Vote NO to Gobbledygook Amendment 1

When fellow contributor Dan voiced his YES vote for Amendment 1 (ad valorem tax fees, charges, or commissions) in his post “Gobbledygook”, I knew that I needed to review my NO vote to Amendment 1.  After all, Dan -IS- a political genius (just ask him).

The opportunity to present more information about the amendment came about when Sonny Brasfield, Executive Director of the Association of County Commissioners of Alabama, contacted Flashpoint offering “to help make some sense of the proposal”.  The ACCA says vote YES on Amendment 1:

Statewide Amendment 1 on the November ballot would preserve a cost-sharing agreement that pays the cost of collecting taxes. It will fix an issue that, if not corrected, will shift more of these tax collection costs to other entities of government – such as the state, counties, cities, volunteer fire departments, hospitals and others.

Amendment 1 repeals the key provision of Amendment 778 “Minimum ad valorem tax rate for general school purposes” which says “The proceeds from said tax shall not, any provisions of any law or of this constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, be subject to any fees, charges or commissions for assessment or collection by any person whatever, it being the intent hereof that the full amounts of the proceeds of said tax collected shall be used for general public school purposes.”

The legislature and the citizens of Alabama voted in 2006 to pass Amendment 778 (the 10 mill bill), which was a school tax increase with the express “intent” that the “full amounts” of the tax “shall be used for schools”.  Amendment 1 repeals that provision.  Once we get past all of the gobbledygook, that is the bottom line.

Don’t get me wrong – Amendment 778 was a craptacular bill that ‘imposed a tax increase on districts who didn’t meet a minimum 10 mils by asking the voters in other districts to vote yes because it won’t affect them’ (paraphrased from Brian’s 2006 summary).  One of the key selling points was that it was all for the children (“full amounts”).

The ACCA says:

The amendment is needed because of an unintended consequence from another constitutional amendment passed in 2006 [Amendment 778].  The correction deals only with the allocation of the costs of collecting ad valorem taxes between the different agencies that receive the ad valorem tax proceeds.  Without Amendment 1, the long-standing process of each agency paying its proportional cost of the collection services will be changed by the 2006 amendment (which was not intended).

“Unintended consequence”?  Nope.  The tax collection works exactly as intended and understood by the people in 2006.

From the ACCA:

We did support the amendment in 2006 and continue to support it. When the amendment was moving through the legislature, we were asked to agree that the additional mils levied by the amendment would be exempt from paying the administrative costs. We felt this was fair – since the intent of the 2006 amendment was to get more money to education in the first place. Additionally, it would not cost more to collect the additional mils so it also seemed fair not to apply the administrative fee to those mils.

However, as education mils that existed before 2006 expire, they will move from the position of contributing to the cost of collection to a position of NOT contributing to the cost – because the language in the 2006 amendment was never intended to apply to anything other than the mils levied initially in 2006.  It was, simply put, a mistake in drafting of the 2006 amendment.

We are only clarifying that to do what all the entities involved believed was done originally.

 The ACCA says that “the state, counties, cities, volunteer fire departments, hospitals and others” would bear the cost of collecting the school tax, while using words like “could” and “potentially” to describe the impact.  So I asked the ACCA if actual ’harm’ occurred?  In other words, have volunteer fire departments et al actually been forced to absorb tax collection charges so that children get the ‘maximized’ new money?  The ACCA response:

The education mils in Alabama must be renewed (they are not levied forever). Some are renewed every 10 years, others every 20 years depending on the constitutional provisions.  There have been no mils that have expired (as far as I know) since 2006, but a number of mils are set to expire before the next statewide election (in 2012) so that is why the words like “potentially” are use. If the existing mils (those in place before 2006) expire, replacement mils will automatically be levied under the terms of the 2006 amendment.  There will be no impact to the taxpayer, but when the mils are “re-levied” they will fall under the 2006 wording and, therefore, won’t pay their portion of the cost. The harm has not occurred yet, but will before we get another opportunity to correct it in 2012.

Thanks to the ACCA for providing additional information about Amendment 1.  I’ve heard that Brasfield is a good guy (from a legislator who says NO to Amendment 1). 

While I’m sympathetic to the ACCA’s argument that “re-levied” taxes won’t pay their share of the costs of tax collection, the argument that everyone in the smoke-filled backrooms made a mistake and then fed it to the people is unpersuasive.  So the legislature didn’t intend for the craptacular Amendment 778 to really mean what the text clearly says?  How about reading the bills?  How about writing bills that aren’t written in Gobbledygook?  The people who voted for Amendment 778 weren’t in on the deal – they were told that all of the taxes would go to education.  Think about THE CHILDREN – Amendment 1 takes money away from education (there’s some of my notorious hyperbole).

I have a solution to the Amendment 778 mistake – repeal the entire amendment!   That way the ‘will of the people’ won’t have been subject to a bait and switch.  The people voted for taxes to fully fund education.  If Amendment 1 passes – the people are left with a regular old tax increase.  That is not what the people were sold with Amendment 778.  Since Amendment 778 has the potential to ‘harm’ the funding of other areas of government (I see the validity of ACCA and Dan’s argument), repealing Amendment 778 solves the problem.  Repeal gets rid of the pig AND the poke.

VOTE NO to Amendment 1!

Huntsville Times says NO to Amendment 3

The editorial board of The Huntsville Times wrote “Not the way to build roads”:

A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money for roads.

But the way Amendment 3 is executed, a billion dollars isn’t going to get you very far.

…the money would come from the approximately $2.5 billion Alabama Trust Fund, a state savings account that its sponsors never intended as a source of road-building money.

Taking $100 million out of the trust fund for 10 years is expected to cost the General Fund about $33 million over the decade. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is an imprudent move when the state has already tapped out its rainy day funds for both the state school budget and the General Fund.

Instead of this amendment, it would be better if the Legislature returns to the issue in a couple of years to offer a plan that targets specific, critical projects that will improve the state’s overall road system, and support areas that continue to grow, like North Alabama.

The Times recommends a “no” vote on Amendment 3.

Sweep the Democrats out of North Alabama!

From the Mo Brooks for Congress campaign:

Join Mo Brooks and his fellow North Alabama Republican candidates for an evening of food, fun, and entertainment…

Date: Thursday, October 28, 2010 starting at 6PM
Location: New Soccer Village Indoor Arena near the old Greenbrier Cotton Gin (I-565 Exit 3 then north to the old Greenbrier Restaurant)
Cost: $15 per person / $25 per family ($5 discount if you bring a broom)

Music by Mike Ball and his Smokin’ Hot Bluegrass Band.

Please RSVP by calling 256-881-3779 or email rsvp@mobrooksforcongress.com

MCGOP – 23 October 2010

Saturday awoke to another packed house at the Madison County Republican breakfast. 

The speakers were Mo Brooks, Kay Ivey, and Dr. Robert Bentley.  Congressional candidate Mo Brooks took to the microphone waving a broom and asking people to help him “Sweep ‘em all out”!  That is classic Alabama politics – if a dirty ol’ flatbed truck would’ve fit in the room Brooks would’ve raised a cloud of dust sweeping it up.  Mo was having a lot of fun with the stunt, but his message was serious: “our President doesn’t know the America that all of us know” and Obama’s policies are wrecking this country – now is the time to change direction.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey spoke about how her opponent (Little Jim Folsom) as President of the Senate wouldn’t recognize Republican Senators during debates – Ivey said “give these State Senators a voice”.

Candidate for Governor Dr. Robert Bentley spread more love during his speech.  Bentley said that he “has a Doctor’s love” for “all the people of Alabama”,  but “don’t confuse love with weakness”.  Bentley said that Republicans have “got to run as a team” and he urged voters “to vote for every Republican on the ticket”.

Here are some quotes from Dr. Love:
“Give us the chance to prove to you that we can govern right”.
“Public servants should be held to a higher standard”.
“Treat taxpayers like customers”.
And my favorite:
“Government should help create jobs, not create Government jobs”.

Dr. Bentley said that Democrat Ron Sparks “is the most liberal man ever to run for Governor”.  Ron Sparks says he won’t tell a woman what to do with her body, Dr. Bentley says that a baby is a separate person.  Ron Sparks doesn’t believe that States have rights (when asked if he supported the enforcement of the 10th Amendment Sparks said “absolutely not”), Dr. Bentley says the Governor must protect State interests against federal overreaching.

Dr. Bentley said that “there are some evil forces in this State” and promised to convene a Special Session of the legislature within (and at the beginning of) the Regular Session “to pass the toughest ethics law that’s ever been passed by any state in this country”.  Bentley recognized Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Mike Ball as champions of ethics legislation.

Dr. Bentley closed by saying that Alabama is “a loving and patriotic State”.

Steve Doyle of The Huntsville Times wrote “Robert Bentley says he’ll push for “toughest ethics law” if elected Alabama governor”:

Bentley said he expects Sparks and other Democratic candidates to sling a few more “arrows” in the form of negative campaign ads in the coming days.

He referenced a TV commercial by state Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, against his Republican opponent, Shadrack McGill. In the ad, a woman who recently sued McGill over a deal to sell her a restaurant calls the Woodville businessman a “thief” and a “crook.”

McGill has countersued the woman, Sheila Johnson.

“Shad, your opponent is afraid of you, or he wouldn’t be running negative ads,” Bentley said to McGill, drawing loud applause.

Mama Annie’s

Mama Annie’s Southern Style Cuisine restaurant is like a cross between Blue Plate and Birmingham’s Highlands – it’s a scratch kitchen with some fine dining touches.  Mama Annie’s is located at 4550 Meridian Street just north of Alabama A&M on the right.  The price for a meat and two sides is $7 and the entree choices change daily – for example today the choices were Ribs, Meat Loaf, Fried Catfish, or Fried Tilapia.  The sides are just what you’d expect only better.  Bring an appetite because you’ve got to try dessert…

The staff is friendly, the service is great, and the food is fantastic.  Their Health Department rating is 90 as of 10/13/2010

Don’t be surprised to find local politicos eating there…  Hey! I voted for you!

Election 2010 Proposed MadCo Local Amendments

There are two local Madison County amendments on the ballot: Amendment 1 is “to prohibit the imposition of an occupational tax” (Act number 2010-37) and Amendment 2 is “to authorize the Madison County Commission, by resolution, to establish a procedure by which a dog can be declared dangerous…” (Act number 2010-382).

Both of these amendments were proposed by my State Representative Randy Hinshaw (D-21) and I support them both.  I remember Hinshaw asking for public comment about the dangerous dogs bill on Facebook – I supported it then and still do.  The key will be to ensure that the Madison County Commission doesn’t enact a breed-specific ordinance.

Amendment 1 aka HB110 says “No privilege or license tax on the gross receipts of any natural person derived from the conduct of a vocation, occupation, calling, or profession may be levied in Madison County” except for current local business license authority.  Birmingham has an occupational tax, which IMO has driven businesses out of the City and into Shelby County, which IIRC is the fastest growing county in Alabama.  Amendment 1 is a pro-business bill.

Vote YES on Madison County Local Amendment 1.

Amendment 2 aka HB147 says:

The Madison County Commission, by resolution applicable to those areas of Madison County outside the corporate limits of any municipality, may establish a procedure by which a dog can be declared dangerous, may impose civil penalties on the owner of a dog that inflicts severe personal harm on another person, and may require that dangerous dogs, as defined by the commission, be kept in a fenced enclosure, as defined by the commission, with input from the local humane society.

The City of Huntsville has a dangerous animal ordinance (Chapter 5, Article 5).  Not only is it NOT breed-specific, it’s not even species-specific - I wish I had thought to ask Hinshaw to model his legislation after that, but c’est fromage.  IMO Amendment 2 has the potential to provide protection to the residents of Madison County – but we need to ensure that the County Commission doesn’t make the ordinance breed-specific.

Vote YES on Madison County Local Amendment 2.

Governor Riley asks for NO vote on Amendment 3

The Birmingham News wrote “Gov. Bob Riley urges Alabamians to vote no on highway funding amendment” (thanks waltm):

Gov. Bob Riley said today he’s asking Alabamians on Nov. 2 to vote against amendment 3, which would take up to $100 million a year for 10 years from a state savings account to build roads and other transportation projects statewide.
 
“I’m going to vote no on amendment 3,” Riley said. “I’m asking them to vote no.” 

Here’s my writeup on all four Proposed Statewide Amendments.

Bronner says NO to Amendment 3

Brian at Doc’s Political Parlor wrote “Amendment 3: New Ad and Breakdown”:

…Dr. David Bronner, the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, has come out against the amendment via a Twitter account and Facebook page. He highlights why he is against it on the Facebook page:

Amendment 3 Swipes $1 Billion from the Alabama Trust Fund and won’t solve our road problems

Amendment 3 Creates Problems:
-Earnings from the Alabama Trust Fund help pay for state funding of services, except education.
-Public Health, Public Safety, Medicaid and other state agencies will be hurt by Amendment 3.
-Amendment 3 swipes $1 Billion of your savings with no meaningful impact.

Amendment 3 Solves Nothing:
-Fixing Highway 280 in Birmingham costs more than $1 billion.
-Extending I-85 across the Black Belt costs more than $1 billion.
-Building a new bridge on I-10 in Mobile costs more than $1 billion.
-Amendment 3 lets politicians spend $100 million a year across Alabama with no major results.

I’ll admit that I’m pleased whenever my thoughts and some smart guy’s thoughts are similar.  We even use similar language – I said “raids the Alabama Trust Fund” and he says “swipes”.  Bronner has more thoughts than me (“creates problems” and “solves nothing”), as I would expect, but the result is the same:

VOTE NO to Amendment Three.

AAMU Adopt a Band Student

The Alabama A&M University Marching Maroon and White Band is raising funds for new band uniforms through April 1st, 2011.

From AAMU:

With roots that date beyond the early masterful directorship of W.C. Handy, the 230-member Marching Maroon and White Band has achieved worthy recognition as one of the best show bands in the nation… But the wear and tear on the proud Maroon and White uniforms has approached the point of noreturn.  Designed to last through the rigors of four eventful years, the Maroon and White outfits are passing seven years of age.  You can help…

Donor levels are suggested, but I’m sure they’d accept any amount:

Adopt-a-Band Student (purchases an entire uniform) = $500
Coat = $300
Trouser / Bib = $200
Rain Poncho = $100
Cape / Shako = $50

Currently, it seems like they only accept checks (tax-deductible) made payable to: AAMU Foundation (Band), P.O. Box 294, Normal AL  35762.

I suggest that the band set up an online payment system to make it easier for people to donate money.

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Florence native W.C. Handy is known as the “Father of the Blues”.  Handy taught music at AAMU from 1900 to 1902.  Fun fact – Montgomery native Nat King Cole played Handy in the movie St. Louis Blues (1958).

Election 2010 Proposed Statewide Amendments

The new sample ballots are here!  The new sample ballots are here!

There are four Statewide Amendments on the General and Constitutional Amendment Election ballot.  Here are links to the full texts of the Amendments plus my opinions:

Proposed Statewide Amendment One is gobbledygook about ad valorem taxes also known as Act number 2009-286 (HB 242 “10 Mill Ad Valorem School Tax – Fees for Assessment”).

I’ve heard the word “impenetrable” used to describe this amendment.

The bill was sponsored by Representative Charles Newton (D-90) and says “that the prohibition in Amendment 778… against the payment of any fees, charges, or commissions for assessment or collection of any new taxes levied in order to comply with the provisions of Amendment 778 applies only to the levy and collection of additional ad valorem taxes levied specifically under the provisions of Amendment 778 and shall not apply to any prior or future levy set by or renewed under the laws…”

Proposed Amendment 1 refers to Amendment 778 “Minimum ad valorem tax rate for general school purposes” which says “The proceeds from said tax shall not, any provisions of any law or of this constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, be subject to any fees, charges or commissions for assessment or collection by any person whatever, it being the intent hereof that the full amounts of the proceeds of said tax collected shall be used for general public school purposes.”

I was tempted to VOTE NO just because I didn’t understand what the amendment said.  Now, I’m going to VOTE NO because it seems like someone wants to get paid (fees, charges, or commissions).

UPDATE:  more discussion of Amendment 1 (including an opposing viewpoint).  I’m still voting NO.

Proposed Statewide Amendment Two provides for tax increases by “majority vote” instead of three/fifths vote (Act number 2009-551 aka HB253 “Special County Educational Taxes”).

The bill was sponsored by Representative Richard Lindsey (D-39) and says “special county educational taxes, to provide that the taxes may be levied by a majority vote, not by three-fifths vote, of those voting at the election”.

I’ll VOTE NO because raising taxes should require a supermajority.

Proposed Statewide Amendment Three raids the Alabama Trust Fund (“Alabama’s savings account”) for transportation and capital improvement projects (Act number 2010-555 aka SB121 “Highways and other roads”).   The bill was sponsored by Senator Lowell ‘Robber’ Barron (D-8) and takes $100 million per year for 10 years from the Alabama Trust Fund (total = $1 billion).   The money raided from the Alabama Trust Fund never gets repaid.

The Alabama Trust Fund had $2.5 billion in 2009 and added $178 million from oil / gas royalties.  The Trust Fund has been raided before – the aptly numbered Amendment 666 directs 35% of the royalties to capital improvement funds.  So the Trust Fund gets 65% of the royalties (about $120 million).  The income earned from the Trust Fund goes to Forever Wild (capped at $15 million per year) and the State General Fund (about $120 million per year).

The bill distributes 75% of the appropriation to the DOT for “construction, maintenance, and repair”.  Several specifications are made for that money including: $1 million for the “Alabama Shortline Railroad Infrastructure Rehabilitation Fund; $5 million to each of the seven Congressional Districts; 45% of the rest gets divided equally between all 67 counties and 55% gets divided up by weighted average of population in each county.

The other 25% is for “new construction and maintenance and repair” (which must be legislatively different than “construction, maintenance, and repair”).  This money is divided among counties as above, with the provision that municipalities get 10% of the money.

The bill creates the “Disadvantaged Enterprise Collateral Fund”.

I’ll VOTE NO on principle (or principal).  Never violate the corpus of a trust fund.

Proposed Statewide Amendment Four relates to Blount County and prohibits municipalities outside of the County from taxing / zoning / planning inside the County (Act number 2010-226 aka SB339 “Don’t mess with Blount County”). Note that the name of the bill may not say that exactly.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Scott Beason (R-17) and says “A municipality not located entirely in Blount County is prohibited from imposing any municipal ordinance or regulation… in its police jurisdiction located in Blount County, other than public safety mutual aid”.

I’ll VOTE NO because municipalities should be able to tax within their borders.  [Add - I also don't like that the amendment applies only to Blount County.  NOTE that I might change my mind if more information surfaces]

UPDATE:  after further consideration, I’ve decided to VOTE YES to Amendment 4:

The people of Blount County are being harmed – being sympathetic to their concerns is not enough – we have to put a restraining order on the government of Warrior now.

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Kudos to Secretary of State Beth Chapman for developing an informative and easy to use website.  A suggestion for improvement would be to add a link to the actual text of Amendments (House or Senate Bill from the legislature).

Criticism to the Alabama Legislature for unreadable amendments that are difficult to research – it’s almost like they don’t want people to read the bills.  Kudos to the legislative support staff for responding quickly to my questions.

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VOTE NO! NO! NO! YES! ON NOVEMBER 2, 2010!