Leaders getting close on a prison plan
By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
Don’t look now but it appears state leaders generally agree on a way forward on prisons. Attempting to tackle one of the prickliest issues of the last ten years, Gov. Kay Ivey and state lawmakers have been engaged in intense negotiations over the last several weeks to hammer out a plan that would alleviate overcrowding and corresponding violence through the construction and renovations of prisons.
Multiple sources tell Alabama Daily News that those talks have produced an agreement in principle and that, while many details still need to be worked out, a special session to enact the plan could happen as soon as early September.
In its latest iteration, the plan calls for a combination of federal American Rescue Plan money and a state-issued bond to facilitate the construction of one male prison and one female prison on state-owned land in Elmore County, a second male prison on state-owned land in Escambia County, the renovation of existing prison facilities in Jefferson, Limestone and Bullock or Barbour counties, with the option of constructing a third male prison if deemed necessary by the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority. Part of the new Elmore County men’s prison would be designated for mental health care and substance abuse / addiction treatment. The plan would be done in phases, with Phase 1 being construction of the new prisons, Phase 2 being the renovation and improvement of existing facilities and Phase 3 being to decide whether or not a third new men’s prison is necessary.
A big part of the plan is the state agreeing to lease or purchase the Perry County Correctional Facility in a joint Department of Corrections / Bureau of Pardons and Paroles venture to facilitate work release and other rehabilitative and re-entry efforts aimed at reducing recidivism. The Perry County facility is a privately-owned prison that is currently sitting empty and has been for at least five years. The state has frequently discussed ways to utilize the facility but an agreement has never been reached. Word to IAP is that BPP Director Cam Ward, now a member of Ivey’s Cabinet, has been personally engaged in these negotiations, which given his extensive involvement in prison issues as a lawmaker over the years, has proved useful.
Sources familiar with the plan say the state leaders are prepared to okay $2-plus billion in bond issues and then use as much as $800 million from the state’s about $2.3 billion federal Rescue Plan fund for the project. Officials are still figuring out how much of the federal money can be used on prisons and say that money would be used first, lessening what the state has to borrow. Using federal funds would also allow construction to begin much sooner.
This latest plan represents key changes from Ivey’s prison lease proposal that fell apart in June. The Elmore County location has been moved to the existing state land in the middle of the county and away from the Tallassee location preferred by CoreCivic. That’s a big deal to Wetumpka and the local economic development community who have been eager to replace lost prison jobs and other revenue. It’s also a big win for State Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who has quietly pushed for the new facility to be located at the old Stanton and Elmore sites. Gone is the Bibb County location from the current plan, though the ACIFA could eventually look into building there. That means the local political headaches associated with a new Bibb County prison are also now gone, at least for now. Instead, economically disadvantaged Perry County will get a shot in the arm with the state finally agreeing to take control of that facility. You can bet local lawmakers, particularly Sen. Bobby Singleton, will be pleased to see that happen. And the state seems to be quietly committing to the renovation of prisons in Barbour and Bullock counties, which will surely be to the liking of State Sen. Billy Beasley. Given that this will be a piece of legislation that will need to pass both chambers of the Legislature, it helps to take care of key lawmakers’ local political problems along the way.
A word of caution: we’ve been here before. Whether it was the Bentley plan in 2016 or the Ivey plan the last two years, the state has found ways to drop the ball on addressing prison infrastructure. The plan is inherently delicate and has many moving parts. Plus we are moving headlong into an election year, which always seems to spook some folks.
Still, the recent talks have produced the most feasible prison plan that could see broad support in the Legislature. Just when that might happen is also in flux. While some believe it best to strike while the iron is hot and get it done in early September, others believe later in the fall, perhaps right before the special session on redistricting, would be more prudent.
General Fund, education fund revenues up; budget leaders cautiously watch delta variant
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The state’s General Fund and Education Trust Fund receipts have grown by double-digits over last year, encouraging state leaders as they cautiously watch the continuing pandemic and brace for potential big expenses in 2022.
“We are recovering quite well from the pandemic and revenues are ahead of expectations for the fiscal year,” Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the Legislative Services Agency’s Fiscal Division. “Obviously, it is too early to predict what 2022 will look like yet as much of that will depend on further issues with the latest strain of COVID and how that impacts businesses, healthcare, etc.”
From Oct. 1 through July, tax receipts in the ETF were up 11%, $683.5 million, from the same point in fiscal 2020. The 2021 year-to-date collection was $6.8 billion.
Income tax ($4.3 billion) and sales tax ($1.9 billion) lead ETF receipts. The simplified sellers use tax, the ETF’s rising star, has grown more than 44% over last year to more than $54 million collected so far this year.
“I think it’s no secret that the economy is looking very good in Alabama, therefore revenues are up,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said. He’s the Senate education budget committee chairman. “However, we need to be very cautious going forward with the delta variant and its potentially adverse impact on revenues in the weeks and months ahead.
“But we can be very pleased with where we are at present in the General Fund and education budgets.”
In the General Fund, receipts were up 13% year-to-date, totaling $2 billion with three months left in the 2021 fiscal year.
Rep. Steve Clouse, the House General Fund budget committee chairman, attributes the increases to the economy opening back up and he’s cautiously watching for the impact of the COVID-19 delta variant.
“Everywhere I go, restaurants are full and people are out shopping and it seems like things are back to normal, getting back to school,” Clouse, R-Ozark, said. “That’s good news from an economic standpoint.”
The 2021 revenue numbers are compared to 2020 revenues that overall largely remained flat last year, despite the pandemic.
“That’s good news compared to previous years where we’ve been singing the blues,” Clouse said.
The 2022 budget year starts Oct. 1. Lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey approved earlier this year a $7.6 billion education budget and a $2.4 billion General Fund budget.
The state’s economic recovery from the pandemic that began in 2020 is exceeding expectations, according to a report from The University of Alabama. While the delta variant could still be a factor on the economy, only a full shutdown would significantly stunt growth.
“We will most likely see 5.0 to 5.5 percent growth for this year, and perhaps next year too, on the condition that we don’t shut down the economy again,” said Ahmad Ijaz, executive director of the UA Center for Business and Economic Research.. “Another shut down will most likely have a much more devastating impact on the economy.”
The state’s economy grew 6.8% in the first quarter of 2021, according to the report. The forecasted 5.5% economic growth for 2021 will make up the 2.7% drop in economic activity in 2020.
Clouse also attributed the revenue gains to the billions in federal relief money pouring into the state, including money sent directly to residents and the Paycheck Protection Program that helped businesses stay open.
“I think people feel a little bit of relief that they’ve had some of that money come to them and they’re spending it, generating sales tax dollars,” Clouse said. “And if folks keep their jobs, that helps with income tax and both of those things are very good for the education budget.”
Looking toward the 2022 budgets, Clouse said besides watching for a delta impact, he’s looking out for increased expenses, including possible new prisons and improvements to existing prisons.
“For the time being, we seem to have Medicaid under control,” Clouse said about one of the General Fund’s largest annual expenses.
“But the prison situation and, of course, that will all be predicated on the plan that we come up with for new construction,” Clouse said.
Ivey, the Alabama Department of Corrections and legislative leadership have met throughout the summer to craft a plan for fixing the state’s aged and crowded prison infrastructure.
A bond issue is expected and lawmakers are also looking at using American Rescue Plan dollars.
Clouse said the plan is evolving. A special session on prisons and allocation of some of the federal dollars could happen later this summer or early fall.
“If we could use some of this Rescue Plan money — and I think we can, it’s just a matter of how much — plus some of the good numbers we’ve had in the General Fund, we might could go ahead and advance some of those funds to the construction of at least one prison. That would help in terms of not having debt payments down the road.”
Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, the Senate General Fund budget committee chairman, said the delta variant isn’t his biggest budget worry.
“I’m more worried about the inflation variant,” he said Friday. Increased prices not only impact consumers’ spending power, but the state’s.
A report from the U.S. Labor Department showed consumer prices jumped 0.5% from June to July, They have increased a substantial 5.4%, though, compared with a year earlier.
Prices at the wholesale level over the past 12 months are up a record 7.8%, the largest increase in that span of time in a series going back to 2010, the Associated Press reported.
Trump rally begets opportunities, headaches
By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
This Saturday, the center of the MAGA universe will once again be Alabama as former President Donald Trump headlines a rally in Cullman sponsored by the Alabama Republican Party. Ever since the Mobile 4th of July event got scuttled, the party has been trying to make a Trump rally work and this date and venue fit the bill.
The event presents big opportunities for Alabama politicians eager to bolster their MAGA bonafides to their Trump-loving constituents. Remember the photos that came out of the first MAGA rallies in Mobile and Madison? Trump couldn’t walk four feet without tripping over a pol asking for a photo, and many would argue the former president has only gotten more popular among the Alabama Republican faithful since. Make no mistake that Cullman, Alabama will be the most used location for conservative campaign mailers this cycle.
The event is also producing some headaches. There are grumbles among some in the party that the event goes too far to support Congressman Mo Brooks‘ Senate bid, which is ostensibly against the ALGOP’s policy of staying out of primaries. The party has worked overtime to assure members that their event is not going to endorse a particular candidate. Still, what can you do when Trump takes the podium? Is anybody really going to tell him not to wax on about his preferred Senate candidate? Actually, the best way to get him to make it all about Mo is to tell him not to. And that will make for some on-stage awkwardness, which is why some top Alabama politicians are steering clear of the event.
ALGOP is working to fill all the seats, though, including by inviting Alabama lawmakers and their spouses to enjoy VIP seating. Multiple sources confirmed to Alabama Daily News that party Chairman John Wahl has been calling lobbyists asking for contributions that would allow the party to offer such tickets to lawmakers, spouses and staff. Most, if not all, are avoiding committing to such an arrangement given the ethical concerns. Such tickets are a thing of value, after all, and the Alabama Ethics Code bars lobbyists or principals from offering lawmakers or their family members a thing of value beyond de minimus.
ALDOT transfers road money to admin fund
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
The Alabama Department of Transportation recently transferred $7 million from a road fund to cover administrative costs for the last three months of the fiscal year.
The money is coming from ALDOT’s Public Road and Bridge Fund, which consists largely of gas tax receipts and federal funding receipts, but the money doesn’t appear to have come from the 2019 gas tax increase. State agencies often transfer Legislature-allocated money between funds throughout a budget year, as allowed by law. The actions have to go through the Department of Finance.
In June, ALDOT Commissioner John Cooper in a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey said the transfer was needed because of an underestimation in costs to the department’s General Administration Program. That funding is based on previous years’ estimates.
“Currently, the results of the underestimation require additional spending authority to operate administrative functions for the duration of the fiscal year,” he wrote.
The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“It’s not uncommon for state agencies to seek this sort of approval late in a fiscal year,” ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris said Monday in response to questions from Alabama Daily News. “This is a matter of being given spending authority in a specific budget category, not a cash transfer. ALDOT is one of at least seven state agencies that found it necessary to move spending authority from one budget category to another. Budgets for this fiscal year are based on two-year-old projections, so it’s not unusual for these changes to be made entering the final quarter of a fiscal year.”
The 2021 General Fund budget allocated $142.1 million to ALDOT’s General Administration Program and $1.3 billion for the Surface Transportation Improvement and Preservation Program. There was a separate $160.9 million allocation in the Rebuild Alabama Program.
The 2019 gas tax legislation said proceeds from the increase couldn’t be used for salaries and benefits, new equipment or construction “not integral to the roads and bridges.” It also created an Rebuild Alabama Fund to collect the new tax revenue.
For fiscal 2021, ALDOT had total appropriations of $1.6 billion, according to the Legislative Services Agency. Nearly 57% of that money came from state funds. The rest was federal and local.
In 2019, ALDOT was the largest state employer outside of the education systems with 4,393, according to the Alabama State Personnel Department.
Field for House District 20 expands, but will Sanderford run?
By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
A second GOP candidate, James Lomax, announced recently he’s seeking the Alabama House seat held by long-time Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville.
“I grew up in District 20, and over the years I have seen our community celebrate some big wins, but I’ve also seen it struggle with growing pains,” Lomax said in a written statement. “I will work with our local and state leaders to make sure our district’s needs are heard and addressed in Montgomery. In my commercial real estate career, I have seen first-hand the amazing impact of economic development on our community through new jobs and investments.”
Lomax kicked off his fundraising this week with a $25,000 loan to himself, according to campaign records.
Republican Frances Taylor last month told Alabama Daily News some of her priorities include keeping taxes and regulation on industry low and quality education and workforce development. Taylor’s July campaign finance report showed a balance of $17,690 at the end of the month.
Sanderford has represented the south Huntsville district since 1989. Last week, he told ADN he is undecided about a 2022 run, but would announce a decision before the January qualifying deadline.
The GOP primary is May 24.
Coffee County Commissioner announces Senate bid
In south Alabama, a second Republican has announced he’s seeking the state Senate seat that Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, is leaving next year.
Josh Carnley is currently a Coffee County Commissioner.
“I have a strong conservative record as a Coffee County Commissioner,” he said. “I fight every day for the things that make America great.”
Alabama Daily News first reported in June that Sen. Jim Holley, R-Elba, is retiring after 11 terms in the Legislature.
Senate District 31 includes Coffee, Covington and Pike counties and the northern portion of Dale County.
State Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, is leaving his high-profile House status to seek an open Senate seat.
“I am committed to protecting our Constitutional rights, the integrity of our elections and the Christian conservative values that are so important to me and to the people who live and work in this district,” Jones said last month.
At the end of July, Jones had about $217,500 in his campaign account. Carnley has not yet filed a campaign finance report for his Senate bid.
The 2022 primaries are May 24. Candidates have until Jan. 28.
Updated charts: Who’s running and who’s not
The aforementioned two race updates bring us to the latest iteration of the Inside Alabama Politics “Who’s Running and Who’s Not” charts.
Anybody we are missing?
|District||Incumbent||2022 Status||Announced candidates|
|1||Tim Melson||Running||John Sutherland (R)|
|2||Tom Butler||Running||Kim Caudle Lewis (D), Bill Holtzclaw (R)|
|7||Sam Givhan||Running||Korey Wilson (D)|
|11||Jim McClendon||Open Seat||Lance Bell (R), Michael Wright (R)|
|12||Del Marsh||Open Seat||Keith Kelley (R), Wendy Ghee Draper (R), Wayne Willis (R), Danny McCullars (D)|
|13||Randy Price||Running||John Allen Coker (R)|
|15||Dan Roberts||Running||Brian Christine (R)|
|17||Shay Shelnutt||Running||Mike Dunn (R)|
|19||Priscilla Dunn||Open Seat||Merika Coleman (D), Louise Alexander (D)|
|20||Linda Coleman-Madison||Running||Rodney Huntley (D)|
|21||Gerald Allen||Running||Lisa Ward (D)|
|22||Greg Albritton||Running||Stephen Sexton (R)|
|23||Malika Sanders-Fortier||Open Seat||Darrio Melton (D), Michael Nimmer (R), Hank Sanders (D), Thayer Bear Spencer, (D) Robert Stewart (D)|
|27||Tom Whatley||Running||Jay Hovey (R), Sherri Reese (D)|
|28||Billy Beasley||Running||Frank "Chris" Lee (D)|
|29||Donnie Chesteen||Running||Nathan Mathis (D)|
|31||Jimmy Holley||Open Seat||Mike Jones (R), Josh Carnley (R), Norman Horton|
|33||Vivian Figures||Running||Pete Riehm (R)|
|District||Incumbent||2022 Status||Announced candidates|
|1||Phillip Pettus||Running||Maurice McCaney (R)|
|2||Lynn Greer||Open seat||Jason Spencer Black, (R), Kimberly Butler (R), Ben Harrison (R), Terrance Irelan (R)|
|3||Andrew Sorrell||Open Seat||Susan Bentley (D), Wesley Thompson (D). Fred Joly (R), Kerry Underwood (R)|
|4||Parker Moore||Running||Patrick Johnson (R), Sheila Banister (R)|
|7||Proncey Robertson||Running||Ernie Yarbrough (R), Moses Jones Jr. (D)|
|10||Mike Ball||Open Seat||David Cole (R), Marilyn Lands (D)|
|12||Corey Harbison||Running||James C. Fields Jr. (D)|
|13||Connie Rowe||Open Seat||Greg Barnes (R), Keith Davis (R), Christopher Dozier (R), Charles Waits (R), Matt Woods (R)|
|14||Tim Wadsworth||Running||Cory Franks (R), Tom Fredricks (R)|
|15||Allen Farley||Open Seat||Leigh Hulsey (R), Richard Rouco (D), Brad Tompkins (R)|
|20||Howard Sanderford||Open Seat||James D. Brown (R), Frances Taylor (R), Angela McClure (R), James Lomax (R)|
|23||Tommy Hanes||Running||Mike Kirkland (R)|
|24||Nathaniel Ledbetter||Running||Don Stout (R)|
|25||Mac McCutcheon||Open Seat||Buck Clemons (R), Mallory Hagan (D), Phillip Rigsby (R)|
|26||Kerry Rich||Open seat||Ben Alford (D), Brock Colvin (R), Annette Holcomb (R), Todd Mitchem (R)|
|27||Wes Kitchens||Running||Herb Neu (D)|
|28||Gil Isbell||Running||Mack Butler (R)|
|29||Becky Nordgren||Open Seat||Mark Gidley (R), Jamie Grant (R)|
|31||Mike Holmes||Open seat||R.T. Barksdale (R), Chadwick Smith (R), Troy Stubbs (R)|
|32||Barbara Boyd||Running||Evan Jackson (R)|
|33||Ben Robbins||Running||Fred Crum Sr. (D)|
|38||Debbie Wood||Running||Micah Messer (R)|
|39||Ginny Shaver||Running||Brent Rhodes (R)|
|40||K.L. Brown||Open Seat||Gayla Blanton (R), Julie Borrelli (R), Katie Exum (R), Pam Howard (D), Bill Lester (R), Bill McAdams (R), Chad Robertson (R), Jakob Williamson (D)|
|41||Corley Ellis||Running||Chris Nelson (D)|
|43||Arnold Mooney||Running||Prince Cleveland (D)|
|45||Dickie Drake||Running||Susan Dubose (R)|
|47||David Wheeler||Open Seat||Christian Coleman (D), Jim Toomey (D), Republican yet to be named|
|48||Jim Carns||Running||William Wentowski (R)|
|49||Russell Bedsole||Running||Michael Hart (R)|
|52||John Rogers||Running||LaTanya Millhouse (D)|
|54||Neil Rafferty||Running||Britt Blalock (D), Edward Maddox (D)|
|55||Rod Scott||Running||Travis Hendrix (D), Phyllis Oden-Jones (D), Fred "Coach" Plump (D), Antwon Womack (D)|
|56||Louise Alexander||Open Seat||Tereshia Huffman (D), Cleo King (D), Jesse Matthews (D), Ontario Tillman (D)|
|57||Merika Coleman||Open Seat||Kevin Dunn (D), Danielle Matthews (D), Charles Ray Winston III (D), Delor Baumann (R)|
|60||Juandalynn Givan||Running||Nina Taylor (D)|
|61||Rodney Sullivan||Open Seat||Ron Bolton (R), Kimberly Madison (R)|
|62||Rich Wingo||Open Seat||Brenda Cephus (D) Bill Lamb (R)|
|63||Cynthia Almond||Running||Samual Adams (D)|
|64||Harry Shiver||Open Seat||Angelo Jacob Fermo (R), Donna Givens (R)|
|65||Brett Easterbrook||Running||Dee Ann Campbell (R), Marcus Caster (D)|
|67||Prince Chestnut||Running||Laurine Pettway (D), Jarmal Jabbar Sanders (R)|
|68||Thomas Jackson||Running||Fred Kelley (R)|
|69||Kelvin Lawrence||Running||Karla Knight Maddox (R)|
|72||Ralph Howard||Running||Curtis Travis (D)|
|74||Charlotte Meadows||Running||Malcolm Calhoun (D), Phillip Ensler (D)|
|82||Pebblin Warren||Running||Terrence Johnson (D), Lennora Tia Pierrot (R)|
|85||Dexter Grimsley||Running||Payne Henderson (R)|
|87||Jeff Sorrells||Running||Eric E. Johnson (R)|
|88||Will Dismukes||Running||Will Dismukes (R), Jerry Starnes (R)|
|89||Wes Allen||Open Seat||Marcus Paramore (R)|
|91||Rhett Marques||Running||Les Hogan (R)|
|92||Mike Jones, Jr.||Open Seat||Steve Hubbard (D), Greg White (R), Matthew Hammett (R)|
|94||Joe Faust||Running||Jennifer Fidler (R)|
|95||Steve McMillan||Open Seat||Frances Holk-Jones (R), Richard Brackner(D), Michael Ludvigsen (R), Reginald Pulliam (R)|
|96||Matt Simpson||Running||Danielle Duggar (R)|
|99||Sam Jones||Running||Levi Wright Jr. (D)|
|100||Victor Gaston||Open Seat||Pete Kupfer (R), Joe Piggot (R), Mark Shirley (R)|