer money.
Amendment 2: Under current law, the state is allowed to become indebted and to issue interest-bearing General Obligation bonds as long as the bonds do not exceed $350 million (Amendment 666, Section VIII of the state Constitution). This amendment would increase the limit on the bonds from $350 million to $750 million.
Supporters have argued that this amendment is necessary to help pay for economic incentives such as corporate tax breaks. While I support using incentives to help recruit or expand business, I do not believe we need to be borrowing more money after we just asked voters to borrow $437 million from the state’s Trust Fund.
Amendment 3: This amendment is specific to Baldwin County and involves a local annexation issue. I recommend that voters outside of the county not vote on this amendment.
Amendment 4: Removes references to segregation in schools and the poll tax from the state constitution. The amendment also states that: “nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense….”
We shouldn’t have to forego our children’s right to an education just to get racist language out of our state constitution. So I am encourage everyone to vote no on Amendment 4.
Amendment 5: This amendment is specific to Mobile County and involves transferring assets from one local municipality to another. As with Amendment 3, I encourage everyone outside of Mobile County to not vote on this amendment.
Amendment 6: This amendment would prohibit any person from being compelled to participate in any health care system, meaning the government can’t make you buy health insurance.
This amendment is meant to oppose Obamacare, but the U.S. Supreme Court already upheld the mandatory insurance requirement. So even if this amendment passes, it won’t matter.
Amendment 7: This amendment guarantees the right to vote by private ballot in elections for public office, referendum, or employee representation is “fundamental.”
This amendment has also been called the card-check amendment. It is misleading because you already have the right to vote by secret ballot in political elections. What this amendment is really about is taking away a tool that unions have to organize in the workplace. But I am also afraid of the path it takes us down. If we start telling private organizations how they can and cannot organize, then what’s next? Are we going to start telling churches or private groups like Kiwanis Clubs how they can and cannot conduct their business?
This amendment is dangerous, and I urge you to vote no.
Amendment 8: This amendment sets legislators pay at the median household income and increases the reimbursement rate for travel.
There are several things wrong with this amendment. First, it does not repeal the pay raise of 2007. In fact, this amendment is actually a backdoor pay raise. If the average household income increases, so will legislators’ pay. Also, legislators who live further away will actually make more because of the increase in travel reimbursements.
More legislative pay raises are not the answer – especially when legislative leaders could not even balance the budget without raiding the state’s Trust Fund.
Amendment 9: This amendment updates the language in the constitution regarding the regulation of business. I do not oppose it.
Amendment 10: This amendment updates some of the constitution’s language regarding banks. It also eliminates any time limits on the charters of banks, it eliminates the need for a bank to renew its charter, and it requires banks to report to the legislature and for the legislature to exam banks’ resources and liabilities.
I don’t like everything in this amendment, but it also has some good points, so I will not oppose it.
Amendment 11: This amendment is a local issue relating to Lawrence County and its neighboring counties. As with amendments 3 and 5, I encourage voters outside of the effected counties to skip this amendment.
I hope you will find these summaries useful as you make your decision about how you will vote on November 6th.
25 Oct 2012
- Published Date
From the Office of Senator Gerald Dial
Fairhope, Ala. – State Senator Gerald Dial, R- Lineville, and Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark were recently presented the Legislative Leadership Award by the Alabama Association of Regional Councils (AARC) during its Annual Training Conference at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear.
The meeting is held each year to provide training and educational information sharing with County and Municipal government board members and staff on senior service programs, economic development and transportation related issues.
Sen. Dial and Rep. Clouse received the award for providing leadership and advocacy for Senior Service program funding and support of regional economic development and transportation issues.
In the 2012 Legislative Session, Senator Dial sponsored SB 321, which provides for a portion of the license tag to be diverted from the Penny Trust fund into the Senior Service meals program.
The bill would have raised approximately $500,000 to assist in providing more meals and would have made progress in providing meal services for a portion of the 10,000 seniors still on the waiting list.
Senator Dial feels that we must continue to provide for Alabama’s seniors. Alabama currently ranks 44th out of 50 states with access to nutritional programs and meals for its seniors.
“We have a growing senior population in this state and many of this current generation of seniors have selflessly helped build our country into what it is,” said Dial, “I will always work hard to make sure that seniors have what they need during this stage in life because they have deserved it.”
Rep. Clouse received the award for providing leadership and direction during one of the most difficult financial periods in Alabama history.
Rep. Clouse serves as the Appropriations Subcommittee Chair of the Ways and Means General Fund and was instrumental in continuing funding to the 12 Regional Planning Commissions (RPC) across Alabama.
Rep. Clouse feels that the AARC has provided great service and program delivery throughout the State and knows how important the employees are when services diminish with budget cuts.
“Unfortunately, you’re not thanked enough for what you do for our seniors and residents across Alabama,” said Clouse, “I want you to know how much I appreciate the service you provide for our senior citizens and local government officials.”
AARC President John Clyde Riggs presented the award to Senator Dial and Rep. Clouse and commended them for standing up for regionalism, senior issues, transportation and infrastructure.
“Senator Dial and Rep. Clouse have shown to be a great leaders in Alabama and has worked hard to give more resources to our seniors, said Riggs, “They have displayed exceptional leadership and are genuinely interested in making sure services go out to the people in this State efficiently.”
The Regional Councils have received state funding for the last twenty years, providing technical assistance to fund programs designed to make significant contributions to local communities. Some of these funds are also used as matching capital to create jobs through the Revolving Loan Fund, enhance community development, and provide senior services.
The AARC is composed of 12 regional councils. A Regional Council is a public organization that directly serves local governments through local and/or state government laws. They function through communication, planning, policymaking, coordination, advocacy and technical assistance to local governments and citizens in a region.
To learn more about AARC and its programs please visit us at www.alarc.org.
22 Oct 2012
- Published Date
By Representative Allan Farley
On October 10, 2012, at 9:00 in the morning, Muriel and I were sitting in a window sill inside a 5th floor conference room in a Montgomery office. (No, I wasn’t about to jump). The conference room, and all the window sills, were full. This group was there to face-off with the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. (I felt sorry for the guy outside the door telling the people, as they walked past, that the Fire Marshalls would not let anyone else in). It was standing room only, and people lined the hall outside. The handheld cameras were held up high all around the room. And the Board Members looked like the “light bulb” was finally coming on. (Does anyone have a handkerchief? It’s getting hot in here).
There were several items on the agenda for the Board Meeting. However, this large crowd of animal rescuers were only concerned with one; the Board’s vote on proposed Rule 39. This would shut down nonprofit Spay & Neuter Clinics in the state of Alabama. This rule would prohibit any licensed Alabama Veterinarian from performing spay and neuter procedures at any nonprofit facility where the building and equipment were not owned by that Veterinarian. (Nonprofits and the Veterinarian Board, um, is the issue animals or money? The concern of the crowd was saving money to save animals).
During the 2011 Legislative Session I sat in a committee at the Alabama Statehouse and heard lengthy discussions on this same topic. State Representative Patricia Todd had sponsored a Bill that came before the House Committee on Board’s, Agencies and Commissions. (I am proud to be a member of that committee). Representative Todd’s Bill would have given authority to nonprofit Spay & Neuter Clinics to allow Alabama licensed Veterinarians to perform spay and neuter procedures on animals at low cost nonprofit clinics in Alabama. Our Legislative committee held a “Public Hearing” to listen to animal rescuers, Veterinarians, and Veterinary Medical Association Board members. Our Legislative committee not only listened, but we asked questions.
The October 10, 2012 “Board Meeting” was very different. This time there were no comments from anyone opposing the nonprofit Spay & Neuter Clinics. During our Legislative committee hearing, I recall asking one of the Veterinarians present if their Medical Board had an investigative arm that could look into any reports of improper treatment by a licensed Veterinarian working in a nonprofit clinic. His answer was yes. I asked if they had conducted any such investigations on nonprofit Spay & Neuter Clinics and suspended or revoked any Veterinarian’s license. His answer was no.
The Bill Representative Patricia Todd sponsored never came to the House Floor for a vote. And yes, it passed our Legislative Committee meeting with a unanimous vote. So, I guess our friends on the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners thought the coast was clear. Well, they were wrong.
On the morning of October 10, 2012 the Alabama Veterinary Board heard testimonies from people from Mobile to Huntsville. One after the other they walked to the podium and very clearly criticized the Board for their proposed Rule 39. At 2:00 o’clock that afternoon the Alabama Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners announced they had not approved Rule 39.
The men and women who packed the Alabama Veterinary Medical Examiner’s Board meeting on the morning of October 10, 2012 are heroes. (Muriel and I were just honored to sit with their group). They were tired of hearing the whimpers of the unwanted animals that fill our state’s animal shelters. They realized that, with spay and neuter procedures at affordable prices, we could continue to get our pet population fixed and hopefully reduce the number of animals without homes. I was extremely proud of the testimonies of the selfless efforts I heard, and the determined faces I saw. These rescuers obviously were motivated by the haunting memories of whimpers of helpless animals. On the other hand, The Alabama Veterinary Board was obviously motivated by the growls of the many friends of Alabama animals.
God Bless America!!!
Matthew 23:12 “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
23 Oct 2012
- Published Date
By Thomas Scovill
On November 6, voters will decide whether to turn a bond measure approved by voters in the year 2000 into a perpetual line of credit of $750 million.
In 2000, voters approved Amendment 666 and gave the state authority to borrow up to $750 million to provide incentives for businesses to move to or expand in Alabama. Since then the state has sold $720 million worth of the bonds authorized by this amendment. Now only $30 million can be sold before the authorized limit is reached. In the meantime, the state has paid down some of the principal and interest rates have fallen. The outstanding principal is now about $590 million.
The payments for these bonds come from the oil and gas royalties paid to the Alabama Capital Improvement Trust Fund which gets 28 percent of the oil and gas royalties paid to the state. In 2011 this was $34.5 million. This distribution was not changed by the vote on September 18 which reduced the distribution to the Alabama Trust Fund to only 33 percent of the oil and gas royalties.
The use of revenues provided by Amendment 666 bonds is controlled by The Amendment 666 Bond Commission which is composed of the governor and his director of finance and commissioner of revenue, and the chairmen of the legislature's senate and house general fund committees. Projects are proposed to the commission by the Alabama Development Office (ADO) whose director is appointed by the governor.
Constitutional Amendment 2 would allow the state to continue to sell bonds under the provisions of Amendment 666 as long as the aggregate outstanding principal does not exceed $750 million. This means as the principal is paid down the state can sell new bonds as long as the outstanding debt stays below $750 million. This is a new way to authorize the assumption of debt by our state government.
There is not a lot of difference between government borrowing and government taxes. One requires the other and government borrowing always has to be sustained by government taxes on the citizens. Borrowing leads to higher taxes. Unconstrained borrowing leads to unconstrained growth in taxes. This is why taking on more debt requires approval by the voters.
Constitutional Amendment 2 is a scheme by our Republican leaders to avoid the stigma of calling for an increase in the debt of our state by disguising it as a perpetual line of credit, i.e., the state can borrow and pay on the balance as long as the total owed is below the credit limit.
I am disappointed that the sponsor of the amendment has not responded to my request to describe the projects funded by Amendment 666 bonds.
"Vote once, borrow forever" is a Republican led end run around the voters that should trouble all of us.
I urge you to vote NO on Constitutional Amendment 2.
19 Oct 2012
- Published Date
I write you because we face an urgent and critical matter. It seems so good but is so bad. It seems like it is a step forward but it is a great leap backward. It seems like it lifts Alabama into the 21st Century but it really pulls Alabama back into 19th Century. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems so good but is so bad.
The “It” of which I speak is Constitutional Amendment 4 on the November General Election Ballot. Amendment 4 proposes to change the reactionary 1901 Alabama Constitution for the better. It seems so good but is so bad.
Amendment 4 proposes to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution that requires Black and White children to attend separate schools. That should make Amendment 4 a good thing. It seems so good but is so bad.
Amendment 4 also proposes to remove the racist poll tax language from the Alabama Constitution. The poll tax helped prevent most Black and poor people from voting. Voting is a right under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and no one should have to pay to exercise that right. The poll tax language in the Alabama Constitution is very bad and should be removed. Amendment 4 seems so good but is so bad.
I have mentioned Amendment 4 multiple times. This is how Amendment 4 reads on the General Election Ballot:
Proposing an amendment to the constitution of Alabama 1901 to repeal portions of Amendment 111, now appearing as Section 256 of the official recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama 1901, as amended, relating to separation of schools by race and to repeal section 259, amendment 90, and amendment 109, relating to the poll tax (proposed by Act 2011-353-03).
It seems so good but is so bad. The summary reveals a lot but it does not reveal this language: “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.” This is the heart of Amendment 4 but one cannot tell by the summary. This provision destroys the right to a public education. I acknowledge that some see the import of this provision differently but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Amendment 4 seems like a step forward but it is a giant leap backward to a time before the Civil War.
It seems so good but is so bad. Amendment 4 is a fraud on the people of Alabama. It proposes to remove racist provisions from the Alabama Constitution that have no real legal impact. The U.S. Supreme Court has already struck down the provisions reauiring separate schools for Black and White Children. In addition, the poll tax is now barred by federal statute. However, the provision limiting public education circumscribes the future of our children, our communities, our state. The proposed removal of racist language by Amendment 4 simply puts lip stick on the reactionary 1901 Alabama Constitution while sticking a dagger in the heart of education rights for our children. It seems so good but is so bad.
Public education is the chief foundation that most of us stand on to build a better life. Public education provides the only consistent opportunities for those at the bottom to rise and those left out to be included. Public education provides substance to opportunities denied by the separation of races provision. Public education helps us use wisely the very vote that the poll tax denied. A constitutional amendment ought not be about superficial changes. It ought to be clearly about substantive changes. Ironically this amendment is about both the superficial and substantive. However, what we see is superficial and good while what we don’t see is profound and bad. It seems so good but is so bad.
Amendment 4 seems so good but is so bad we must defeat it at whatever the costs. Amendment 4 seems like it is a step forward but it is such a leap backward that we must defeat it at whatever sacrifice. Amendment 4 seems like it lifts Alabama into the 21st Century but it really pulls Alabama so far back into the 19th Century that we are duty bound to bury it with an avalanche of “NO” votes on November 6.
I hope you will join me in helping others to know that this amendment which seems so good but is so bad. We must expose this wolf in sheep’s clothing. We must move Alabama forward, not backward.