State Government

Governor candidates answer Arise questions on housing, lending, transportation

Arise reached out to 2018 Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates to seek their thoughts on policies that affect low-income people in Alabama. (We contacted candidates via email or other electronic means available on their websites. Those resources were not available for all candidates.) Arise does not support or oppose any candidates for elected office. This questionnaire is offered for informational purposes only.

We received replies from three candidates: Sue Bell Cobb, James Fields and Walt Maddox. We will share their responses in two parts. Responses are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Part 2, which is below, features the candidates’ responses to questions about housing, payday lending and transportation. Part 1, which is available at this link, featured their responses to questions about taxes and budgets in Alabama.

Question 3: The Legislature has now created the infrastructure for both an Alabama Housing Trust Fund and an Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund. Would you commit to providing funding for these trust funds? If not, how do you propose to address the lack of affordable housing and transportation, especially in rural areas?

Sue Bell Cobb: “Without reliable, substantive streams of revenue, neither the Alabama Housing Trust Fund nor the Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund will be able to get off the ground. I am glad that the legislature has laid the groundwork for these funds, and the programs they could support have the potential to be transformational for quality of life in Alabama. I am absolutely committed to finding dependable streams of revenue that we can use to address both of these issues. In order for Alabama to have a healthy, productive workforce, they need a safe roof over their head and a stable method of transportation to and from work.”

James Fields: “I will certainly commit to funding both. There can be no ‘trust funds’ without funding. Sources of revenue for housing have been identified including the deed record tax, unclaimed property funds, the 2012 national mortgage settlement. I support legislation to utilize these resources as well as others. I support development of public transportation, including high speed rail. The administrative tools made available by the Act must identify systems that can meet the needs of all, rural & urban, ensuring effective ridership and utilization, as well as related state revenue. Transportation related taxes must match today’s needs.”

Walt Maddox: “Lack of housing and public transportation are persistent problems that must be addressed because, among other things, they contribute to chronic unemployment and underemployment. Helping people find and keep jobs is one of the most successful ways to eliminate poverty. I will reach across aisles and across the state to find agreement on ways to fund these programs.”

Question 4: Alabama law allows payday lenders to impose fees that add up to an Annual Percentage Rate (APR) as high as 456 percent. Would you favor extending the repayment period on payday loans in Alabama from the current 14 days to 30 days, effectively cutting their APR in half (from 456 percent APR to 213 percent)?

Sue Bell Cobb: “I am absolutely in favor of lengthening the repayment period to 30 days. I am also in favor of capping APR for small, short-term loans. We have far too many Alabamians trapped in a cycle of crushing debt thanks to predatory lending institutions that drain our local communities, and particularly our neighbors at or near the poverty line. Many of these companies siphon precious resources out of Alabama and funnel them into corporate pockets out of state. Not only does this extraction of resources have a deleterious economic impact on our state and our communities, the ballooning interest on these loans has a devastating human cost for children and families.”

James Fields: “I absolutely support extending the repayment period and additional legislation which prevents those who must utilize these services from being caught in an ever-increasing accumulation of interest debt. I will continue to research strategies to accomplish this. Of course, accessible small short-term loans by banks would add competition, the possibly the most effective regulator for this industry.”

Walt Maddox: “By attaching outrageous interest rates to easy to obtain loans, predatory lending creates vicious cycles that can make desperate people even more desperate. I am open and committed to looking at various ways to protect vulnerable populations from such practices.”

Posted June 2, 2018.

Governor candidates answer Arise questions on taxes, budgets

Arise reached out to 2018 Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates to seek their thoughts on policies that affect low-income people in Alabama. (We contacted candidates via email or other electronic means available on their websites. Those resources were not available for all candidates.) Arise does not support or oppose any candidates for elected office. This questionnaire is offered for informational purposes only.

We received replies from three candidates: Sue Bell Cobb, James Fields and Walt Maddox. We will share their responses in two parts. Responses are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

Part 1, which is below, features the candidates’ responses to questions about taxes and budgets in Alabama. Part 2, which we will share June 2, will feature their responses to questions about housing, payday lending and transportation.

Question 1: Alabama is one of three states that give no state tax break on groceries, and we have the highest income tax in the nation for a family of four at the poverty line. In most states, this family would not pay income tax at all. How would you change Alabama’s upside-down tax system?

Sue Bell Cobb: “The first step to making Alabama’s tax system fairer is to remove the tax on groceries because Alabamians should not pay tax on something as essential as food. To accomplish this, we must replace that lost revenue. A politically feasible solution would be to work for passage of a flat state income tax, eliminate deductions for the wealthy, and add an exemption for anyone at or below the federal poverty line. I also believe that Alabama’s income tax should be calculated based on federal taxable income instead of adjusted gross income.”

James Fields: “Clearly, the legislature, a majority of whom answer only those who fund their campaigns, cannot accomplish tax reform. I would establish a non-partisan Fair Tax Commission, tasked with righting the current upside-down system, including but not limited to addressing equitable taxes on real property, repeal of the ‘current use’ law, raising the threshold of taxable income, eliminating the tax on food, and revising deductions which favor those most able to pay, including corporations. Its work and any enabling legislation must be clearly and transparently presented and explained to the people to counter the certain opposition.”

Walt Maddox: “I support eliminating the state sales tax on groceries. But to do so we must offset the lost revenues with another source. One idea is to eliminate the state deduction for federal income taxes, which would require a constitutional amendment to be voted on by the people. We also must find a way to amend the tax structure so that people living below the poverty line do not pay income taxes.”

Question 2: Alabama’s General Fund budget has a chronic structural deficit, with stagnant funding sources that cannot keep up with ordinary cost growth in Medicaid, mental health care and corrections. How would you ensure adequate, stable revenue for the General Fund?

Sue Bell Cobb: “The Lifelong Learner Lottery will finally provide adequate funding for education which will be derived not only from the $300 million generated annually by the lottery, but the additional income and sales tax resulting from the thousands of jobs created in every community by my plan. This additional revenue into the Education Trust Fund will allow us to move the remainder of the state’s share of revenue created by the internet sales tax into the general fund. Online retail is only going to increase with time, so it is critical that we have the full potential for revenue growth in the general fund. As costs rise for Medicaid, public health, DHR, prisons, and so many other essential state functions, we must address the stagnant revenue streams dedicated to the general fund. Additionally, a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians could help provided desperately needed revenue to state coffers.”

James Fields: “We must have tax reform. It is the moral thing to do. I would establish a non-partisan Fair Tax Commission, tasked with righting the current upside-down system. Its work must address taxes on on-line purchases, equitable taxes on real property, repeal of the ‘current use’ law, raising the threshold of taxable income, as well as deductions which favor those most able to pay, including corporations. We must stop incarcerating non-violent offenders. Their work and enabling legislation must be clearly and transparently presented and explained to the people. Full legalization and taxation of marijuana could be an additional source of revenue.”

Walt Maddox: “The best way to secure funding is to grow the tax base by creating new and better jobs. Workforce training and affordable college is part of my Alabama Education Lottery. That, plus infrastructure improvements will attract new employers. Expanding Medicaid will infuse our economy over the first six years with $28 billion in increased business activity, $17 billion added to the state’s gross domestic product, and $10 billion added to the wages of Alabama workers; and create 30,000 new high-paying jobs. The solutions are there, they just need to be implemented.”

Posted June 1, 2018.

2018 legislative update: Push to block Alabama tax break for private school tuition succeeds; Ivey signs bill to create hardship driver’s licenses

Arise members had two big reasons to celebrate Thursday, as Gov. Kay Ivey signed a pair of bills that finalize policy wins related to our organization’s 2018 issue priorities. One law will halt (at least for now) an effort to create a new state tax break for private school tuition in Alabama, while the other will help ease the transportation burden that can result from unpaid court fines and fees.

Arise members win push to stop state tax break for private school tuition

Ivey’s signing of HB 251 on Thursday marked the final step in Arise members’ successful push to save millions of dollars per year for public schools across Alabama. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton – originally would have allowed people to use education savings accounts known as 529 plans to receive a state income tax break on money used for K-12 private school tuition. But by the time the bill reached Ivey’s desk, those provisions were nowhere to be seen.

Arise members deserve an enormous share of the credit for blocking that tax break. That proposal would have turned 529 plans – originally designed to encourage long-term college savings – into vehicles to subsidize private schools at the expense of public education. The change would have cost the Education Trust Fund millions of dollars a year.

The tax break easily passed the House and appeared to be sailing toward legislative passage – until hundreds of Arise members and other advocates sounded the alarm, flooding the Senate with emails and phone calls in opposition to the plan. That pressure worked: Last week, the Senate amended HB 251 to remove the language that would have created the tax break for private school tuition. The House quickly agreed and sent the revised legislation to Ivey for her signature.

Hardship driver’s licenses could ease transportation burden for thousands

Another new law enacted Thursday stands to lift employment barriers and expand transportation access for thousands of Alabamians. SB 55, sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, will allow the state to issue hardship driver’s licenses to thousands of people, including many who have had their licenses suspended or revoked for convictions unrelated to driving.

Under SB 55, those Alabamians could receive hardship driver’s licenses – allowing them to drive on a limited basis – if they can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency that they are not a risk to public safety and cannot obtain other reasonable transportation. People convicted of drunken driving or reckless driving would be ineligible for hardship licenses.

The new law could give thousands of Alabamians a legal way to drive to work, go to doctor’s appointments and fulfill other essential tasks of everyday life. And it represents an important breakthrough in Arise’s work to ease the burden of criminal justice debt on low-income families.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted March 22, 2018.

2018 legislative update: Alabama Legislature rejects tax break for private school tuition

Update: Gov. Kay Ivey signed HB 251 into law on March 22 without the language that would have cost public schools millions of dollars a year. Thank you to all the Arise members and everyone else who helped protect education funding in Alabama!

Great news, y’all: Arise members just helped save millions of dollars a year for Alabama’s public schools! A few weeks ago, we sounded the alarm about HB 251, sponsored by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. At that time, the bill included language that would have allowed Alabamians to use education savings accounts known as 529 plans to receive a state income tax break on money used for K-12 private school tuition.

Hundreds of Arise members sprang into action. They flooded the Senate with emails and phone calls opposing this misguided plan to turn 529 plans – originally designed to encourage long-term college savings – into vehicles to subsidize private schools at the expense of public education.

This proposal had been speeding toward enactment – but Arise members helped stop it in its tracks. This week, the Senate amended HB 251 to remove the provisions that would have created a tax break for private school tuition. The House agreed to that change Thursday and sent the bill to Gov. Kay Ivey – without the language that would have cost the Education Trust Fund millions of dollars a year.

This win for public schools across our state couldn’t have happened without our members. It was proof once again that when everyday folks speak up together for what’s right, we can get results. Thank you so much to all of you who helped defeat this proposal, and to all of you who continue to support Arise’s work to build a better Alabama for all.

By Kimble Forrister, executive director. Posted March 16, 2018. Updated March 22, 2018.

2018 legislative update: Alabama House passes bill that would erode renters' rights

In a setback for renters throughout Alabama, the House voted 78-4 Thursday to erode protections for the state’s tenants. HB 421, sponsored by Rep. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, now moves to the Senate.

HB 421 would reduce the number of curable, or fixable, breaches of a lease in a year from the current four to just two. The bill also would change state law to allow landlords to kick out tenants if a breach of the same provision, no matter how minor, occurs twice in a six-month period.

This bill would allow landlords to force tenants from their homes over just two or three minor mistakes. Families could be ousted as few as seven days after repeating the same minor offense, such as letting vehicle tags expire, no matter how quickly they remedy the problem. Another example: If within one year, a person parks in the wrong space, cares for a friend’s pet overnight in a pet-free apartment, and changes their own oil in the parking lot, this bill would allow eviction proceedings to begin under many rental agreements.

One bright note Thursday was when Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, successfully amended HB 421 to remove language that would have hurt tenants even more. (Coleman was one of four House members to vote against the final bill.)

HB 421 originally would have given Alabama renters just three days to correct a lease violation, down from the current seven. It also would have cut the required notice period for lease termination from seven days to three days. But Coleman’s amendment stripped both of those harmful changes from the bill and clarified that the “seven days” in those two provisions means seven business days. The House adopted her amendment 81-5.

Despite Coleman’s amendment, the bill remains hostile to the interests of renters across the state. Alabama’s 2006 Landlord-Tenant Act set out a balanced set of protections for both sides of rental relationships. But HB 421 would tilt those scales back in landlords’ favor at the expense of more than 1 million everyday Alabamians who rent their homes.

By Dev Wakeley, policy analyst. Posted March 8, 2018.

2018 legislative update: Senate passes 30-days-to-pay bill that would help Alabama payday loan borrowers

Payday loan borrowers across Alabama would get more time to repay and collectively would save tens of millions of dollars a year under a bill that the state Senate passed 20-4 Thursday. The 30-days-to-pay bill – SB 138, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur – now goes to the House.

SB 138 would extend Alabama’s repayment period for payday loans to 30 days, up from as few as 10 days now. The bill would ease the financial pressure on struggling borrowers by reducing the maximum annual percentage rate (APR) on payday loans in Alabama from 456 percent to about 220 percent. That change would mean a significant reduction in the amount that Alabamians pay each year in payday loan fees, which was more than $100 million last year alone, according to Alabama Appleseed. Click here to learn more about how SB 138 would help Alabama borrowers.

The Senate’s vote for the bill followed an hour-long filibuster by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, who claimed the measure would force many payday lenders out of business. Orr denied that closures would be widespread and said that employees of any lenders that did close likely would have little trouble finding a new job, given Alabama’s relatively low unemployment rate.

Arise members played an important role in urging SB 138’s passage Thursday. Numerous Arise members from Whatley’s district quickly sprang into action during the filibuster, calling his office to ask him to allow SB 138 to come to a vote. Reformists from the Alliance for Responsible Lending in Alabama (ARLA), of which Arise is a member, also contacted Whatley with the same message. Near the end of his filibuster, Whatley acknowledged on the Senate floor that he was receiving many phone calls from advocates for payday lending reform.

Senate passage did not come without confusion and tension. Immediately after the 20-4 vote in favor of SB 138, Orr made a procedural motion to try to block a second vote on the bill – but it failed on an 11-11 vote. (“Yes” votes on that list were to prevent the Senate from revisiting its vote to pass the bill.)

The final episode of the vote trilogy came moments later, when an effort to reconsider Senate passage of the bill lost 14-13. (“No” votes on that list were to prevent the Senate from revisiting its vote to pass the bill.) Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who was presiding over the Senate, cast a dramatic tie-breaking vote to prevent reconsideration of SB 138 and send the bill to the House.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted March 8, 2018.

2018 legislative update: Public transportation bill sails through Alabama House committee

A good month for public transportation advocates in Alabama continued Wednesday when a state House committee approved legislation to create an Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund. SB 85, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, now goes to the House, which could vote on the bill and send it to Gov. Kay Ivey as soon as Tuesday.

 

The Senate voted 26-0 for the measure last week. A similar bill – HB 10, sponsored by Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills – also won House committee approval earlier this month.

 

Alabama is one of five states with no state funding for public transportation. As a result, the state leaves tens of millions of dollars of federal matching funds on the table every year. This lack of investment in public transportation makes it harder for thousands of Alabamians, especially seniors and people with disabilities, to meet basic needs like getting to work or the doctor’s office. It also poses a barrier to economic development and job creation. For those reasons and others, Arise members chose public transportation as one of our 2018 issue priorities.

 

SB 85 and HB 10 would not provide state public transportation funding, but they would create a landing place for future state or federal appropriations to support and expand public transportation options in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) would administer the fund. Click here for more information on the bills.

 

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted Jan. 31, 2018.

2018 legislative update: Alabama Senate passes public transportation trust fund bill

Public transportation took another step forward Thursday when the Alabama Senate voted 26-0 for legislation to create an Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund. SB 85, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, moves to the House. A similar bill – HB 10, sponsored by Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills – won House committee approval last week.

Alabama is one of five states with no state funding for public transportation. As a result, the state leaves tens of millions of dollars of federal matching funds on the table every year. This lack of investment in public transportation makes it harder for thousands of Alabamians, especially seniors and people with disabilities, to meet basic needs like getting to work or the doctor’s office. It also poses a barrier to economic development and job creation.

SB 85 and HB 10 would not provide state public transportation funding, but they would create a landing place for future state or federal appropriations to support and expand public transportation options in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) would administer the fund. Click here for more information on the bills.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted Jan. 25, 2018.

Arise Bills of Interest

Arise follows legislation related to our issue priorities throughout every session of the Alabama Legislature. Click here for the latest edition of Arise Bills of Interest.

2018 legislative update: Public transportation bills win committee approval in Alabama House, Senate

Public transportation advocates in Alabama got a double dose of good news Thursday when bills to create an Alabama Public Transportation Trust Fund won committee approval in both the state House and Senate. Arise members chose creation of a trust fund as one of our 2018 issue priorities.

HB 10, sponsored by Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, moves to the full House. SB 85, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, awaits a Senate vote.

Alabama is one of five states with no state funding for public transportation. As a result, the state leaves tens of millions of dollars of federal matching funds on the table every year. This lack of investment in public transportation makes it harder for thousands of Alabamians, especially seniors and people with disabilities, to meet basic needs like getting to work or the doctor’s office. It also poses a barrier to economic development and job creation.

HB 10 and SB 85 would not provide state public transportation funding, but they would create a landing place for future state or federal appropriations to support and expand public transportation options in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) would administer the fund. Click here for more information on the bills.

By Chris Sanders, communications director. Posted Jan. 18, 2018.

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