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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 3-29-2015
AL.COM - Water war: Alabama's Bentley, Georgia's Deal met to discuss long-running dispute.
AL.COM – Columnist Charles Dean: By any definition, Alabama's Yellow Mama is cruel and unusual.
AL.COM - Rep. Mo Brooks joins effort to stop Obama immigration executive action in 2016.
AL.COM – ‘No hate in our state': Hundreds rally against Indiana Religious Freedom bill.
AL.COM - President Obama features Alabama in weekly video address.
AL.COM - Bentley: Alabama's dysfunctional budget problem won't fix itself.
AL.COM - Anti-tax myth? School levies pass in Alabama more often than not.
SALON - We’re educating our kids all wrong: The progressive argument against standardized-test mania.
THE ATLANTIC - Haunted by the Past: A Criminal Record Shouldn't Ruin a Career
THE ATLANTIC - The Audacity of Talking About Race With the Ku Klux Klan
DECATUR DAILY - Reporter Mary Sell’s Capital Notebook: Budgets become priority when lawmakers return to Montgomery.
DECATUR DAILY - Broadband access remains issue.
DECATUR DAILY - The Decatur Daily: Legislature’s micromanagement hurts schools.
(FLORENCE) TIMES DAILY - Contributor Robert Hill: It's time for Alabama to end predatory lending practices.
ANNISTON STAR - Lawmakers to see austerity budget proposal this week.
ANNISTON STAR - Editor Bob Davis: Executions and secrecy.
ANNISTON STAR - The Anniston Star: Usury in Alabama - end it.
ANNISTON STAR - Contributor Stephen Davidson: Support Alabamians' health, not Big Tobacco.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Alabama redistricting case may take years to resolve.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Contributor John Norris: Regulating payday loans is tougher than it sounds.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - Bentley says budget problem is not 'going to go away’.
MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER - The Montgomery Advertiser: Bill would shroud executions in secrecy.
WASHINGTON POST - Rise in government insurance rates to mirror rising waters, flood debt.
WASHINGTON POST – Columnist Michelle Singletary: The vicious cycle of payday loans.
NEW YORK TIMES – The New York Times: Progress on Payday Lending
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.
Bentley tax plan opens overdue conversation about Alabama's future
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister issued the following statement Friday, Feb. 27, 2015, in response to Gov. Robert Bentley's announcement of a plan to raise $700 million in revenue for Alabama's General Fund:
"The governor's proposal begins a conversation that's long overdue in Alabama: how to provide adequate funding for the common good. Medicaid, mental health care, public safety and other services make our state a better, healthier place to live and work. But funding for these essential services has been cut to the bone. We can't afford to risk even deeper cuts that could reverse decades of progress and do real harm to our most vulnerable neighbors.
"Importantly, the governor's plan would fund vital services without raising taxes on food and clothing. Alabama shouldn't tax low-income families deeper into poverty. We hope lawmakers keep that principle in mind as they seek a lasting cure for our ailing General Fund.
"All Alabamians deserve an opportunity to get ahead in life. By investing in the public services that provide the backbone for economic growth, we can build a strong, thriving state for everyone."