Inside the Statehouse
September 2, 2015:
It is common knowledge that the Indian casinos in Alabama and throughout the country are granted federal sovereignty and are not subject to state intervention and authority. Several years ago state attorney general Luther Strange filed a hail Mary frivolous lawsuit against PCI Gaming Authority for political posturing purposes. The federal district court in Montgomery took about three weeks to rule against the state. It was ludicrous that it was filed. Federal District Judge Keith Watkins pretty much implied as much by ruling so quickly. It was a perfunctory decision that could be written by a first year law clerk in less than an hour. One of the puzzling questions is why in the world the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has sat on their final ruling for over three years. Speculation in Montgomery is that there is an agreement between Luther Strange and former Alabama Attorney General and now 11th Circuit Jurist Bill Pryor to delay the ruling. They are close Mountain Brook buddies.
There was a very poignant and telling caricature of George Wallace during his heyday that very accurately depicts Alabama’s long standing relationship with the federal government. In the picture Wallace has his hand out receiving federal money. In the other hand he has a dagger ready to vehemently attack Washington.
This same scenario of taking federal money while criticizing the federal programs that sustain Alabama continues today. We receive a lot of federal dollars folks. In fact, a recent government analysis revealed that Alabama is in the top three states when it comes to receiving funds from Washington.
Alabama’s financial relationship with the federal government is very beneficial. According to an analysis from WalletHub, Alabama is ranked third in economic dependence on the federal government. WalletHub included three measures in their ranking. First they studied the number of federal employees per capita in a state. Secondly, they compared the amount of federal revenue received to total state revenues and third a comparison of federal revenue to federal taxes paid.
Alabama receives $3.28 for every $1 in federal income taxes paid by our residents. Amazingly 37 percent of Alabama’s state spending is paid for with federal money. The survey estimates that nearly 12 percent of Alabama’s workforce are federal government employees.
This illustrates what a gigantic impact our federal military bases have on Alabama’s economy. Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Maxwell and Gunter in Montgomery and Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass are extremely important to Alabama’s economic wellbeing.
There is a glaring irony in the study. The states where the Republican Party dominates are more likely to be dependent on federal government dollars. Last year the Bureau of Economic Analysis did a detailed study of the 50 states and ranked them in order of per capita income. The analysis ranked Alabama 42nd in the nation in per capita income. Our per capita income is $36,501. They came to that figure by taking all of the money earned by Alabamians and dividing it by the number of people living in the state. Alabama’s per capita figure was 18 percent lower than the national number or, in other words, Alabamians earned 82 cents for every dollar earned throughout the country.
We are not only a low income state, we are also a low growth state. Alabamians personal income grew by only 1.8 percent, whereas most southeastern states saw growth of at least 2 percent or more. However, if you happen to be a teacher or state employee in Alabama your income decreased.
The states with the highest percentage of growth in 2013 were Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Therefore, it appears that if you live west of the Mississippi your income grew the most.
Over the years in Alabama we have had a large number of dry counties. That means they do not sell alcohol in these counties. Of Alabama’s 67 counties, 25 do not allow alcohol sales countywide. Most of these counties are in north Alabama. This region is very conservative and very religious. Alabama is known as the Bible Belt and north Alabama is the buckle of the Bible Belt.
However, it is not a bad reflection of those counties that they are dry. Since we are discussing economic statistics, a cursory look at those 25 counties will indicate a direct correlation to prosperity and per capita income. These
counties are also in the top tier of Alabama counties when it comes to per capita income.
August 26, 2015:
Many would argue, and indeed numerous surveys indicate, that Alabama is one of, if not the most, conservative states in America. I would argue that if that is true then our Alabama legislature is reflective of their constituents.
A good many of the online and remaining large city daily newspapers castigate our super majority Republican legislature as ultra right wing uncaring crazies that pass ludicrous social issue fanatical bills that are blatantly unconstitutional. They also say that they have taken an ostrich approach to facing the state’s financial crisis in favor of sticking to their no tax pledges. However, I would argue that they are representing their constituents’ beliefs and concerns. These left-leaning modern day journalists have never run for nor could they get elected to any public office in Alabama.
During my 16-year tenure in the legislature my philosophy was that I should be a representative of and for my district. In other words, I believed that I should be a conduit for my county’s philosophy, wants and needs. Therefore, I would argue that these legislators are simply representing their constituents and as a part of their constituency probably their own beliefs.
As a legislator I had a pretty conservative voting record. In my later years I earned a reputation as a leader when it came to pro business legislation. You might say that even though I voted conservatively on social and business issues my primary conservative interest leaned toward fiscal responsibility.
The primary problem facing our country now is the federal deficit. Fortunately Alabama has a constitutional provision that prohibits deficit spending. Unfortunately our U.S. Constitution does not have this same handcuff. Thus, our Congress continues to spend with no restraint like drunken sailors, while China buys up our debt.
The only advice I would offer to our current legislature is that if they are going to continue to pass social issue bills that are without question unconstitutional, that they do it in the form of resolutions and not legislation. When you actually pass laws, they have to be defended in court by lawyers. It costs a lot of money that the state does not have.
The legislature’s actions have rightfully placed Alabama in the eyes of the nation as the most conservative socially and tax wise. That approach has also made us the most broke and least responsible state in America. No state can compare when it comes to cutting essential services of state government. No state has 25,000 prisoners with less than 13,000 prison beds. No state has 400 state troopers when the average state our size and population has 1,500.
As a fiscal conservative, I would urge the legislature to take the resolution approach when they want to politically posture on federal issues like abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and Obama Care. Everyone knows that these issues sell well to their constituents. However, everyone who was awake and passed ninth grade civics also knows they are unconstitutional and the Alabama legislature has nothing to do with these issues. They are systematically and routinely ruled against in Federal Court. They are good campaign fodder but the legislation costs money to defend. A resolution would serve the same purpose and save the state millions.
The legislature did continue to pass pro business legislation to enhance business development that is constitutional. Legislation creating reinvestment incentives in the form of tax abatements will help prevent Alabama companies from moving or closing their operations.
Sen. Trip Pittman, Baldwin County, passed legislation that would create a separate Board of Trustees for the state’s community and technical colleges. It will be independent from the State Board of Education. The purpose of this legislative action is to refocus the system’s mission on workforce training. This is a good idea.
Another Baldwin countian, Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan has taken the lead when it comes to promoting and regulating drones in the state. Farmers largely are poised to benefit from unmanned flying machines. In the future, they will be used in herding cattle, counting fish, taking an animal’s temperature, applying pesticides, checking irrigation devices and alerting farmers of thieves rustling cattle, as well as monitoring growth of crops.