North Alabama Regional Hospital (NARH) will be the 3rd state-run mental hospital to close since 2012, and the state describes these closures as an attempt to "streamline" mental health care in Alabama. Mental health advocates warn that many patients need the structure of residential treatment and that most families are unequipped to deal with severely mentally ill members.
The state's goal to transfer patients "out to the most appropriate community resources for them" sounds laudable: it places people closer to their communities and support systems. Unfortunately, previous attempts at "deinstutionalization" have resulted in less treatment for patients, many of whom end up homeless or in jail. This has happened in other states when psychiatric hospitals have closed, as a 2012 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a non-profit organization that advocates for the mentally ill:
Nationwide, closures reduced the number of beds available in the combined 50 states to 28% of the number considered necessary for minimally adequate inpatient psychiatric services. A minimum of 50 beds per 100,000 population, nearly three times the current bed population, is a consensus target for providing minimally adequate treatment. (By way of comparison, the ratio in England in 2005 was 63.2/100,000.)
In the absence of needed treatment and care, individuals in acute or chronic disabling psychiatric crisis increasingly gravitate to hospital emergency departments, jails and prisons.
These systems experience significant negative impacts as a result.
- The number of persons with mental illness who are homeless increased. In some communities, officials have reported as many as two-thirds of their homeless population is mentally ill.
- Hospital emergency departments are so overcrowded that some acutely ill patients wait days or even weeks for a psychiatric bed to open so they can be admitted; some eventually are released to the streets without treatment.
-Law enforcement agencies find service calls, transportation and hospital security for people in acute psychiatric crisis creating significant, growing demands on their officers and straining public safety resources.
Jails and prisons are increasingly populated by individuals with untreated mental illness with some facilities reporting that one-third or more of their inmates are severely mentally ill.
Correctional institutions have become the de facto state hospitals, and there are more seriously and persistently mentally ill in prisons than in all state hospitals in the United States. [..] ...about 50 percent reenter prisons within three years of release (a phenomenon known as recycling), because of inadequate treatment and rehabilitation in the community. Systematic programs linking released mentally ill offenders to state mental health programs are few and far between. [..] A recent study (2006) by the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than half of all prison and jail inmates have a mental health problem compared with 11 percent of the general population, yet only one in three prison inmates and one in six jail inmates receive any form of mental health treatment.
There are multiple reasons for the lack of adequate mental health treatment in prisons, the primary one being that the prison system is focused far more on punishment than treatment and rehabilitation. During the last decade, however, a more insidious force has been at work: the profit motive.
The profit motive may trump quality and compromise ethics standards and practice. Profit-oriented service providers tend to keep certain key staff positions unfilled or partially filled and encourage less expensive treatment approaches and medications, potentially jeopardizing patient care. Although the experience of private vendors indicates that they are more successful in recruiting professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists, the correctional system still lags behind other provider systems in attracting qualified personnel.
Rep. Patricia Todd is calling attention to the large number of vacancies on Alabama state boards & commissions and asking for volunteers. In particular, she's looking for more diversity on state boards. Alabama is a state that's more than half female & has a large variety of citizens of all races & backgrounds. There's no reason that this part of state government shouldn't reflect that.
Here's hoping that Rep. Todd has a good list to work from, and for sure contact her if you'd like to serve. Her email address is: email@example.com
Remember that the legislature quickly became famous for creating new committees & task forces to "report" on issues they don't want to deal with - and that many of those committees never met. Does the state have the same cavalier attitude towards state boards as well?
Under normal circumstances, this inattention to the Web site might not be much of an issue. Except for this: it's just one more example of how the GOP supermajority failed in its promise to bring more transparency, ethics, and accountability to state government. I even hesitate to call attention to it, lest someone issue another no-bid contract to one of Bob Riley's cronies and cost the state a hundred grand or so for a simple Web site update.
It's not hyperbole, campers. Let's look at the past four years:
There's nothing we can do about the Legislature for the next four years - unless even more resign to work in industry or spend some quality time in state prison - but many state boards & commissions are more powerful than you realize. Take the state textbook board, for instance. So review the list, find a spot, and toss your hat into the ring!
Senate Secretary Pat Harris said the price tag for the renovation should be just under $200,000. [...] The Alabama House of Representatives installed a $1 million system that records, displays and stores all legislative votes. House Clerk Jeff Woodard said it replaces a system that repeatedly malfunctioned last year.
All the dysfunction that took place last year during the legislative term & the only malfunction that House members want to fix is the vote counting system? Guys, you need to get your priorities straight. I'm confident that, for over a hundred years, the Alabama House was able to accurately count votes & store voting histories without the aid of a $1 million piece of equipment.
Conveniently, the Governor learned of this the day after an election that gave him another term and increased the size of the GOP supermajority in the Legislature.
The day after he won a landslide re-election victory for a second term, Gov. Robert Bentley was given an extensive briefing on the money-troubled general fund.
That is the pot of dollars which pay for prisons, Medicaid, public safety and most state needs not related to public schools.
If the timing of the Governor's briefing isn't suspicious to you, I have a nice State House for sale in Montgomery. Oh wait... it's already been purchased by a consortium led by Alabama Power & Mike Hubbard.
Hmmm.... so we need $700 million over the next couple of years to fill meet even the very basic levels of state services in Alabama. Let's look at how the GOP supermajority spent money during their first term at the helm of state government:
Airbus: $158 million in "incentives" to locate in Mobile.
Of course, if the Governor has his way, the corporate welfare payments may not affect the General Fund in the future - because the Education budget will be footing the bill. It's part of his unique "eat what you kill" funding strategy.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is preparing to seek federal approval to place private businesses' production facilities inside prison walls, joining 38 states that allow businesses to use inmate labor on prison grounds.
Prior to 2010, we were no fans of the Democratic majority in the legislature, but that was because they had the power to make things in the state better - tax reform, remove sales tax on food, ethics reform, constitution reform, etc. - but each year, those proposals died as the leadership preferred the status quo.
But the frenetic activity of the GOP supermajority has, in four short years, surpassed any damage the Democrats did with their inertia. Alabama voters re-elected them - resoundingly - and we're going to quite literally be paying the bills for years to come.
Quick! Someone asks you a simple question: "What's the median income in Alabama?" Would you... A: Use Google to find the answer on the US Bureau of the Census Web site or B: Set up a no-bid contract suggested by Bob Riley's daughter and commission a $72,000 study with a Birmingham law firm that inquired about why they weren't getting any state business?
The Alabama Personnel Department entered into a $72,000 contract with Birmingham-based Baker Donelson Bearman in June to handle legal services and determine the median household income in the state, which will determine lawmakers’ salaries in the coming year.
The contract, was negotiated in part by Minda Riley Campbell, a lobbyist who is also the daughter of former Gov. Bob Riley. It is the first Alabama government contract the law firm has received since 2009, according to state records.
Under a constitutional amendment approved by state voters in 2012, lawmakers’ pay will be fixed to the state’s median household income starting next year. While the U.S. Census Bureau tracks household income, the amendment did not specify how that should be measured, but tasks the Personnel Department with determining it.
Why not just turn to Google? Why... there are a lot of hard questions to answer!
“We want some outside legal authority to tell us which one do we use,” said Alice Ann Byrne, general counsel for the department. “Are we going to use the (household income) when they are elected in November? Do we change it in January? When do we do it? We want to make sure there’s no question.”
How is it exactly that a law firm would have the answers to those questions? Wouldn't it be a better idea to get an opinion from Alabama's attorney general (assuming he's not too busy suing the President) or ask the legislators who drafted the bill? Hey, that might make it "political."
“We are trying to make sure we don’t put the attorney general in a position to say what a lawmaker’s salary is,” Byrne said. “We’re trying to make sure there’s nothing political about it.”
Here's another question for Ms. Bryne. This is a one-year contract: will the department spend money on this every single year? And a question for Alabama's GOP legislators.... Is it remotely possible for you guys to pass a piece of legislation that makes sense and doesn't come with a sidecar load of "unintended consequences" and costs for the state?
Former Governor Bob Riley & his buddies are already cashing in on the "scholarship" programs authorized by the Alabama Accountability Act. Looks like his daughter wanted a piece of that pie as well.
The list of things Alabama can't afford is long, but somehow the state DOT did manage to scrape together $136,000 to buy the rights to use the phrase "Sweet Home Alabama" on welcome signs at the state line and at state welcome centers.
The state is paying Universal Records, which owns the trademark for the phrase from the Lynyrd Skynyrd rock anthem, $75,000 for five-year rights. The phrase will be featured on new green and white signs at the state line. Smaller versions of the signs will be placed at welcome centers.
Currently, the signs say "Alabama the Beautiful."
The new signs will be erected during the next few months,State Transportation Director John Cooper announced last week and will cost $61,000.
What a deal!
If you recall, John Cooper is the retired Avocent executive with no experience in transportation matters who Bentley tapped to be Director of Transportation. But there was a problem: the state couldn't pay what Cooper couldn't be lured out of retirement to work for a paltry state salary of $91k for a cabinet position, so the Governor paid him out of Department of Homeland Security money. Cooper's making almost twice what the previous Director of Transportation made, and the Governor's office explained it this way:
Perry said the high salaries were necessary in order for the governor to recruit top people to work for the state instead of the private sector. He said the positions in Homeland Security offered higher compensation for the three who would work exclusively alongside Governor Bentley.
Just to be clear: Cooper was retired, living in a McMansion on Guntersville lake & playing golf. He didn't have to be kept out of the "private sector," because he wasn't part of it any longer. If this deal represents the quality of his work and his judgment, it's no surprise that the private sector didn't want him any longer.
Sweet Home Alabama... where it pays (big!) to be a friend of the Governor.
Realizing perhaps that they were dealing with the truly politically unhinged, the minority of state voters who bothered to participate in the $3.4 million special election blinked. We "borrowed" $146 million with a "promise" (but no guarantees) to begin repaying the money in 2015 - conveniently past the 2014 mid-term elections.
State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh is ruling out tax increases to cover expected budget shortfalls in 2015. Instead, he says, the state could cut its workforce by 9%. But how much more can the state cut? At this point, we're not worried about hitting bone - we face cutting off entire limbs. Criminal justice in the state is already at risk because of cuts to state crime labs.
The state workforce has been reduced 11 percent since 2011, and Mac McArthur, the director of the Alabama State Employees Association, said the result has been increased workloads for state employees. McArthur said additional cuts could affect the delivery of services and leave state departments out of compliance with certain federal guidelines.
"I don't know how you sustain 9 percent cuts, or any significant cuts, period," he said.
There will be a huge temptation for Legislators to kick the can down the road one more time & put off paying back they money they extorted from the Alabama Trust Fund.
The General Fund gets most of its funding from non-growth revenue sources, and has been in a perpetual state of crisis for the past seven years, due to flat growth and mounting costs in the state's Medicaid and Corrections programs. Lawmakers building the budget next year will have to deal with the loss of $145 million borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund, and the potential loss of $50 million in one-time money used in the budget this year that may or may not be available for the FY 2016 budget, which begins on Oct. 1, 2015.
Don't be surprised if they come up with a scheme to borrow even more. They used a gimmick to balance the previous budgets and made sure the bill didn't come due until after the 2014 elections.
Will we put these clowns back in power in November? I hope not.
Our military men and women deserve better treatment than what they've received from the Obama Administration. While it is positive news that those who falsified VA records in Alabama have been fired, they should still be punished to the fullest extent of the law. I'm grateful that the Alabama Congressional Delegation is working to ensure that happens.
These Veterans Service Offices help Alabama veterans navigate the paperwork required any time they need to deal with the Veteran's Administration. They pay no benefits, but "assist eligible veterans, their families, and survivors to receive from the U. S. Federal and State Governments any and all benefits to which they may be entitled under existing or future laws to be enacted." Pensions, health care, disability payments, survivor's benefits and everything else you can imagine -- these folks know which forms you need and how to fill them out.
No question: what happened at VA hospitals is shameful and possibly criminal. People need to be held accountable, lose their jobs, and possibly do jail time.
But that doesn't stop the state from spending millions to defend unconstitutional bills that the legislature enthusiastically passes:
The Alabama Attorney General's Office spends tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars every year to fight for Alabama laws the United States Federal Courts have ruled unconstitutional. From abortion to immigration, Alabama laws keep pushing the envelope and pushing up the price tag for tax payers.
This is money that comes out of the state budget. Money that can't be spent on education, health care, roads, oversight, crime labs, or any other necessary piece of state government Instead, it funds the GOP's jobs program for lawyers:
"The attorney general's office handles challenges to the constitutionality of state laws in-house with salaried staff attorneys, and there is no breakdown for costs as this is handled as part of their regular duties. In the case of abortion litigation, some money will be paid for expert fees. In one of the immigration cases, the state was ordered to pay $350,000 in legal fees, and the matter of legal fees in another case is in litigation."
Although the GOP supermajority has been unable - or unwilling - to fund even the minimum amount of state services without borrowing, Governor Bentley is running for re-election on a platform of "fiscal responsibility." At this same rally, he bragged:
"When he took office, Bentley said he inherited an $8 billion budget and, with the hard work of state legislators, saved taxpayers $1.1 billion.
Employment is still the Governor’s focus. He told the audience he would do everything he could to help independent and small businesses."
Really. What "hard work" did the legislature do besides scheduling a special election and threatening to kick Grandma out of the nursing home if voters didn't approve the "loan?" And all I've ever seen the Governor do for "business" is support huge corporate welfare giveaways to any multi-national with a color-copied business plan.
Big Luther & our Doctor Governor aren't leaders. They're just a couple of con artists with access to the state's bank accounts & credit cards.
Ok all you Obama voters & those slackers who stayed home on election day instead of supporting the 2012 version of Thurston Howell, III for president. Ann Romney wonders how you can possibly look at yourselves in the mirror now. Because the government shutdown is All. Your. Fault.
“We would not be in a shutdown,” Romney said on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends.”
The wife of the former Republican presidential nominee said that Mitt would’ve “stopped Obamacare” when asked her thoughts of the current situation in Washington.
“Well, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for me that a lot of Americans never got to see Mitt for the real candidate that he was. There’s so much vilifying that goes on in a campaign. You know that’s going to come, but for me at the end of the day, if people had honestly known he was the most capable candidate, that he would have made a difference, he would have stopped Obamacare,” she said.
So there you have it. It represents a total misunderstanding of how a bill becomes a LAW and the entire concept of Judicial Review - as well as the willingness to overlook the legitimacy of the American electoral process.
Both houses of Congress passed the bill.
The President of the United States then signed the bill into LAW.
Republicans sued in federal court to block the LAW.
Republicans lost in the US Supreme Court.
Republicans are now throwing a monumental legislative temper tantrum because they didn't get their way.
And Ann Romney blames.... voters.
Holy cow. The country sure dodged a bullet when we took a pass on the Romney clan.
Unfortunately, their dead-ender allies in Congress are completely willing to play chicken with the entire US economy and even throw their own staffers to the wolves in an effort to enact Mitt Romney's platform. You know... the one we rejected less than a year ago.
Mrs. Romney is traveling the country promoting her new cookbook. Do you suppose it has many recipes for tea? She seems to be drinking a lot of it.
For entertainment purposes, I subscribe to the Republican National Committee email list. And this missive about today's government shutdown just hit my inbox. Holy cow.... these people need some serious help with reality.
Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi have shut down the federal government to protect ObamaCare - a law the American people don't like and don't want.
House Republicans continue to stand strong on the side of the American people, but they are facing a united front of Democrats and the mainstream media.
We need to let them know we have their back.
The country supports them but they may not know it unless we tell them. So, we're starting a petition to show Republicans that the American people are with them.
As more Americans join our cause, we will share with the House GOP so that they know they aren't fighting this fight alone.
P.S. There is one more thing you can do right now. Share this message with your friends and family through email and Facebook. Together we can make sure our voices are heard.
Yep. That's right. It's the Democrats' fault that the GOP put a gun to the country's head in a last-ditch effort to keep the country from finding out how great it would be if the uninusred and underinsured had access to affordable health insurance.
The scary thing is that some people will actually believe that claptrap.
At midnight last night, for the first time in 17 years, Republicans in Congress chose to shut down the federal government. Let me be more specific: One faction, of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government, shut down major parts of the government -- all because they didn’t like one law.
This Republican shutdown did not have to happen. But I want every American to understand why it did happen. Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act. They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.
Almost a year after the 47% failed to elect its standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, Congressional Republicans are still trying to implement his platform. In what the New York Times editorial board calls a "ransom note," GOP representatives presented its list of demands yesterday.
Surprise! It's the failed 2012 Republican Platform that includes the Paul Ryan budget, delaying Obamacare for a year (conveniently putting implementation off until after the 2014 midterms), means-testing Medicare, repealing Wall Street reforms, and gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
No millionaire gets left behind, but the rest of us are left in the dust.
Those in the country who still wax nostalgic for the Civil War might turn their attention toward "The Late Unpleasantness" that is ongoing in the Republican Party. The battle lines are drawn between the TEA Party and business wings, and the mainstream party leadership must surely be rueing the day it caught that TEA Party tiger by the tail.
As we wrote just over a year ago after the primary party purges:
While it's entertaining to watch the GOP slowly self-destruct and race happily down a rutted path that leads inexorably towards the cliff of political irrelevance, it is bad for the country in the short term.
Far too many people just don't believe how extremist these guys are. It's not just a clown car, people! It's an armored clown bus filled with unstable extremists hostile to civil liberties, Social Security, public education, compromise of any sort, and civil society. They're the clowns of your nightmares: they're in charge in many statehouses and running the US House of Representatives.
Senator John McCain took his least favorite "whacko bird" to task for that one, and he's not alone in his antipathy to Cruz and his allies. Chris Wallace reported that other Republicans had been sending him opposition research on the Senator. Not that Karl Rove thought there was anything wrong with that. hmmmm......
"I would suspect today, with all due respect to Mike, junior Senator from Texas, I suspect this is the first time that the endgame was described to any Republican senator. They had to tune in to listen to you to find out what Ted's next step was in the strategy. And look, you cannot build a congressional majority in either party for any kind of action, unless you're treating your colleagues with some or certain amount of respect....."
During the course of the evening, Sessions asked Cruz to yield for questions, alternately applauding the freshman senator for his stand against the health care legislation, and asking him to clarify specific points he opposes in the bill.
Cruz said of Sessions, "I appreciate his friendship and wisdom."
Appearing on Brietbart News Sunday (no link, but you can Google it yourself), Sessions spoke glowingly of the new dynamic in Congress. You know, the one that's about to shut the government down and default on our financial obligations, possibly plunging the country back into recession:
"I frankly think people got to understand that this democracy is rough and tumble and people get elected, they promise to do something about the slide of this country and they come here fighting for it, and we ought to respect them and support them and not try to undermine them.”
Meanwhile, Alabama's other Senator, Richard Shelby, has made it onto the TEA Party's "bad list" of Senators who "won't vote to defund Obamacare." And all of Alabama's GOP Representatives (those who haven't quit - yet- in the middle of their terms, anyway) voted in favor of the House Continuing Resolution that included the defunding language.
The action is about to move back to the House, but the GOP internal war still rages. While fun for Democrats to watch, this group of clowns are truly dangerous. Don't underestimate their ability to do damage.
A small state entity that few even know exists has become a cash cow for a Birmingham PR firm. Using funding from the Education Trust Fund, Alabama's Department of Commerce signed a no-bid contract for $99,000 to get itself a new Web site - that uses WordPress.
This is what happens when you let non-technical people hand out no-bid "service contracts" to their buddies in industry.
The money came from Alabama Industrial Development and Training (AIDT), which was established in 1971 to provide workforce development for Alabama's "new and expanding businesses." It was originally part of the community college system. During the 2013 legislative session, AIDT placed under the state Commerce Department - but is still funded from the Education Trust Fund. In FY 2014, the agency is budgeted to receive over $50 million from the ETF.
And Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield isn't being stingy with the money - at least when it comes to trips to the Paris Air Show, advertising, PR, and development of a new Web site.
Let's set aside the question of why an entity funded through the Education Trust Fund is paying for the Commerce Web site and consider the cost. If $99k for a Web site sounds like a lot to you, well it is.
The contract signed September 24, 2012, states it is for “professional services and public relations.”
The website design for Commerce is $99,000 with a “web skin” update for AIDT. For the almost $100,000, Big was to provide “Development, Design and Programming” for the new website.
The Web site is built around a single template page, so after the initial layout was designed, there wasn't a lot of "programming" involved. It's a matter of filling in the blanks in the template and saving the new page. A quick glance at the underlying code shows that the site uses WordPress for its content management system (CMS) and relies on WordPress plug-ins for specific site functions. Hmmm.... sounds like a lot for "programming" that was actually off-the-shelf plug & play code.
Alreporter.com contacted a professional web-development company and asked that they give an estimate for duplicating the Commerce website, Made in Alabama at www.madeinalabama.com.
Big Communications charged the state $99,000 for the site.
Brain Swell Media, an award-winning website and webcasting firm from Augusta, GA, said they would build the same site for an estimated $7,500 to $10,000.
I contacted a colleague who owns a Web design & Search Engine Optimization company in Texas. He offered two estimates for site design:
$50,000 (on the high end) if the site required the integration of two or more databases into the functionality. From what I can sell by reviewing the site, users who wish to access searchable databases of possible site locations and an industrial directory are taken to external Web sites to perform their search.
$25-$35,000 for a basic Web site built around a single template and with no database integration required. That sounds like what the state has now.
My source noted that WordPress has become increasingly popular as a CMS and is quickly becoming the "go-to CMS for many developers because of its low cost, ease of use, and the fact that you don't need a lot of programming skill to use it."
Secretary Canfield apparently disagrees:
Canfield said that Big was the only company that could do the work.
When asked why Big Communication was given a no-bid contract (page1, page2, page3, page4, page5, page6, page7) Canfield explained, “It was a 'Professional services contract...,.' You don't put out to bid legal work...professional services because the law recognizes they are unique and require expertise and proof that the services can be provided.”
Um.... somehow, I have the feeling that complex legal work is quite different than writing press releases and ad copy. To assert that only one company is capable of the latter makes me wonder if Secretary Canfield has any business sense at all.
On the flip, you can see just how much the state has paid to Big during the current fiscal year. The information is from the Alabama Checkbook.
Somebody needs to educate AL Rep. Mike Rogers on the law of cause and effect as it applies to the federal budget. When you recklessly vote for a stupid bill that requires across-the-board budget cuts with little or no flexibility, don't be surprised when those cuts hurt your district.
“I am convinced this is political … I am convince it is solely because the administration wants as many people as possible to feel the pain, so he can say ‘this is what happens when the mean Republicans cut spending, now give me more taxes,’” Rogers said at the event at the RSA Activity Center in Montgomery. [...]
Rogers also advocated for beginning work now to ensure the air base was protected during any future Base Realignment and Closures, which he estimated could occur again in 2016 or 2017. The air base was among the military posts considered during the 2005 BRAC process, Rogers said. [...] “I want to make sure Maxwell-Gunter has what it needs to never get on the BRAC list,” Rogers said.
Ok Rep. Rogers, thanks for that fascinating glimpse into the GOP psyche...
Good heavens, even Mo Brooks had sense enough to realize that sequestration was going to hurt the defense budget.
At the same time Rogers touts himself as a deficit hawk, he's beating the drum to keep federal money coming to his own district and laying the groundwork to keep Maxwell open.
Federal spending cuts are apparently only a good thing when they affect other districts.
Rep. Rogers, basic math isn't a liberal plot. The budget is zero sum: when you cut a department's budget and mandate - by law - across-the-board spending cuts, well, the department has to cut spending.
This isn't a difficult concept to understand, but it doesn't seem to penetrate the GOP bubble.
Corporate welfare... aka... legalized blackmail.... is alive and well in North Alabama. Here's the latest sorry chapter: three businesses at the swanky Bridge Street development in Huntsville are now closed and owe more than ten thousand in back taxes.
The city isn't the only entity left high and dry:
Bayer Properties, the company that manages Bridge Street, refused to comment on the closings or the taxes owed to the county, but Madison County Tax Collector Lynda Hall says this is the first time in over a decade her office may be forced to seize property from the businesses and hold a public auction.
Watercress closed overnight leaving patrons with gift cards wondering how they will get a refund. The answering machine inside the darkened restaurant does not give any indication the business is closed. Tax collectors have attempted for over a week to reach the business owner who has not returned their calls or ours.
No doubt Bayer Properties is just too busy managing the $4 million the city handed over last fall to help it "lure" the Belk department store to Bridge Street from its current location a mile and a half away.
Hey, $4 million is peanuts considering what they wanted from the city in 2010. You see, the developers wanted to attract a "high end department store," but those were all demanding blackmail money. Macy's wanted $20 million and Nordstrom offered to locate here for the bargain price of $12 million. That's no joke, campers. It's also no laughing matter that some in city government thought it was a good idea!
What a deal... collect sales taxes from customers - and keep them:
The plan under consideration calls for the city to give O&S Holdings 50 percent of any growth in sales taxes at Bridge Street. [...] (Mayor Tommy) Battle, though, said Huntsville has never before agreed to share sales tax proceeds with a developer. He pointed out that Valley Bend at Jones Farm and many other large retail projects have been successful without local government subsidies. [...]
But Councilman Will Culver, whose district includes Bridge Street, said he supports the financing plan and hopes the city can find a way to make it happen. "We have to step outside the box and get a little creative," Culver said.
Meanwhile, neighboring counties are wrestling with their own corporate welfare projects. For years, Decatur Mayor Don Kyle has been working to attract a huge retail development called "Sweetwater" that will be partially funded with $40 million in sales tax rebates. Many question the wisdom of this folly, asking the obvious question:
What makes them think the people of Madison will flock west toward Decatur when they have places galore to shop and when the Lollapalooza of upscale shopping districts in north Alabama, Bridge Street, lies just east of Madison on the western edge of Huntsville? You don't even have to get on I-565 to get there.
Why would people in Huntsville make the trek to Decatur to pay 9 percent sales tax on what they can buy cheaper in their hometown?
That's right. If Mayor Kyle has his way, we'll have two corporate welfare developments fighting over the same wallets. Heavens, it's scary to think how "creative" Councilman Culver might get if that happened.
It's time to stop this never-ending cycle. Surely the next developer asking for a hand-out will be CBL & Associates, owner of Madison Square Mall. That's the development that Belk is leaving to move to Bridge Street. The aging complex is losing quite a few tenants and wondering how to revitalize:
Less clear is what the loss of Belk two years from now will mean for Madison Square. Davis said owner CBL & Associates recently hired a consultant who specializes in the revitalization of large shopping centers. Open since 1984, Madison Square has about 1 million square feet of retail space.
Davis said he and Battle have had multiple conversations about the mall's future with Michael Lebovitz, CBL's executive vice president for development. Efforts to reach Lebovitz for an interview were not successful.
Who can doubt that the consultant will first suggest that CBL ask for a nice, fat check from the city? After all, they have some outstanding examples to go by.
But how long before our local governments stop playing along with these scams?
For decades, North Alabama's been getting a pretty sweet deal on electricity rates, courtesy of the Tennessee Valley Authority. But President Obama's budget proposal released yesterday may change that. The budget suggests that debt concerns make make it necessary to sell TVA to private businesses.
The privatizing of TVA "can help put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path," according to Obama's budget. The passage addressing TVA closes by saying his administration intends to review options for TVA, "including the possible divestiture of TVA, in part or as a whole."
You have to wonder if this is an actual proposal, or a shot across the bow of the Republican deficit hawks who hate all federal expending - that doesn't directly affect their districts.
Take AL-05 Congressman Mo Brooks (please!), for example. Fresh off his assertion that President Obama is a "Socialist" who is "in denial" about the nation's debt, Brooks quickly changed his tune yesterday and defended this New Deal legacy program:
Brooks said that assertion is "unsupportable and inexplicable," pointing out that TVA is self-sustaining and receives no tax subsidies. Brooks also questioned if TVA's assets could be sold for a profit.
But he's willing to "consider it," only if "...President can make that case to Tennessee Valley citizens that doing so will lower the costs of electricity to TVA consumers and is in America's interests."
Um.... isn't it written somewhere in the Conservative Bible that private industry is always more efficient than the government? We hear that talking point all the time even though it's patently false: private businesses have the resources to stack the deck in their favor via lobbying for tax breaks and even getting guaranteed profits.
Alabama Power executives no doubt already have their accountants busily calculating the financial windfall should the company be allowed to snap up even a portion of TVA's assets and customer base. Unlike private utilities, TVA isn't looking to turn a profit: compare that to Alabama Power's guarantees profit margin courtesy of the so-called Alabama "Public Service" Commission.
Hold on to your wallets, campers! This could be costly.
The chickens may be able to come home to roost, but it's going to get a bit harder for airplanes to land in Alabama in the coming months. The FAA has issued its list of airports slated to lose their control towers due to sequestration budget cuts. You can almost say that we're getting off easy in Alabama: Mississippi is losing 5 control towers and West Virginia loses 3.
The Federal Aviation Administration said on Friday it will close 149 air traffic control towers at small airports across the country beginning on April 7 as it copes with automatic federal spending cuts.
The White House and transportation leaders have warned for weeks that the $85 billion in federal cuts known as "sequestration" would force smaller airports across the country to curtail operations. [...] The targeted towers all have fewer than 150,000 takeoffs and landings or 10,000 commercial flights a year. They cater to corporate jets and individuals with private planes. Many also house flight schools, serve as hubs for smaller airlines, or provide relief capacity for larger airports nearby.
While I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for people flitting about on their corporate jets, I do have a lot of sympathy for small communities as they desperately try to keep their economies afloat.
Anything that raises prices and reduces flights is bad news for them. That's been true for a long time: in 1998, the AP was writing about the impact of high airfares on smaller communities - and the economy was booming then! A decade later, the main issue hasn't changed: the cost to fly to/from the local airport balanced against the time cost to travel hours to a larger, cheaper airport.
The White House Council on Economic Advisors lists strengthening rural infrastructure as one of the key ways to strengthen rural communities. However, the transportation component of the plan talks mainly about highways. That's important: most of us use roads every day. But air travel is also important to building local industry and recruiting outside employers.
Many parts of south Alabama desperately need more economic development and local leaders are working hard on the problem. Reduced airport services won't stop their efforts, but it certainly won't help at all.
The Decatur City Council is offering a private developer $40 million in sales tax rebates and infrastructure incentives to build a retail development in Limestone County - and asking the Limestone County schools to kick in even more by giving up some expected sales tax income.
To make the Sweetwater development a reality, though, other government entities much pitch in, Hammon said. [...] "According to the developer, it's still a little bit short. That's where Limestone County is going to have to come in. (Decatur) can't do anything else."
Note that Decatur is the county seat of Morgan County, so we have the interesting situation of the city council in one county asking a neighboring county to fork over some corporate welfare cash.
So here's the plan they've come up with for Limestone County. They want the county to contribute some portion of the 2% sales tax that will be collected:
The 2 percent Limestone County sales tax that would be collected from the businesses in the Decatur-annexed area at Interstate 65 and I-565 is allocated for Limestone County Schools. [...]
Dr. Tom Sisk, superintendent of Limestone County Schools, was on his way this morning to meet with unknown representatives of the deal when he stopped to make a comment.
"I have never been in a situation where a school system has been asked to help with this kind of economic development," Sisk said. [...]
He did say, however, that the school system "does not have a lot of discretionary revenue."
"We are 108th in funding (statewide) and 13th in size," he said. For Fiscal year 2011-2012, the last one reported, sales tax revenue for Limestone County Schools totaled $14.67 million, according to County Administrator Pam Ball.
Shockingly, at least one County Commissioner thinks this plan is a good idea:
Limestone County Commissioner Gary Daly said the school system is likely to see an additional $1 million per year from the development and should "ante up."
Is this what we've come to? Handing money away to out-of-state companies to lure them here and then asking our already strapped local school systems to help fund it?
This is even worse than it looks. Alabama has no system to track whether taxpayers benefit from these subsidies and no mechanism in place to recoup the money if the businesses don't follow through on the agreement. Thyssen Krupp anyone?
[Recently] The Wall Street Journal reported that ThyssenKrupp, a German manufacturer, decided to sell the largest, and newest, steel plant in America. It cost $5 billion to build and has been open for less than two years. The state of Alabama gave the company $1 billion in subsidies — most of which is now gone for good. That’s a lot of money. That’s crazy money. Which raises the question: How much crazy will it take for this kind of silliness to stop?
Still waiting on Mitt Romney's "You Didn't Build That" tour to swing by all these taxpayer-subsidized developments that spread across North Alabama like poison ivy.
This looks like a sweet deal for the so-called Sweetwater development and a sucker bet for local government.
AL-05 Congressman Mo Brooks & Senators Sessions & Shelby won't listen to reason most of the time, but will they listen to Alabama clergy about the harm that "Sequestration" will cause? Possibly not, since this group of Christians, Unitarians, and Rabbis is talking about helping the poor and vulnerable - not nosing about in other people's private lives.
But at least they tried. In an open letter to Brooks, Sessions, & Shelby, ten Huntsville-area religious leaders are pleading for compromise and a solution that helps the poor and middle class instead of hurting them.
I received a copy from Rabbi Bahar, who authored the letter with input from her fellow ministers. AL.com has the entire text, but here are a few excerpts:
This crisis does not simply affect people in Washington. Families who are members of our congregations will face significant salary cuts. Some of these people are already living on the edge and cannot afford to have a reduction in their compensation. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that as a result of this act, 1 million people will lose their jobs, including not only government employees, but also small business owners whose clientele are government workers.
We are not arguing about the need to reduce the deficit, but simply that the use of sequestration -- a blind, massive spending cut which would hurt not only families who work as contractors but also programs affecting the poor and impoverished members of our community -- is not a responsible way of addressing the deficit situation.
Our approach to these serious problems needs to be rooted in our values of compassion and justice. We need to be good stewards of what we have. Compromise should prevail as the method to solve problems; grandstanding and the need to be correct fails to recognize the possibility that multiple approaches to problem-solving exist.
Please realize that you, as our elected officials, have been given power and a responsibility.
So we ask you, those whom we have sent to speak on our behalf, to speak loudly and clearly for the citizens of Alabama and work to resolve this impending crisis before the March 1st deadline in a responsible manner, a manner that considers the well-being of not only the citizens of Alabama, but also our entire nation.
Well said, but sadly, it will probably fall on deaf ears.