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RSVP today for Arise's 2015 Legislative Day!
Your voice matters! Make plans now to speak up for a better Alabama by attending Arise's 2015 Legislative Day on Tuesday, April 14, 2015, in Montgomery. Registration will begin at 9:30 a.m. that day in the Capitol Auditorium, with the issue briefing starting at 10 a.m. Next will be a legislative luncheon at 11:30 a.m., followed by a news conference at 1:30 p.m. and a membership briefing at 2 p.m.
It'll be an exciting day, and we hope to see you there. Click here for more information and to RSVP today. Space at the luncheon is limited, so you must RSVP by Monday, April 6, 2015, to confirm your spot. Together, we can build a better Alabama for all!
Arise Daily News Digest 4-1-2015
ARISE LEGISLATIVE UPDATE - Six things to know about the Accountability Act changes that the Alabama Senate passed.
AL.COM - Mike Hubbard's lawyers subpoena Bentley for hearing; state moves to block.
AL.COM - Former Alabama Chief Justice on NPR: Judges raising election money is 'like legalized extortion'.
AL.COM - Alabama Senate passes bill to repeal increase in driver's license fee.
AL.COM - Alabama Senate Republicans cut off debate, pass revisions to Accountability Act.
AL.COM - 'Stand Up 4 Transportation Day' takes call for transportation bill to state Capitol steps.
AL.COM - Alabama Senate passes bill to provide tax breaks for new jobs.
AL.COM - Animal shelter census bill fails in Alabama House.
AL.COM - Alabama House passes bill allowing voters over 70, disabled skip line at polling places.
AL.COM - 13 Alabama colleges flagged by US Education Department for financial concerns.
AL.COM - Alabama lawmaker withdraws controversial bill to repeal women's health standards.
AL.COM - Top 10 Alabama occupations with the most online job postings in February.
AL.COM - Rep. Mo Brooks compares Iran with Hitler's Germany before World War II.
AL.COM - Palmer on Obamacare: 'I think this administration needs to take a mulligan'.
AL.COM - AIDS groups fight Alabama bill boosting penalties for knowingly exposing others to STDs.
AL.COM – Contributor U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer: Why I oppose Obama AG nominee Loretta Lynch
AL.COM – Columnist Kyle Whitmire: He lost his wife in childbirth, now her doctor, an Alabama lawmaker, wants to undo his victory for women.
AL.COM – Contributor Clete Wetli: Alabama Republicans finally get chance to 'drown the government’.
AL.COM – Contributor Bob Nicholson: More ideas for Alabama's Democratic Party.
SENATE SKETCHES - “Senate Sketches,” Sen. Hank Sander’s weekly message to his constituents.
ALABAMA SCHOOL CONNECTION - Strengthening the Educational Intervention Act – SB43
ALABAMA SCHOOL CONNECTION - How Principal Salaries Have Changed Since 2009
WSFA - Columnist Ken Hare In Depth: Charging desperate Alabamians 400 percent interest wrong.
ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER - In Hail-Mary Hubbard Subpoenas Governor
ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER - Riley Alabama Figure Head for Florida-Owned SGO
ALABAMA POLITICAL REPORTER - Reporter Bill Britt: Stutts Becomes Pariah
(FLORENCE) TIMES DAILY - Environmental group files complaint over mining operation.
(FLORENCE) TIMES DAILY - Virtual school bill sponsor optimistic of Senate passage.
TUSCALOOSA NEWS - Alabama governor to swear in new corrections commissioner.
TUSCALOOSA NEWS - Lawmakers to look at dire General Fund budget.
ANNISTON STAR - The Anniston Star: Flying unicorns above us in Montgomery.
ANNISTON STAR - The Anniston Star: A plea from Louisiana about the death penalty.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Gov. Robert Bentley: ‘I chose fair taxes’.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Columnist Josh Moon: Religious freedom isn't a freedom to discriminate.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Pre-K advocates hold rally at Alabama State House
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Mike Hubbard attorneys seek Bentley documents.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - The Montgomery Advertiser: Committee would have far too much power.
WASHINGTON POST - Supreme Court says state Medicaid payments not open to private lawsuits.
WASHINGTON POST - Columnist Dana Milbank: Republican candidates are on a collision course with the American electorate.
NEW YORK TIMES - Judge: Jury Can Decide Alabama's Gulf-Oil-Spill Claims
NEW YORK TIMES - Why More Education Won’t Fix Economic Inequality
NEW YORK TIMES – Contributor Linda Greenhouse: The Supreme Court’s Death Trap
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN - Poverty Shrinks Brains from Birth: Studies show that children from low-income families have smaller brains and lower cognitive abilities.
BALTIMORE SUN - Contributor Robert Reich: The rise of the working poor and the non-working rich.
Six things to know about the Accountability Act changes that the Alabama Senate passed
A bill that would expand tax credits under the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) passed 20-14 in the state Senate on Tuesday night. SB 71, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, now goes to the House. Below are six major aspects of the AAA that would change under SB 71:
(1) More tax credits would be available. Businesses and individuals can get tax credits for donations to organizations that grant scholarships to help eligible students attend private schools under the AAA. Current law caps the total amount of such credits at $25 million a year, but SB 71 would raise the cap to $30 million. (Marsh originally sought to lift the cap to $35 million, but he accepted an amendment by Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, to reduce that amount.) The bill also would erase the current $7,500 annual limit on scholarship tax credits for individuals and let taxpayers claim credits against their 2014 taxes for donations made this year.
(2) Scholarship sizes would be limited. AAA scholarships could be no more than $6,000 a year for elementary school students, $8,000 a year for middle school students and $10,000 a year for high school students under SB 71. Arise’s Kimble Forrister suggested during Senate committee testimony on March 11 that lawmakers limit the size of AAA scholarships “to ensure that private schools keep tuition costs in line with other schools in the market, not boost tuition to get these dollars.”
(3) The income limit for scholarship eligibility would drop. SB 71 would reduce the income eligibility limit for AAA scholarships from its current level – 150 percent of the median household income, or nearly $65,000 in Alabama – to 185 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), or about $44,000 for a family of four. Forrister on March 11 recommended a limit of 185 percent FPL, which is the threshold for eligibility for reduced-price school meals, as a way “to more precisely target educational scholarships to low-income children.” (Marsh’s original bill would have set the limit at 200 percent FPL.) Scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs) would have to re-evaluate students’ eligibility every other year.
(4) “Failing school” would have a different meaning. Another big difference under SB 71 would be a change in the AAA’s definition of “failing school.” The bill would deem a public school to be “failing” if it is “listed in the lowest 6 percent of public K-12 schools based on the state standardized assessment in reading and math” or if the state school superintendent designates it as one. Students zoned for “failing” schools would have first priority for AAA scholarships until July 31 of each year, when any remaining scholarship money could go to eligible students living anywhere in Alabama.
(5) Participating schools and groups that grant AAA scholarships would face additional requirements. SB 71 would require SGOs to report quarterly on how many scholarships they give, as well as how many of them go to students who were zoned for “failing” schools or who already attended private schools. Participating schools would have to give state achievement tests, be accredited within three years and disclose tuition rates online before each semester begins.
(6) Unspent scholarship money would be returned to public education. SGOs would have to use any scholarship funds on hand at the start of a calendar year by no later than June 30 of the following year. Under Marsh’s bill, any such money not spent on AAA scholarships by then would go to the state Department of Education to help support “underperforming” schools.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted March 31, 2015.
New payday lending rules would be a good first step, but rate cap still needed to help consumers
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Thursday, March 26, 2015, in response to President Obama’s speech in Birmingham on proposed new federal payday lending regulations:
“It’s past time to rein in high-cost payday lending. The proposed new federal regulations that President Obama talked about in Birmingham today would be a big step toward keeping consumers out of debt traps in Alabama and across the country.
“The safeguards that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering would make life better for thousands of families in Alabama. A mandatory cooling-off period after repeated loans would protect borrowers and encourage responsible lending. It’s also heartening to see a proposal aimed at taking into account borrowers’ ability to repay loans.
“As promising as these proposals are, work remains to be done. The CFPB should work to require all payday and title lenders to evaluate borrowers’ repayment ability. And the most important step – reining in the triple-digit annual interest rates on these loans – requires action from our state leaders. By capping these rates at 36 percent, Alabama lawmakers can strengthen our communities and protect families from the high costs of high-cost lending.”
2015 legislative update: Testimony from Arise's Kimble Forrister on proposed Accountability Act changes
Arise’s Kimble Forrister testified before a state Senate committee Wednesday, March 11, 2015, about SB 71. The bill would make numerous changes to the Alabama Accountability Act, which provides state tax breaks for donations to certain groups that give scholarships to pay for private school tuition. Here's the full text of Forrister’s prepared remarks:
“Alabama Arise is a coalition of 150 congregations and organizations that advocate on poverty issues. Our members vote every September to choose our legislative priorities. For 2015, one of the biggest vote-getters was a proposal to do something about the Alabama Accountability Act.
“Many of our members want the Legislature to simply repeal the Accountability Act. SB 71 takes a different approach: not to repeal it, but to improve it. We appreciate Sen. Del Marsh's attempt to make the act more transparent, targeted and accountable. Specifically, we support the effort to more precisely target educational scholarships to low-income children. We recommend setting the income cap at 185 percent of poverty instead of 200 percent, because 185 percent is the income level for reduced-price meals. It’s the accepted poverty benchmark in K-12 school data.
“When it comes to accountability and transparency, we support several revisions in SB 71. If a private school is going to receive taxpayer dollars, certainly it should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency. Reports filed by scholarship-granting organizations with the Department of Revenue should be public documents with only the names of individual children and parents redacted. Academic credits given at private schools with public money should reflect the same number of subject hours required of public schools. And of course schools that fail to comply with the law should be prohibited from receiving tax dollars.
“Given the condition of state budgets, however, this is not the right time to increase the cap on tax-deductible donations to SGOs, nor to allow retroactive tax deductions. We do not believe the expanded definition of ‘failing school’ is in the best interest of our schools or our children when Alabama is still funding K-12 at $5.9 billion, nearly a billion dollars below 2008. The Rolling Reserve is good in theory, but it should be recalibrated so its baseline is not in the trough of the recession. Just like your professor who removes your lowest test grade, we could remove the worst year from the calculation and provide books, buses and teachers our schools desperately need.
“But back to SB 71: We recommend additional reforms to the Accountability Act. We encourage the committee to consider limiting the size of scholarships to ensure that private schools keep tuition costs in line with other schools in the market, not boost tuition to get these dollars. The law should require regular independent CPA audits of all entities receiving tax-funded contributions, both SGOs and participating schools. If a private school is to be supported by public funds, its standardized tests should be the same tests administered in public schools and approved by the Department of Education—so parents can compare apples-to-apples when choosing a school. Finally, we suggest lowering the drain on the ETF by reducing the tax credit for SGO contributions to 25 percent of tax liability. Thank you for your time.”Top of Form
2015 legislative update: Four things to know about Alabama's 2016 funding challenges
It’s the latest verse of a decades-old song: Alabama faces yet another funding shortfall next year for vital services like Medicaid, mental health care and corrections. Here are four things to know about the budget challenges facing the Legislature during the 2015 regular session that began Tuesday.
(1) Alabama’s revenues for the budgets that fund education, health care and other services still haven’t returned to pre-recession levels.
Alabama has two major state budgets: the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which pays for K-12 and higher education, and the General Fund (GF), which provides a major chunk of the support for vital non-education services, including Medicaid, mental health care, corrections and public safety. The picture that revenue officials painted for each on Tuesday was bleak.
Economic struggles during and after the Great Recession hammered both budgets, and neither has seen revenues return to pre-recession levels. GF receipts last year were down 15.5 percent since 2008, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO), and ETF appropriations this year are down 12.2 percent from their 2008 level. Alabama’s K-12 cuts since 2008 are the nation’s second worst, while our higher education cuts are the nation’s fifth worst. Alabama’s unemployment rate is improving, but revenues still aren’t growing nearly enough to undo the damage wrought by the Great Recession.
(2) The General Fund shortfall is persistent, and it’s not going away on its own.
The picture is especially bleak for the GF. Alabama’s education budget draws most of its money from state sales taxes and individual income taxes, which grow as the economy improves. But the GF relies on a hodgepodge of other revenue sources, most of which are slow to grow even during boom times.
That leaves the GF with a structural deficit, meaning revenue growth is not strong enough to keep pace with ordinary cost growth for vital services like Medicaid, mental health care and corrections. Without new GF revenue, these services continually will remain at risk of massive cuts.
(3) Alabama needs new revenue to avoid devastating cuts to vital services like Medicaid, mental health care and corrections.
How bad could the cuts for Medicaid, mental health care and other GF services get without new revenue? Perhaps most dramatically, failure to address the GF shortfall could spell disaster for Medicaid, which provides health coverage for one in five Alabamians and already has been cut to the bone of federally required coverage provisions. Even small further cuts could endanger lives.
GF cuts could mean even shorter staffing for the state’s overcrowded prison system, which operates at nearly twice its designed capacity. It also could mean fewer state troopers on the highways, more trial delays, longer lines to renew a driver’s license, or long waiting periods for many families seeking ALL Kids health coverage for their children.
Next year’s GF shortfall will be $264 million, according to Executive Budget Office (EBO) estimates. That would be a 14 percent drop in a perennially underfunded budget that already struggles to fund barebones service levels.
But the funding challenges don’t end there. EBO’s Bill Newton said Tuesday that Alabama also needs an additional:
Add it all up and it comes to $541 million in new GF revenue needs. That’s the amount that Gov. Robert Bentley proposes to raise with a mix of tax increases and loophole closures. “We must break the cycle of budget shortfalls year after year after year,” Bentley said Tuesday night during his State of the State address. “We must have adequate means.”
(4) Taxing low-income Alabama families deeper into poverty is not the way to cure our funding woes.
Alabama’s tax system is upside down. Low- and middle-income families pay twice as much of their income in state and local taxes as the top 1 percent of earners do. It’s an imbalanced structure that makes it harder for low-income families to escape poverty and leaves them with less money for the consumer spending that fuels economic growth. The main driver of this upside-down tax system? High sales taxes, especially on groceries and other necessities that account for a big share of low-income families’ household budgets.
Significantly, Bentley’s plan would not increase taxes on food, clothing or over-the-counter drugs. Instead, the governor proposes to raise more than $400 million by increasing the state’s cigarette tax and sales tax on automobiles. Bentley’s proposal would boost the cigarette tax from 42.5 cents per pack to $1.25 per pack and would increase the state sales tax rate on automobiles (now 2 percent) to match the 4 percent rate that applies to other consumer goods.
The rest of the new revenue would come from a mix of business tax increases and loophole closures. (One proposal is for Alabama to adopt combined reporting, which would treat corporations and their subsidiaries as one corporation for tax purposes. You can learn more about combined reporting here.)
Strong investments in services like education, Medicaid and public safety promote economic growth and improve our state’s quality of life. By funding those investments without raising taxes on necessities like food and clothing, Alabama can give everyone a better opportunity to get ahead in life.
By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted March 4, 2015.