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HB-490 Alabama Citizens Need To Foreclose On The Legislature

by: countrycat

Fri Apr 24, 2015 at 07:40:47 AM CDT

Let's say you borrowed money in 2012 on a "no payment until 2014 easy payment plan." But as the 2016 payment date nears, you offer the lender an alternative: skip a year of payments and pick back up in 2017 with no penalties!  How would that fly do you think?

If you're snorting your morning coffee onto your keyboard right now at the very thought, consider that the Republican supermajority in the legislature may do exactly that. They've spent the money they borrowed & have no way to make payments.

Yesterday, HB-490 passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee.  From Page 2 of Rep. Clouse's amendment to the "People's Trust Act:"

(2) The total cumulative amount repaid pursuant to this section shall not be less than the following amounts on the following dates:
   a. September 30, 2014: $5,000,000;
   b. September 30, 2015: $15,000,000;
   c. September 30, 2016 2017: $30,000,000;
   d. September 30, 2017 2018: $50,000,000;

The "People's Trust Act" is one of those bills whose name has absolutely not relationship to the content of the bill. Kind of like George W. Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative" allowed polluters to discharge more dangerous chemicals into the air.

Let's think back to the $1 million dollar special election the Legislature forced on the state in 2012.  In spite of Alabama's requirement for a balanced budget, they passed a budget that required yet another #$%$ constitutional amendment so voters could approve a money transfer from the Alabama Trust Fund. Yep: our "fiscally responsible" legislators could only pay the bills by borrowing money.

How did they convince voters to give a constitutional stamp of approval to their incompetence?  Threats.  "Throw Grandma out of the nursing home!" "Prisoners running loose in the streets!" etc.  Sound familiar?

There were big promises that all the money would be repaid by 2026 and, starting in 2014 (the first bill didn't come due until they could get re-elected), they would start paying it back.  We promise! Pinky swear! 

Oh... but now the tune has changed. 

And Chuck Dean nails it:

The new bill, let's call it the Welch Act for short, would allow the state to miss the 2016 payment of $15 million. The bill calls for the payment to be delayed until 2017. But if I were you I wouldn't hold my breath counting on the money to be paid in 2017 either.
[...]

Of course this possible reneging, welching, backing out of the promise to repay the trust fund is because, ironically, the state needs the $15 million payment to help meet next year the very same essential state services it took the money from the trust fund to meet 31 months ago.

Now all the trust fund money is gone. It was used to bridge three years' worth of holes in the state's General Fund budget. The hope was then that the borrowed money, coupled with reductions in the number of state workers and more cuts in state services would stave off a crisis giving the economy time to recover.

That was the theory. It was wrong.

Today the same General Fund faces an immediate shortfall of $200 million and a longer-term hole of $700 million.

Let's be clear on this: the Stimulus Act that the Republicans hated so much patched holes in the state budget.  So did legal settlement fees and a shell game of moving money from one pot to the other.  In 2010, Republicans used this against Democrats in the mid-term elections. They told voters that they would be fiscally responsible with the state's money. Things would be different with Republicans in control.

In a sense, they told the truth.  The situation is worse now.

Keep in mind that this is the same legislature that seems to have no problem at all with the unconscionable interest rates and underhanded tactics of many "payday lenders." 

But when it comes to paying back the money they borrowed from the state because they couldn't balance the budget? 

No problem.           We'll get to it.           Sometime. 

After the next election. 

Maybe.

 

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2016 Budget Cuts = Why Alabama Can't Have Nice Things - Or Even Broken Stuff

by: countrycat

Thu Apr 23, 2015 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

If the Legislature doesn't act, Alabama state budgets won't just be cut to the bone; we'll be slicing into the marrow. For many state agencies, every dollar lost in state funding equals another $2-$3 lost in federal matching funds.  Now Republicans have documented problems with basic math, but it's pretty easy to understand that if you spend $1 in state money and get $3 from the federal government, then that's a good deal.

 

Yesterday, the Governor's office released a memo that brings that fact into sharp focus.  We already know about the state parks crisis (although there was some good news yesterday), but here are some other low points:

-- As many as 25 Army National Guard armories would close...

[...]

-- Courts would have to lay off more than 600 employees and probably close for two days a week.

-- State law enforcement would lose 99 state troopers, 25 investigators and eight Capitol police officers.

-- The Department of Human Resources would lose $190 million in federal funds, resulting in more than 15,000 children losing subsidized child care and more than 30,000 children losing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.

The only benefit I see here is this tidbit:

-- The Environmental Protection Agency would take over water-related functions of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, resulting in 148 layoffs and delays and over-regulation that would hurt business.

For sure, I trust the EPA to manage environment regulations far more than I trust ADEM.

The court cutbacks are quite troublesome. The supermajority has already cut criminal justice funding to the point that Alabama's forensic labs can't begin to quickly process evidence. There's a constitutional right to a "quick and speedy trial."  How long before this situation explodes into yet another federal lawsuit?

In 2012, Governor Bentley credited God for his election victory, but he's done little to help "the least of these" in this state. The corporations are doing great thanks to all the corporate welfare being handed out.  But hungry children and the working poor without insurance? Hey, they ought to just get a job (or another one) or something.

Look at how Republicans spent money during their first term:

I give the Governor credit for recognizing the state's revenue problem now - now that he can no longer run for re-election. But if he'd been listening to any pastor besides Reverend Ike, he might have found the courage to confront these problems before they threatened the state with disastrous budget cuts.

 

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Dear Legislators: If You Can't Stand The Heat, Get Out Of The ALEC Bubble & Fix The Budget

by: countrycat

Tue Apr 21, 2015 at 11:56:49 AM CDT

Alabama's budget is a mess. We're facing a huge shortfall this year and in the future. The state may close over half our state parks, lay off 99 state troopers, and cut services to the elderly and disabled. Our legislature is halfway through the session and they've done nothing but shout "no new taxes" and "stop gay weddings" for the last month.

 

So what is Senator Harri Anne Smith bothered about? People worried about the proposed cuts are in a panic and bothering her with phone calls:

Friends......I think I have just heard the lowest of the low of abuse of political power. I can't believe that our Governor would have our Directors of programs, that help the elderly and homebound, call people receiving services and tell them that their services are about to be cut off. THE FACT IS THAT THEY HAVE SERVICES BUDGETED UNTIL OCTOBER! We are currently working on the budgets for 2016 and some have a disagreement with the Governor on how to fund these programs but I HAVE HEARD NO ONE SAY THAT THEY ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE SURE THAT THE PROGRAMS THAT PEOPLE DEPEND ON TO LIVE ARE NOT GOING TO BE FUNDED. People we are talking about are citizens who are dependent on people coming into their homes to help them with meals and health related issues. They are being called and SCARED into calling me today in tears begging me not to stop their services. THIS IS WRONG AND THE GOVERNOR NEEDS TO STOP THIS....... The Governor needs to give the elected officials the time to finish the budget hearings and then let us make good decisions for our people and the State. I am sorry these tactics are being used to try to create panic. Please pray for our leaders and our State. Please share this post.

Really, Senator Smith?  That's the "lowest abuse of political power" you've ever seen? 

This complaint reminds me of Rep. Greg Wren's little temper tantrum in 2012 when public health officials warned about budget cuts:

Last week, Don Williamson, director of the Alabama Department of Public Health, told the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee that he would explain the consequences of a $400 million cut to Medicaid.  While some committee members lamented the "devastating" nature of the cuts, Rep. Greg Wren (HD75) framed the issue in more personal terms:

“If this agency goes forward and puts out any haunting emails about potential cuts to programs that could affect the lives of individuals, I will be personally offended, and I will look forward to talking with whoever is in control of Medicaid,” he said.

There we go!  It's ok to cut programs and services, but not ok to explain the process to citizens - particularly those about to be affected by those cuts.  Because, hey, they might actually complain or share their "haunting" stories about what happens when you eliminate funding for hospice care, dialysis, or prescription drugs.

I agree that Governor Bentley has had his head somewhere during the past four years. Let's be nice and say it's been "in the sand." But this year, a miracle occurred and he recognizes the reality of Alabama's budget situation.  There isn't enough money available to fund state services and we can't cut our way out of this mess and still have a state that anybody would want to visit - much less live in.

Senator Smith, many of your fellow legislators seem totally unwilling to acknowledge this fact.  It's like ALEC blew the world's largest bubble and encased the Alabama Statehouse in it.

Governor Bentley isn't fear-mongering: he's telling it like it is. This legislature is full of irrational bad actors who don't seem concerned about the effect of their political ideology on real people.  The only way to break through their delusional facade is to force them to listen to personal stories and face facts.

So you don't like calls and emails? Then do something to fix this situation and quit whining.

Hey y'all!  The publicity is obviously having an effect here.  Find your legislator here and make him/her similarly uncomfortable.  As often as possible.

 

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Visit An Alabama State Park While You Still Can

by: countrycat

Wed Apr 15, 2015 at 15:11:29 PM CDT

In 2014, Alabama's state park system celebrated its 75th anniversary. Will it make it 77 after the 2015 legislative session is complete? State parks in North Alabama (home of anti-tax billboards) will be particularly hard hit by impending budget cuts, reports WHNT-TV in Huntsville. Governor Bentley has warned of "prisoners in our basements" and other horrors if the legislature fails to pass his tax plan this session. Today, we got word of proposed cuts that will close some of Alabama's most beloved state parks.

 

WHNT News 19 contacted Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein for further information.  He said the 15 parks that would close by FY2016 are:

Bladon Springs
Chickasaw
Bucks Pocket
Paul Grist
Florala
Blue Springs
Roland Cooper
Rickwood Caverns
Cheaha Park
Lake Lurleen
DeSoto
Lakepoint
Guntersville
Joe Wheeler
Frank Jackson

Lein said the seven parks that would remain open are Meaher, Wind Creek, Chewacla, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Oak Mountain and Gulf State Park.

“Those 15 parks [slated to close] have not consistently made a profit over the last three years,” said Lein.  “The remaining 7 parks have.  This is a very dynamic financial situation.”
[...]
Nix, the spokesperson, added the proposed state budget would take $2.8 million out of the parks’ guest revenue to be used for other state expenses.

That's right campers: if state parks can't make a profit, tough luck and good-bye.  Or should we say "a good BUY" for whatever campaign contributors have an interest in acquiring the property.

It's a stupid, shortsighted move - and perhaps it's mainly a threat from Bentley to "go nuclear" if the legislature continues to rebuff his tax plan. He's right that state services cost money and we have to pay for them some way. If he'd only acknowledged this when he ran in 2010 instead of harpig on that stupid "NO NEW TAXES" bandwagon, we might not be in this mess now.

Still, what makes the plan "stupid and shortsighted" is that a big part of Alabama's economy is built on tourism.  According to the State Tourism Department:

The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) has released its annual economic impact report, which shows that the tourism industry grew by 3% with more than 23.5 million visitors spending almost $11 billion in 2013.

ATD statistician Pam Smith reported that, from 2004 to 2013, travel spending in Alabama has increased 50% according to the study conducted by Auburn University Montgomery.

From the 2013 Tourism Economic Report (PDF):

  • In 2013, more than $738 million of state and local tax revenues were generated by
    travel and tourism activities. Without those taxes, each household in Alabama would
    have had to pay $392 in additional taxes to maintain current service levels.
  •  An estimated 163,848 jobs – 8.6 percent of non-agricultural employment in Alabama –
    were directly or indirectly attributable to the travel and tourism industry.

That report deals tourism in general, but does show how important it is to Alabama's economy.  However, the park system is (or should be) about more than tourism. The park system is an important component in the state's environmental preservation efforts too:

Today, the system encompasses 22 state parks totaling more than 48,000 acres. These parks preserve and maintain just about every habitat type found in Alabama as well as some historically and culturally significant areas. Habitat types include southern Appalachian mountaintops, forests, caves, river and lake shorelines, wetlands and Gulf Coast beaches.

“The mission of the Parks Division is to acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities, and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment,” Lein says. “From the mountains to the coast, we have a park system that captures a lot of ecological systems and unique wildlife habitats. Two primary cave parks, Cathedral Caverns and Rickwood Caverns, illustrate the geology of Alabama and the diverse cave formations in the state. Desoto State Park is on a wild, free-flowing river.”

Note those last two parks are on the chopping block. The loss of DeSoto State Park, in particular, would be devastating, and it's worth noting that DeSoto was built thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression. At that time, our government leaders still believed in investing in the future to benefit our children and grandchildren.

Will we really be the generation that throws it all away because we're too damned greedy and selfish to care about what sort of state we're leaving for our kids?  That's a sad, sad legacy.

 

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GOP "Fiscal Reponsibility" May Lead To "Prisoners In Your Basements"

by: countrycat

Thu Apr 09, 2015 at 08:12:39 AM CDT

State agencies this week issued dire warnings of draconian cuts to mental health, child care, adult day care and more, but Governor Robert Bentley described the state's budget situation in much more colorful language when he spoke to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce yesterday. 

Sweet Home Alabama Under Republican Control 

Bentley urged the Legislature to pass his $541 million tax hike package and, perhaps inadvertently, also highlighted the basic problem with Alabama state government: the majority of people don't seem to care about any budget cuts, corruption, or failures - unless it affects them personally:

“I know some of you don’t care about food stamps, but if it affects children, you should care,” Bentley said at the chamber’s luncheon.

Thousands would lose mental health services. More Veterans Affairs offices would close. “We might have to close 15 of our 22 state parks,” Bentley said.

And state prison funding would be cut. You might not care about prisoners, but when you have them in your basement, you’re going to care,” he said.

The Governor also pledged to call the Legislature back into special session - over and over, if necessary - until they take action to increase state revenue. Wow, isn't that extra expense a perfect solution for a state that can't pay its bils now?

This is a big change from his first term, when the newly-elected Governor and his Republican super-majority in the Legislature couldn't manage to balance the state's budget without borrowing money from the state's savings account.

What hasn't changed is the rhetoric surrounding the issue: dire warnings about Grandma getting thrown out of the nursing home, prisoners running wild through the streets, and hungry children. It sounds like one of those dystopian after-the-Apocalypse novels. What also hasn't changed is that Republicans have total control of state government. In 2011, their "solution" was a $3.4 million special election to approve their budget blackmail plan.

Bentley says he will have to cut the General Fund budget across the board if the voters turn down the constitutional amendment Sept. 18. This raises the specter of the state's releasing thousands of state inmates and laying waste to the Medicaid program and other vital services such as mental health and human resources. 

The state voted "yes," and the state General Fund got a breather for four years - conveniently, the terms of the state's "loan" from the Alabama Trust Fund didn't include repayment until after the 2014 election.

But now, Governor Bentley is facing the consequences of his 2010 intransigence:

Bentley has remained resolute that he would veto a tax increase of any type, so lawmakers eventually settled on the plan to take the money out of the Alabama Trust Fund.

While he's changed his tune and now seeks over $500 million in revenue increases, his legislative supermajority still has their hands over their ears and are resolutely shouting "LA LA LA LA LA" when anyone dares broach the subject of tax increases.

Apparently, no cut is too large and no damage to the state's population and infrastructure is too great:

Orr, chairman of the Senate's General Fund committee, asked agencies that depend on the General Fund to submit plans for how they would deal with budget cuts of 15 percent and 30 percent.

The letters show the compounding effect of state funding cuts for agencies that use that money to match federal dollars. The loss of a state dollar can reduce the bottom line by three dollars or more.

And even if Bentley succeeds with his plan, remember that a lot of that money will go to repay the money the GOP borrowed in 2011. That's bill's coming due and there was quite a dust-up in 2013 when Senator Jay Love tried to get the body to agree on a payment plan - that wouldn't require any repayment until 2026:

That loud clanging noise you heard yesterday in Montgomery was the Republican supermajority kicking the fiscal can down the road - for at least 3 more election cycles.  Looks like the Alabama Trust Fund will just have to wait for its promised repayment of the $437 million the GOP demanded last year because they were unable to balance the state's budget.

As we watch the budget circus this session, let's remember how the supermajority charged into Montgomery ready to "fix" the state budgets by "trimming waste" and fighting fraud, when in fact the real plan was to bankrupt the state so that Speaker Mike Hubbard could get rich shilling for corporations interested in buying our state government piece by piece.

These people aren't leaders. They're a bunch of con artists with credit cards.

 

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The State Democratic Party Is Quiet, But House Democrats Come Out Swinging

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 22, 2015 at 19:04:25 PM CDT

House Minority Leader Craig Ford's recent post on Facebook brought a smile to my face. After waiting months in vain for the state party leadership to even issue a press release, at least our legislators are fighting the good fight.Craig Ford

Just look at how many of them stood up for equality during the HB-56 debate. (Review Mia's excellent liveblogging of the debate.) The House debate on the charter school bill was similarly hard fought.

We've said here for years - when our Democratic legislators didn't bother to show up for committee hearings or important votes - that "just because you'll probably lose, that's no reason not to take a stand."

Today, Ford offered this:

"Would You Rather Have A Democrat’s Lottery Or Republicans’ Taxes?"

This week is the legislature’s Spring Break, and we are now almost a third of the way through the legislative session. And as last week came to an end, legislative leaders were quick to congratulate themselves on passing their legislative agenda.

I’m sure the taxpayers will be relieved Republicans were able to pass their “Alabama First” agenda. I mean, sure, maternity wards across the state are closing and leaving thousands of mothers without nearby prenatal care and delivery services, but at least we brought back the electric chair.

And, sure, there are hundreds of children in Alabama waiting to be adopted by loving parents but can’t because of budget cuts to the Department of Human Resources. But at least judges won’t be forced to participate in gay weddings. Oh wait, nobody was making them do that anyway.

Well at least now we passed the “Truth in Salary Act” so all those educators and state employees will finally know how much they are getting paid! I mean, sure, there are counties in Alabama that don’t have a single state trooper to patrol them, and many of the state troopers we do have are driving vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them. But all that has to take a backseat to more bureaucracy and paperwork so that we can make sure our bureaucrats know how much they are getting paid (because apparently they are smart enough to teach our children, but not smart enough to read their own paystubs).

Yes, the Republican leadership has passed their legislative agenda. But what they have not done is offer any real solutions to the very real problems Alabama is facing.

Take, for example, the charter school bill. Let’s assume that every charter school is wildly successful. Even then, there would still be thousands of children still stuck in failing schools. Charter schools and the Accountability Act are not solutions to failing schools. They are escape options from failing schools.

And that is the problem with the leadership in Montgomery: they don’t try to solve problems; they try to run away or hide from problems. But now Alabama is facing some problems that we can’t run away from anymore.

The General Fund budget is facing a hole of at least $265 million. And if we try to pay back all the debt we owe, the budget hole is really closer to $700 million.

After the last four years of gutting our state government, we simply cannot fill the budget hole with more cuts to government. We have “right-sized” to the point of budgetary anorexia. The only way to allow our government to continue to function is with more revenue.

Before the legislative session began, Gov. Bentley proposed a tax package that would raise about $541 million. And to his credit, he included certain proposals, such as increasing the tobacco tax and closing certain corporate tax loopholes that benefit out-of-state corporations and the expense of Alabama business owners, which have been part of the Democratic Party’s agenda for years.

It’s no surprise the Republican leadership in the legislature hasn’t supported the governor’s proposals. They don’t want to be seen supporting anything Democrats have been calling for, and that’s fine. But if they don’t want to consider our ideas, they should at least offer some of their own!

The legislature cannot run away and hide any more. The Republicans wanted to be in leadership, and now it’s time for them to step up and offer solutions.

Of course, if they won’t consider Democratic proposals, then that only leaves one option: raising taxes. Now they won’t call it tax increases. They will call it “enforcement of existing tax laws” or “eliminating deductions”, but the bottom line is that you will be paying more of your hard-earned money in taxes.

Before we start raising taxes, we should at least consider voluntary revenue raising measures like a lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians and raising the tobacco tax.

The legislative fiscal office estimates that a lottery could raise up to $280 million in new revenue, while raising the tobacco tax by a dollar could generate another $225 million. A compact with the Poarch Creek Indians could generate another $30-50 million.

All of these options are voluntary. People can choose to quit smoking or not to gamble. So why not vote on these measures first? Then, if more money is needed, we can look at other proposals.

If the Republican leadership in the legislature doesn’t offer a solution soon, then you know what their solution will be. The question is: would you rather have a Democrat’s lottery or Republicans’ taxes?

Now, I'm a total lottery skeptic.  Refer to our five-part series on state education lotteries for some of the problems with that as a revenue source.  But Ford is correct that this is possibly the only new revenue opportunity that could get past the legislature and Alabama voters.

Politics is, as Bismark noted, "the art of the possible."  If this is what it takes to shore up our state's safety net, it might be the best of all the bad solutions we have on the table.

 

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Hospital Closing Announcement Is Another Blow To Alabama's Tattered Mental Health System

by: countrycat

Thu Jan 15, 2015 at 12:47:38 PM CST

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. 

Alabama Mental Health System

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.

This isn't new information, but Alabama appears to be ignoring the consequences - which could be severe for the state budget and our communities.  A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry & the Law had already documented how deinstitutionalization was turning America's prisons into the new mental hospitals. Not suprisingly, the results have been disappointing.

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. 

As the prison privatization trend accelerates, making a difference becomes secondary to making a profit. Turnover is higher among private prisons' lower-paid and poorly-trained employees. They are often ill-equipped to deal with any inmates, much less those with mental illness.  Recidivism, which communities and public prisons want to avoid, is part of the business model for private prison operators. Deinstitutionalization could be a financial boon for some private prison companies.

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Alabama State Boards Need You! Plenty of Vacancies & Boards That Need Diversity

by: countrycat

Fri Dec 05, 2014 at 14:10:11 PM CST

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.

Alabama State Board Vacancies 

Here is the list of state board & commission vacancies from the Secretary of State's Web site.  Looking at the list, it's almost impossible to determine the actual membership of the boards & commissions because the membership info doesn't appear to have been updated since 2009.  Somehow, former SOS Beth Chapman (who resigned her office in favor of a more lucrative job at ALFA) neglected something as basic as updating the SOS Web site.  Her successor, Jim Bennett, who has otherwise been a pretty good Secretary of State, also let this slide.

For instance, here's a list of expired board seats. And here's a list of seats on the Alabama Citizens Corps Council. Note that the term of every person listed expired in 2011 and there are 3 vacancies.  Or are there? What about the other 18 people listed with expired terms? Go through the list of vacant positions, and you'll find this same issue with the membership of most state boards.  

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: reptodd@gmail.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!

 

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"Shared Sacrifice" = "Solid Hickory Desks?" Alabama Legislators Spend $1.2 Million on Chambers

by: countrycat

Mon Dec 01, 2014 at 11:00:00 AM CST

Alabama may be looking at a $700 million hole in the budget over the next few years, but that doesn't mean state legislators should suffer. Remember: these guys & gals pulled down a paltry sum of about $53k in 2012 to attend 30 - count 'em thirty! - legislative days of work.  They shouldn't be asked to work in any sort of sub-standard conditions (that's for coal miners), so these amazing stewards of the Alabama budget spent $1.2 million to renovate the legislative chambers.

The Alabama Senate chamber has gotten a nearly top-to-bottom makeover that includes include new carpet, woodworking, a new microphone system and solid hickory desks made by inmates in the state prison system.

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.

This is just another example of how the GOP supermajority is all talk about fiscal responsibility. they made a big show of "reforming" their pay system in 2012, remember?  The plan ties legislative pay to the median income in Alabama - a number that's readily available from the US Census.  A state employee could look it up on Google in under a minute. However, the state issued a $72,000 no-bid contract to have a consultant look it up instead.

Then there's Speaker Mike Hubbard's Versailles-like redecoration & budget increases for the Office of the Speaker.

We're stuck with these clowns for the next four years.  Imagine how much more money they'll waste before Alabama voters finally get fed up.

 

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Liars, Damn Liars, and Alabama Republicans

by: countrycat

Thu Nov 20, 2014 at 08:14:01 AM CST

Federal courts have protected lying by politicians as "free speech," but for Alabama Republicans it's a way of life. How else to explain Governor Bentley's sudden realization that Alabama's general fund budget shortfall is not just a whopping $265 million for next year, but a heart-stopping $700 million over "the next few years."  Meaning, we suppose, the rest of his term.Alabama Republican party

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:

But even those crazy expenditures pale before the amount of corporate welfare that the state has doled out seemingly to any out-of-state corporation that asked.

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.

But don't worry campers!  There's a solution for all you people who have lost your jobs or who haven't been able to find one in Bentley's economy.  There may be a job waiting for you  in prison.

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.

 

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

It's Good To Be A Riley In Alabama, But Not So Great Being A Taxpayer

by: countrycat

Mon Aug 25, 2014 at 16:21:31 PM CDT

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?

GOP budget clowns

If you selected B, you may be a member of the GOP supermajority, because that's exactly what happened.  Not surprisingly, a member of the Riley clan is slurping at the public pork trough.

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.” 

I guess we should be thankful that the Personnel Department didn't need a Web site too: they might have hired the same outfit that charged the state's Education Trust Fund $99,000 to build a WordPress site

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.

 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Budget Priorities, Alabama Style

by: countrycat

Fri Jul 25, 2014 at 08:02:48 AM CDT

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 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.

 

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Alabama Republican Supermajority Isn't Competent To Manage The State's Budget

by: countrycat

Tue Jul 22, 2014 at 07:00:00 AM CDT

Think back to those thrilling days of yesteryear (2012) .... when the Alabama GOP supermajority balanced the state budget - at gun point. The Legislature passed a budget that spent money they didn't have - and might not get unless voters fell for their publicity campaign - "we'll throw Grandma out of the nursing home & empty the prisons if you don't vote YES on September 18."

donkey kicking elephant

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.

Not surprisingly, the four years of GOP Supermajority rule has been disastrous for the state - and it's going to get worse if we keep them in absolute control of state government. 

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.

 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Speaker Mike Hubbard Is Outraged About Veterans Now, But Was Quiet In 2012

by: countrycat

Mon Jun 09, 2014 at 18:00:00 PM CDT

Prepare yourself for a hurricane of selective indignation.  Today, the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System was named one of the country's worst offenders in the VA scandal.  Speaker Mike Hubbard is all over the story, posting this comment on his Facebook page:

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.

But there's another piece to Hubbard's so-called concern about Alabama veterans.  He issued no Facebook call to action or any public statement in 2012 when Veterans Assistance Offices in 17 Alabama counties closed due to the Legislature's failure to adequately fund state services.

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 please, Republicans, spare us your faux outrage and concern now, because we know that when it came time to help veterans, the Alabama Congressional delegation has hardly stepped up to the plate and neither did the Alabama Legislature.  The only reason they're "outraged" now is because it's a chance to kick the President around.

 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Attorney General Luther Strange Explains Alabama's Budget Woes

by: countrycat

Tue May 20, 2014 at 07:22:15 AM CDT

"I get to go to work every day and think of ways to sue President Obama," he told a GOP rally in Pike County. Remember, he's part of the same administration that "balanced" the state budget in 2012 by holding a special election and essentially blackmailing voters into looting the Alabama Trust Fund.  Note that there's still no real plan to pay back the $437 million "loan."

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.

 

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Ann Romney Blames Voters For Government Shutdown

by: countrycat

Wed Oct 02, 2013 at 11:01:10 AM CDT

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.GOP total denial

“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.

Because:

  • 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.

 

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Direct From The Land Of Delusion - An Email From The RNC

by: countrycat

Tue Oct 01, 2013 at 15:08:16 PM CDT

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.republicans in total denial

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.

Sign our petition and stand strong with House Republicans in their fight to defeat ObamaCare and end the Democrat Shutdown.

Mike Shields
RNC Chief of Staff

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.

Meanwhile, read President Barack Obama's statement about the shutdown from earlier today:

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.

It gets better.  Read the whole thing!

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Congress Sends Country A Ransom Note: "Don't Force Us To Kill The Economy"

by: countrycat

Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 08:28:45 AM CDT

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.

The Democratic Party's Facebook page offers this helpul guide to the GOP plan. Please share it.

Gop Ransom Note 

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III Takes Sides In The GOP Civil War

by: countrycat

Thu Sep 26, 2013 at 10:12:22 AM CDT

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.Tea Party GOP clowns

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.

Earlier this week, some in the country were entertained by Canada Texas Senator Ted Cruz's 21-hour children's book reading party on the floor of the Senate. When he wasn't rattling off bad rhymes or impersonating Darth Vader, he was comparing those who disagree with his methods to appeasers who failed to stop the Nazis.

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....."

But other senators stood with Cruz - including Alabama's own Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, a man whose name alone might indicate his fondness for a good Civil War.

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.

 

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

AL Commerce Department Finds A Way To Loot Education Trust Fund

by: countrycat

Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 08:27:08 AM CDT

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. Made In Alabama

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 start with the Web site....  As the Alabama Political Reporter noted yesterday, AIDT spent $99,000 on a no-bid contract to develop a new Web site (MadeInAlabama.com) that promotes itself as "The Official Web site of the Alabama Department of Commerce." 

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.

Really.

Big Communication has become quite the "go to" advertising/PR agency for the State of Alabama

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.

 

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