Marriage equality opponents have long argued that allowing same-sex couples to marry would "undermine traditional marriage," and now they have a high-profile divorce case in Alabama to use as a case in point. Dianne Bentley, wife of Alabama's governor Robert Bentley, has filed for divorce after 50 years of marriage.
The Internet is wild with speculation about the cause, whether an extramarital affair was involved, etc. We at LIA have no concrete information to provide on that and will not speculate in any way that undermines anyone's reputation. We're fact-based, and right now, have no verifiable facts to report on.
But let's go back to the issue of "traditional" marriage, which has different definitions depending on who is answering the question.
Christian Bible Marriage? This is an "until death do you part" kind of thing, and one reason that so many divorced Catholics fell away from the Church. Fundamentalist Christians also take divorce quite seriously - even though they are frequent practioners.
The Governor was vocal about opposing both the federal court judge's ruling legalizing same sex marriage in the state and criticized the SCOTUS ruling several months later. However, he also said that the state would follow the law. That statement should NOT have deserved headlines, but it was news coming from an Alabama governor.
So why are the Bentley's splitting? Right now, there is speculation, but no facts. There is a family involved though, including adult children. As a child, I watched both parents go through multiple divorces, and none of this gives me any pleasure.
The only reason that it's even newsworthy is because Governor Bentley has been a vocal champion of "family and conservative values." He and his fellow political leaders have eagerly used their legislative power to punish people for personal bad judgments and mistakes in their personal lives. When you do that, it's a good idea to make sure that your glass house is bulletproof.
Ideally, this will be a learning experience for our Governor and for those who support his social agenda that seeks to "turn sinners into criminals."** People make mistakes in their relationships. They hurt the people they love the most, sometimes through thoughtlessness and sometimes with outright betrayal. That's a result of personal failing, not a political agenda, and it happens whether you love someone of the opposite sex or the same sex.
** Thanks to author Rita Mae Brown for that phrase. I couldn't find a link to credit her.
Sept. 14, 2015 is the start of many things. It's Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, and the beginning of what Jews call the "Days of Awe," a 10-day period of prayer and reflection the culminates in Yom Kippur. Sept. 14 is also the first day of the second special session of the Alabama legislature. During this session, legislators will attempt to patch the holes in the General Fund budget. If they fail - which they have done twice before, during the regular session and the first special session - the outcome of their incompetence will be the "Days of Awful" for all of Alabama.
State agencies warn of the dire consequences.
Driver's License Offices All but 4 offices in the state will close, meaning long drives and even longer waits for residents. 33 offices will close on October 1 and only 4 will remain by March of 2016. The four offices that remain will be in Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile.
Pity the people who live far from the I-65 corridor:
Dothan, AL, in the Southeast corner of the state, is 3 hours from Mobile and 2 hours from Montgomery.
Red Bay, AL is on the Mississippi line. It's a 2-hour drive to either Huntsville or Birmingham.
Have business to conduct at the driver's license office? Better have a vacation day saved up, because you'll have to pack a lunch a make a day of it. Oh... no paid time off because the Alabama legislature restricted the rights of local governments to address that problem? Too damn bad.
State Parks In April, officials warned that 15 state parks would close under the budget being considered. Public outcry was huge, but they passed the budget anyway. Governor Bentley vetoed it and the supermajority spent the first special session squabbling.
In the regular session that ended in June, Lein said the budget legislators passed and sent to Bentley included more than $9 million in cuts to the state parks budget.
"That $9.2 million budget (cut) that the governor vetoed, that was a parks killer," Lein told AL.com. "That would have shut down the parks system. We know that now."
It's a startling revelation after an outcry across the state when Lein first said 15 of the 22 parks were set for closure as a result of the legislature's proposed budget at the time.
While parks like Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville and Lake Lurleen were among those targeted for closure, the list could grow to include every park – including original survivors such as Gulf State Park, Wind Creek, Oak Mountain and Monte Sano.
“We would no longer be able to assist rural counties in homicide investigations ...,” Collier said. “It’s the uniformed troopers and officer of ALEA that gets 100,000 people in and out of Talladega. It’s the troopers that get people in and out of Tuscaloosa and Auburn every Saturday during the fall. It’s the special operations unit of the Department of Public Safety of ALEA that assist at Mardi Gras. That would all come to an end.”
Remember 2012, when the supermajority held a gun to the state's head with a special election? We either had to vote to borrow from the state savings account to pay the bills or see Grandma thrown out of the nursing home and prisoners running loose in the streets. The first payments didn't come due until conveniently after the 2014 midterm election, but even that was too much for the gang that promised to "fix" Alabama's budget woes.
We're in quite a fix because there's no federal stimulus money to bail us out, we stubbornly refuse Medicaid expansion (and the improvements in public health and economic activity), Governor Bentley pretended that there was no budget problem (until he got an important report on it the day after his re-election), and the GOP supermajority has been far more interested in handing out corporate welfare and selling the public education system to Bob Riley & company than in fixing the systemic problems with state budgets.
For decades, the Democratic majority patched it together, but never addressed the critical need for constitution reform and tax reform. But they kept it going; their problem was satisfaction with the status quo. The Democratic majority didn't use their power for good.
The Republicans changed things in Alabama all right: it's exponentially worse. Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party is either unwilling or unable to even issue a press release on the subject and state Democratic legislators have virtually no power to influence legislation.
About 75 anti-choice protesters swarmed the Huntsville clinic today to protest Planned Parenthood. Apparently, many of them have failed to notice that the HSV clinic is privately owned and NOT affiliated with Planned Parenthood. Which is odd considering that they've met the owner in court and at city zoning board hearings multiple times."
They're also unaware of the Alabama state law that prohibits the donation of fetal tissue. Under the Alabama Code:
"All medical waste, except such tissue as is sent to a pathologist and not returned to the facility, shall be disposed of in accordance with procedures set forth in the Rules of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management governing medical waste."
This is nothing new. These people aren't exactly on the leading edge of the intelligence bell curve. Among other things, they have:
Invited an anti-Catholic speaker to one of their rallies who ranted at the crowd (which contained a LOT of folks swinging rosary beads): "Do we want them to be spared an abortion so they can be baptized in a worthless effort to wash away their sins and take part in a Mass which shamefully crucifies Christ over again or be saved by their own works?"
If you've ever looked at a young woman wearing a sloppy, oversized sweatshirt and leggings & labeled the outfit as "too revealing," well, you may work for the Huntsville City School system! Indignant students (and parents) have been protesting the system's updated dress code that seems to focus like a laser beam on the fashion choices of young women - while leaving young men alone.
"The way the dress code is set up is it's angled more toward girls and it's a ‘don't distract the boys’ kind of thing,” student Abby Wilson said. “It's basically telling them that their education is more important than ours." [...] The dress code states that "students may only wear yoga pants, tights, leggings or jeggings as long as they are used as undergarments covered by shorts, skirts or dresses."
Thompson says school officials told her the outfit was too distracting for the boys.
"I think our education is more important than what we wear,” student Elizabeth Campos said.
Other female students want to know why the district is not worried about girls being distracted by the boys.
"The boys are wearing [shorts] higher than the girls wear and to be honest, when they sit down you can see everything that they have under their boxers,”
student Haley Konecny said.
"I've not seen a boy get dress coded since school started,” Abby Wilson added.
Read the whole dress code and you find a rather creepy focus on undergarments, tight shirts, shoulders, dress length, and the width of the strap on sleeveless blouses (must be at least 3 inches).
School officials protest that the dress code doesn't mention "gender" specifically, so it's (they say) a non-issue. Still, you have to wonder what the reaction would be if a number of boys started showing up in drag. Would that be considered "distracting" or "disruptive?"
No matter what school officials say to the media however, female students report being upbraided personally by school officials who told them that they can't wear clothing that would "distract" boys.
These are just the most recent cases in an ever-growing list that has seen shoulders and knees become a battleground, leggings and yoga pants banned and girls in some cases reportedly told to flap their arms up and down while their attire was inspected, or asked to leave their proms because chaperones considered their dresses too ‘sexual’ or ‘provocative’.
Follow the links in the blockquoted article above, and you'll find that school administrators are up front about the reason for bans on leggings, tight jeans, yoga pants, tank tops, etc. They don't want the boys distracted.
The school amended its dress code to ban leggings in the classroom, saying that it causes distraction amongst the school’s boys.
Girls at a North Dakota high school have been banned from wearing yoga pants and other tight legware to school because officials claim they are “too distracting,”
While the dress code is left behind in high school, the implication is not. Dress codes have become a part of rape culture. High schools are teaching girls that they are the distractions for men, therefore implying that the men must be protected because of their lack of control. When schools do this, they are teaching students their place in rape culture: girls are at fault, while men are out of control and must act on their natural instincts.
Students (both male & female) at Grissom High School in Huntsville are fighting back. They've staged protests, posted signs around the school, and have received both local and national media attention.
One proposed chant made me laugh out loud:
Boys are not animals. Girls are not prey.
You go girls and boys! Kudos for calling attention to the unfair and sexist way the school system is handling this issue. It's NOT just about "leggings;" the stakes are far higher than that:
When a girl is taken out of class on a hot day for wearing a strappy top, because she is ‘distracting’ her male classmates, his education is prioritized over hers. When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible. Students are being groomed to perpetuate the rape culture narrative that sits at the very heart of our society’s sexual violence crisis. It matters very much indeed.
Alabama regularly appears at the bottom (just above Mississippi, you know) of the good lists, but we're a stand-out state on some less-than-admirable lists. Many Alabamians, it seems, are publicly pious and privately porn-obsessed.
Alabama football fans took consolation in online porn after this years championship loss. The state is comfortably in the middle - #23 - in the number of online porn subscriptions.
Perhaps because we're the very top state in Ashley Madison subscriptions. It's a recently-hacked Web site where married people who want to have affairs can connect with each other. This revelation is the latest hit to our "family values" fallacy.
And yet Alabama is the third most religious state in the country as measured by weekly church attendance. I bet hearing confessions is never boring for the state's Catholic priests.
Yes, "sinners" are the people who most need to be in church. Still, while they're there, it would be nice if they'd soak up some more positive values than sexual Puritanism. For example, Huntsville's local street preacher, James Henderson, might want to take his nose out of Leviticus long enough to read the Sermon on the Mount.
Much of our political debates recently have centered on controlling sexual private behavior and stopping marriages. How much better off the state would be if we instead focused on caring for the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the strangers in our state. Let's consider giving children a chance at a better life through education and creating an economy where full-time work lifts families out of poverty instead of keeping them teetering on the edge.
Remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "There's no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching."
Our politicians can talk "family values" quite effectively; now it's time to start walking the walk. Virtually every candidate for public office touts his/her religious committment - including our current legislators.
Alabama is in crisis. It's a crisis by design, created by nearly 35 years of devotion to a failed economic theory (trickle-down), and a concerted effort to "shrink government until it's small enough to drown in a bathtub." Our leaders have cut taxes for the very wealthy and the big corporations, and signed a pledge to never raise taxes. The resulting losses in revenue have reduced the ability of our state to fund essential government services.
Now we have reached a point of critical mass. Smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand tricks are no longer an option. Somebody now, has to govern. But we wait in vain:
In addition, they've also proposed diverting $50,000,000 from the Special Education Trust Fund into the General Fund.
The cuts to Medicaid would mean a simultaneous loss of millions of dollars in federal funding, and would effectively kill Medicare in our state. And in a state that routinely ranks 49th in funding for education, stealing funds from kids seems...well, stupid.
We are demanding that the legislature look for new sources of revenue instead of draconian cuts to essential services.
We want to see tax increases, particularly on the rich and big corporations.
We want sensible and sustainable funding for state government.
We are demanding that our support of public education be increased, instead of slashed.
We want permanent fixes to our budgetary crisis, not patches, sin taxes, and gambling.
And our voices were ignored.
Now we are waiting for the next special session of our legislature. We're giving them another chance to do their job. And the coalition of protestors has strengthened in our resolve to demand common sense government. Progressive groups from across the state are banding together for another more powerful, mass gathering in front of the statehouse.
Our goal is to let them know we aren't afraid of tax increases. We aren't afraid to call for new revenue from the wealthy. We won't back down from demanding that big corporations pay their fair share. And we will NOT accept draconian cuts to services for our poor, our children, our elderly, women, minorities, and our disabled.
To date, we have commitments from:
Montgomery Humanists, the Moral Monday Coalition of Alabama
Alabama Reproductive Rights Advocates
Several statewide free thought associations
The Unitarian Universalists in Tuscaloosa
Local 706 of the pipe-fitters, steam-fitters, and plumbers Union
We are also talking with the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama Arise, the Human Rights Campaign and several other churches.
Our rally on the 10th had nearly 50 participants. We were energized. We were informed. We were motivated and highly vocal. When the next special session is called (in approximately two weeks), we hope to have ten times that number of protestors.
Senator Del Marsh (R - Anniston), was recently asked what it would take for the Alabama legislature to introduce legislation for new revenues. His response was, "Citizens will have to SCREAM about budget cuts before (the legislature) will act on new revenue." We screamed on the 10th, but they didn't hear us. We'll be back en masse at the start of the next session, and they won't be able to ignore the screams of the people.
To add your voice or your group to this #TakingItBack movement, like our Montgomery Humanists Facebook page and post about your interest. As soon as the date of the special session is announced, we will create a Facebook Event and we invite you to share liberally.
If you had any doubt at all that Alabama's government is broken, this session's regular session and its first special session cleared up the confusion. The regular session adjourned without a state General Fund budget in place because the GOP supermajority couldn't agree with our Republican governor on funding mechanisms for state services.
This year, there were no windfalls like federal stimulus money, and voters weren't likely to look kindly on another effort to borrow to balance the budget - especially since this was supposed to be the year the state started paying back the money it borrowed in 2012.
The first special session was a bust as well, and the finger pointing began before it was even over.
Sometime before 7 p.m. Monday, the house finally voted: the motion failed with two ayes and 92 nays.
Lawmakers predict a second special session in two weeks or so, but that will fail as well if these people can't sit down and act like adults. Bill Britt at the Alabama Political Reporter outlined the problem yesterday:
The Governor wants to raise taxes to address the systemic problem of the State’s General Fund Budget (SGF), which is always woefully underfunded because it lacks growth revenues.
Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh wants to overhaul the entire system without raising taxes, but needs time to implement a more complicated long-term solution. He has offered a stop-gap by moving the Use Tax from the Education Trust Fund to the SGF, and backfill the loss later.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard simply wants to hold on to power, and continue to get paid. So, for now, he is a wild card.
At the moment, vanity has led to a stalemate, with little hope of compromise on the horizon.
We, in Alabama, have come to accept being dead last in every measurable category of success. We rank near the bottom in education, employment, and health; but near the top in public corruption. Our State is vexed by charlatans who, by good words, and fair speeches, deceive the people.
The Governor and the Republican supermajority are in the middle of a hostage negotiation, but do not seem to care about the victims.
We have this crew in power until 2018. It's a depressing thought.
The budget process in the Alabama legislature has raised a lot of questions about how we set funding priorities in our state. The two basic sides in this debate are those who are demanding new, and sustainable revenue sources to fund essential services, and those who have no problem cutting essential government services, as long as they block any attempts to find new revenue.
Last week's budget proposal to solve our budget crisis by cutting $150,000,000 from our already underfunded Medicaid program, roused the ire of many Alabamians who, in the past, have stood by silently.
On Monday, August 10th many of those concerned citizens converged on the Alabama State House to let their voices be heard. A local group, Montgomery Humanists, took the initiative to schedule the event, and almost immediately thereafter, they were contacted by Moral Monday Alabama with an offer to team up with the Montgomery Humanists.
Approximately 50 vocal protestors were on hand for this event, demanding new sources of sustainable revenue in lieu of draconian cuts to much needed social programs.
An array of speakers addressed the crowd, talking about funding inequities, the influence of monied special interest groups, the importance of well-funded public schools, life and death issues with Medicaid, food stamps and welfare programs, police, teachers, and many more programs that would be victims of massive budget cuts. The slate of speakers also expressed strong displeasure with a budget shortfall they believe was exacerbated by years of tax cuts and favors to the rich and big corporations.
Last week, Del Marsh (R-Anniston) was asked what it would take for the legislature to look at raising taxes. Marsh responded, "citizens have to scream about budget cuts before (the legislature) will act on new revenue."
The protestors used Marsh's remarks as a rallying cry, as they continually raised their voices, directing their chants at the people in the state house.
These groups have pledged to form a coalition of like-minded people from across the state. They plan to stay actively involved in the current state budget issue, and will remain active in state politics in the future, promoting more progressive approaches to Alabama politics. They intend to be the seed for a new Alabama government for the people.
Gotta love the grassroots. Without them them, no campaign could put together an effective ground game. So far, the Sanders campaign seems to have gotten the drop on other Democratic presidential organizations in Alabama. Although you wouldn't know it to read the papers. On July 29th, over 250 Sanders volunteers turned out for the national event/conference call in Huntsville - but the local news didn't consider it important enough to cover. Fortunately, events in Birmingham and Mobile did merit news mention.
Saturday, local volunteers in cities nationwide participated in a "Chalk the Block" for Bernie event. They "chalked" the sidewalks in their own neighborhoods, in downtown areas, on university campuses, anyplace they could really... to advertise the Sanders campaign and its core issues.
Enjoy the photo diary - with pictures shared from across the state - as much as the Sanders folks did creating some unique sidewalk art.
More pics are on the flip.
AND... I keep asking this question -- where are the other campaigns? I know you must be active in the state by now. Are you holding organizing events, houseparties, what? We'd love to publicize your efforts and promote your events here at LIA.
All Democratic candidates and volunteers are welcome to share your events and perspective as long as it's positive about your candidate. Let the Republicans tear each other apart; we're just happy to have serious candidates who don't seem to be contestants in the world's worst political reality show.
Legislators were promised that all voices and ideas would be heard during the special session, Senator Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham) said on her Facebook page. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Read the recap she provided to understand how the special session imploded and why we're headed toward (and paying for) yet another one in a few weeks.
Here's the link & the complete text is below. Note: I changed the formatting a little (added bullet points, bold text, etc) to make it easier to read online:
The Governor called the legislature into a Special Session the end of July; we all knew he would call one but expected it to be called in August based on what he told us. The Governor said all along, he would not call a special session until they had a plan to deal with the General Fund Budget.
There were meetings with the Majority leadership; I assumed with the governor, Democrats were not included. I was told they were trying to get consensus.The next thing we know the governor called the session. To my surprise, there was no consensus no real proposals to present on solid revenue generating options.
The Minority party (D) legislators were told that all options would be considered; not true. The first day back (July) we were not presented with anything; that day was burned so both houses adjourned until Aug. 3.
That brings us to last week (sad to say, a waste). The only proposals received were:
Taxes on the soda industry
Taxes on cigarettes
The business privilege tax
None generated the funds to solve the problem - only patch it and kick the can a few months down the road.
We passed local bills and adjourned.
There was a proposal to take funds from Education Trust to AGAIN prop up the General Fund making education the 'scapegoat' when it is not fully funded.
The state is in a real financial bind and in need of REAL REFORM, we are fooling ourselves if we think differently. I am not in favor of singling out the soda industry for taxes because this is a business entity with a plant in almost every county, hires a number of employees, and supports local community agencies and charities (the one we zeroed out of the state budget). These agencies help fill the gaps for struggling families, with food energy assistance, providing rental assistance, and transportation.
Revenue bills start in the House; House members could not get a majority vote to pass the cigarette tax, in their infinite wisdom, they decided to cut Medicaid by $153 million. Now that's killing the goose that laid the golden egg, cutting your nose off to spite your face. Medicaid is an interwoven part of the fabric of Alabama. In the past ten years we've had 8 rural hospitals close.
Everybody lost because the services and doctors there served everyone in that region.
For every $1.00 the state puts in Medicaid, Alabama gets approximately $9.00 in federal dollars.
The Democratic Caucus had from day one the expansion of Medicaid priority ONE. We realize that may not be possible given the climate but to cut Medicaid was absurd.
When the Majority party voted to do this it was to get the Minority party to rush to vote for the tax; that didn't happen.
First, ALL revenue generating options should have been on the table for consideration, they were not. Yes that includes allowing the people to vote on gaming, but that was not our focus.
For years we have asked the governor to close corporate tax loopholes that allows BIG BUSINESSES to avoid paying corporate income tax. Alabama businesses benefit from many tax breaks created by the legislature. As a result highly profitable companies manages to pay NO income taxes.
For example, Exxon made $89 million in Alabama in 2003 but paid no taxes because it deducted payments to itself from taxable income, and there are other companies playing this shell game to avoid paying taxes according to the Alabama Revenue Dept.
Twenty-four states - 24! - have closed these loopholes, eight in the past 5 yrs by passing laws that require companies file "Combined Reporting." Now, there are some states that don't have corporate income taxes (Nevada, for example), but they have other revenue options. 24 states realize that while big businesses get tax breaks, their state was dying on the vine. These businesses say this will hurt business, hamper the state's ability to recruit, and cause them to leave.
Where will they go?
24 states already have 'Combined reporting' that requires businesses to file one combined report allowing auditors access and see all records. It keeps them honest, levels the field, and allows states to capture tax without a new tax on citizens.
Conservatively, the state Fiscal Office said it would generate $30 to $50 million annually (it's more than that).
I have sponsored SB 51 which closes the loophole, and put Alabama inline with these 24 progressive states. After all small and mid sized businesses don't have this protection, they pay their fair share. We can't balance the budget on these small businesses and citizens: big businesses should pay their fair share of earned income.
Just over 3 years ago, indicted Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard published a memoir: "Storming the Statehouse." It was billed as an "insider account" of how Alabama was "liberated" from "Democrat [sic] rule." What a difference a few years make. Now Hubbard is under indictment for corruption, is trying to get courts to overturn his own signature piece of ethics reform legislation, and has spent the last few years whining that he can't make ends meet on his $70k annual salary for a part-time job.
The legislature failed to pass a workable budget during this year's regular session and is about to end its first special session without having managed a budget. The stage is set for a second special session.
Some citizens have had enough and are calling on us to do a little "storming the statehouse" of our own on Monday.
Alabama's "Moral Monday" group and the Montgomery Humanists are sponsoring a day of lobbying and hell raising in Montgomery on August 10. From the Moral Monday Facebook event page:
Lately there has been a disturbing trend in Montgomery among some of our legislators and never has it been more evident than in the current Special Called Session.
Our working class folks, their children, and our seniors, are all at risk for being left behind....forgotten at worst, marginalized at best.
Bills are being passed in both branches that would devastate our low and middle income citizens if they were to become law, while the affluent would prosper.
They have suggested raiding the Education Trust Fund, ending Medicaid and they have purposed a grossly skewed flat tax.
The citizens of Alabama are LOSING THE BATTLE in Montgomery. This does NOT have to be the case however!!! The truth is the power of our voice, united, CAN OVERCOME the mega corporation's dollars and their influence in creating policy. The American Legislative Exchange Council has their political puppets doing exactly what they want them to do here in Alabama....creating legislation like the AAA, the charter bill, attempting to impose a flat tax that will help only themselves, trying to privatize our liquor sales and so much more.
They may have influence in Montgomery but they DO NOT have influence over US, WE THE PEOPLE. We STILL HAVE OUR VOTE and our vote CAN overcome the tools they use: dollars, PR and misinformation.
We just have to make a choice...do we continue to express our anger from our couches and from beside the water coolers or do we show up, en masse, to the steps of the Alabama State House to send a very strong and clear message that the people of Alabama will NO LONGER be silent. We have the power to, and it's time for us to begin, #TakingItBack!
Will you do YOUR part? Share this information with every single citizen and organization in Alabama that you know of and then make plans to car pool to Montgomery this Monday, signs in hand, to STORM THE STATE HOUSE....IT'S OUR TURN AND OUR TIME!!
We are hoping to have many organizations represented at this rally. We will have the steps of the State House from 9-11.
Del Marsh told Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman just today that he hasn't heard any 'screams' from the constituents about the budget. Join us as we raise our voices on Monday about the budget and so much more!
Senator Clay Scofield (R-Arab) has withdrawn SB-38, the bill that would have eliminated Forever Wild funding and placed the program (and its money) under the State Park system.
Scofield's bill proposed an amendment to the state Constitution that would have moved the Forever Wild funding to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees state parks. It would have prohibited Forever Wild from buying any more land.
The fiscal note on the bill estimated the funding at $11 million a year, based on the last few years.
This move was opposed by hunting groups, conservation groups, the Forever Wild board, and the state park service. However, what really made the difference was citizen involvement and engagement, as Conservation Alabama noted in an email today. (see the image).
Senator Scofield engaged in a logical fallacy known as a "false choice," which assumes that a problem has only two alternatives. In this case, Scofield wanted people to believe that we can have either Forever Wild or the state park system. But it's not a zero-sum situation. We can have both. Forever Wild was just re-authorized by the voting public by a 75% to 25% vote. It is not part of the state budget, but is funded by interest on the state's oil and gas leases.
SOOOO.... what do we see from this? Our voices do matter to legislators. Find your legislator here and contact him/her. Speaker Mike Hubbard said they may be working the weekend (like that's a huge deal, give me a break), so they're standing by to take your calls & read your emails folks.
Give State Senator Paul Sanford credit for coming up with an funding solution that hasn't been tried or even discussed before: raise the $300 million state budget shortfall via a GoFundMe campaign. It's kind of a long shot though; currently the only donation is $10 earmarked for the Education Trust Fund.
Here's the text:
The State of Alabama is experiencing tight financial times and needs your help. Legislators are debating possible financial solutions but are finding that Raising Taxes are not wanted by the citizens of Alabama. Rather than have the Government come after your hard earned money you can now send an amount that fits your budget, even request where your money be used.
You can determine what functions of Government are a priority to you.
Sanford announced his fundraising campaign via his Twitter account. Give him credit for innovative use of technology and social media. He also makes an excellent point that the people want state services, but they don't want to pay the taxes necessary to support them.
The people - and elected officials - should have paid attention in school in basic Civics class. At least one section of this old Civics text from 1963 should still be required reading for every voter and legislator:
Take this excerpt from pp 381-382:
Many of the cities and towns of Alabama are in very difficult financial circumstances at the present time. They are faced with the problem of matching a very limited income to an almost unlimited demand for services. In this situation, wither the income must be increased or the services must be curtailed. Since Alabama citizens do not seem to want the cities to reduce their services, but rather to increase them the only answer seems to be to increase the cities' income.
... Since the state itself is hard pressed for funds, the most logical answer seems to be to increase local taxes. Tax increases are never popular with the citizens of a city, but we must remember that if we want better government, we must be prepared to pay for better government.
This is from Unit 7 in the book titled "Financing our Governments." The section introduction ends this way:
"Perhaps the most important lesson that we can learn from this unit is that "we, the people of the united States," are responsible for providing the money which is necessary if governments are to perform services."
While this GoFundMe stunt did make me laugh out loud, really y'all.... what's happening in Montgomery is no laughing matter. It's time for our elected officials to lead - really lead - and part of being a leader is to tell hard truths and do what's necessary. Stop sticking your finger in the wind and pandering.
Do your jobs. Peoples lives - quite literally in some cases - depend on it.
Just how "flat" or "fair" is a so-called "flat tax" that takes most deductions away from Alabama families but allows corporations to keep their existing deductions? The required "fiscal note" accompanying SB-43 explains that it's expected to "increase individual income tax receipts to the Education Trust Fund by an estimated $9.5 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2018."
The new version is marginally better for families, because now they keep a charitable and mortgage interest deduction. However, they still lose the deduction for federal income taxes paid, pensions, social security income, medical insurance premiums (for people who don't get insurance through work), and more.
The worst part of Hightower's original bill didn't change:
(3) All other additions to income, deductions, credits, or exemptions for corporations in effect on the date this amendment is ratified may be claimed except for the federal income tax deduction provided for in Section 40-18-35(a)(2), Code of Alabama 1975, as amended from time to time.
Initially, supporters of the flat tax touted it as a simpler system that would be "revenue neutral." Sounds great, but it's pretty clear that the flat tax is not revenue neutral if individuals are losing their deductions, corporations are keeping theirs, and the bill is expected to increase tax collections by almost $10 million. It's not new; it's SOP in Alabama state government: already struggling families once again get to pick up the tab for a corporate tax cut.
Try to imagine what life will be like in rural areas of the state that lose their hospitals. Imagine a 2-hour ambulance ride for a cardiac patient or the spectacle of babies born on the side of the road because the parents live hours from the nearest hospital with an obstetrics department. Imagine your grandparents getting kicked out of their nursing home and moving into your spare room.
This mattered to Alabama House members yesterday when they voted NO on a plan to cut $156 million from Alabama's Medicaid program. At least it mattered for an hour or so. After some harsh discussion, the majority brought the same bill up again and passed it.
This unusual move required a rules change, but when you make the rules, you can also change them.
If the Senate passes these cuts as well, remember that we don't just lose federal money. When hospitals close, the people who work there lose their jobs, which hurts local businesses in their communities. People move away, industry won't locate somewhere that can't even supply basic medical care either. These are budget cuts that will cut the hearts out of many small communities.
The consequences for the state are almost unimaginable:
No matter what damn fool idea that GOP supermajority has come up with in the last 5 years, people have initially assumed that it was just a "bargaining" position. "They won't really do that!" Except that yes... they will.
The sponsor of the amendment to remove the funding, Rep. Steve Clouse, said he introduced it to force a debate:
Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, said he proposed the dramatic cuts to Medicaid to force a debate about the importance of the program.
Well, Rep. Clouse, the House debated, decided it wasn't really important, and voted to accept your amendment, because yes... they really will do that!
Remember that none of this was supposed to happen. Think back to the legislative session of 2012, where the super-majority couldn't pass a balanced budget so taxpayers had to foot the bill for a special election and allow legislators to borrow money form the Alabama Trust Fund (the state savings account). It was just "temporary" they told us. Soon, the supermajority's plan to cut taxes and cut "fat" in the budget would result is a golden age of budget surpluses, job growth, and lower taxes.
Things would be so great that we could easily pay back the money starting in 2015 (conveniently after the supermajority got themselves re-elected in 2014). Now they've decided it would be a good idea to push those repayments out a little.
Airbus: $158 million in "incentives" to locate in Mobile.
It's time to stop blaming the Democrats guys. Y'all are why Alabama can't have nice things. You bragged that you could fix things and have stubbornly refused to acknowledge that the current state budget just doesn't have enough revenue to meet daily needs, build infrastructure for the future, and protect the health and safety of the population.