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Monday, March 13, 2006
Not Good
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 5:59 pm

Via the AP: Alabama Cow Tests Positive for Disease

A cow in Alabama has tested positive for mad cow disease, the Agriculture Department confirmed Monday.

The story doesn’t say where and notes that more detailed testing is to be done.

Filed under: Alabama Politics | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
PoliColumn: Alabama Tax Politics
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:22 am

(I forgot to check to see if this ran yesterday)

From Sunday’s Mobile Register:

Tax cut is shrewd and good
Sunday, March 12, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

The tax-cut compromise pending in the Alabama Legislature is both just and politically shrewd, and here’s why:

The state of Alabama starts collecting income taxes from a family of four at an income level $4,600 a year. As a new study published last month notes, this is the lowest level at which income taxes are levied on the poor in the country.

The next state on the list is West Virginia, and it starts taxing at the $10,000 level.

In January, Gov. Bob Riley issued a proposal to rectify this situation, and counter-proposals subsequently grew out of the legislative session.

Now, the governor and Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, have come to a compromise that has a good chance of being approved by the House.

The plan, which would be phased in over five years, would move the beginning of income tax collection for a family of four to $12,400. It would do so by increasing the standard deduction from $4,000 to $7,000, the personal exemption from $1,500 to $1,700, and the dependent exemption from $300 to $1,000.

The changes to the personal exemption would stop for individuals making over $100,000 and for joint filers making over $200,000.

The Riley-Knight compromise lowers the overall increases to the exemptions originally proposed by Riley, and creates the caps for high-income earners — whose taxes would not change under this plan.

Not only would this plan be a just move in regard to taxing the poor, but it is also a shrewd political move by the governor for a variety of reasons.

First, the governor’s primary opponent, Roy Moore, has one main line of attack to level at Riley in terms of public policy: that Riley attempted the largest tax increase in the state’s history when he backed Amendment One in 2003. If Riley is now championing tax cuts, that blunts Moore’s line of attack.

Yes, Moore can claim that this is an election-year conversion, but that will not obviate the fact that Riley will be in office working for tax cuts, while Moore will be on the outside trying to get in, only able to criticize.

Such are the powers of incumbency in elections.

Second, the rationale as proffered by the governor helps to reinforce his conservative “bona fides,” which Moore will also attempt to attack. Riley specifically noted in January: “If we don’t offer tax relief when we have a record surplus and will put more money into education than ever before, then when will we ever?”

Such a statement underscores a basic conservative principle that tax dollars ultimately belong to the taxpayers, not the state, and that at times of surplus, some of those dollars should be returned to the people.

And, the fact that Riley correctly notes that education spending will be at a record high helps dull the ability of critics to attack the proposal.

He also is making a favorite conservative argument that more money in the pockets of taxpayers means more economic activity in the state, which in turn ultimately means more tax revenue for the state.

If Moore cannot successfully assail Riley’s fiscal conservatism, then it is doubtful that the moral values line of attack (as exemplified by the Ten Commandments issue) will be sufficient to unseat Riley as the GOP’s nominee.

Third, these are not just run-of-the-mill tax cuts. By framing the proposal around the issue of exemptions, and thus the level at which a person starts paying income taxes in Alabama, the governor has inserted a significant element of social justice into the mix, which could appeal to moderate voters (and legislators).

As it stands, a family of four starts paying state income taxes at a remarkably low level. That this is an undue burden on those in poverty is incontrovertible, and is one of the key criticisms of our state’s tax structure.

Indeed, by the 2004 poverty standards used by the federal government, a family of four is considered at the poverty line with an annual income of $19,157 — a far cry from $4,600.

Fourth, while the plan does target low-income citizens, it still has the politically attractive element of benefiting not just the poor, but middle-and upper-middle-class taxpayers as well.

There will be criticisms of the plan, insofar as while this year may be a fat one in terms of state revenues, there is no guarantee that such a trend will continue.

Indeed, given our state’s history of budget shortfalls and painful prorations, there is a legitimate concern that the money needed to fund this cut (estimated at $200 million per annum once fully implemented, as based on a state Finance Department analysis) will not be available in the future.

The nature of fiscal policy in Alabama is that state revenues are highly dependent on the health of the state’s economy. At the moment, we are in an exceptionally healthy phase, and as a result the state’s coffers are overflowing.

However, when revenues depend on income and sales taxes, a moderate dip in economic strength could severely curtail state revenues.

Also, because the money to fund Riley’s proposed cuts come from funds earmarked for teacher salaries, Paul Hubbert of the AEA is far from impressed. However, one suspects that since Riley can hardly count on AEA’s support in the first place, that making Hubbert mad is the least of his concerns.

Apart from the potential political gain for Riley, this proposal has the more important feature of aiding the neediest of Alabama’s income-earners.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Friday, March 10, 2006
Shocking!
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:53 pm

Via the AP: Drinking May Have Fueled Ala. Church Fires

Filed under: Alabama Politics, Criminal Justice | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Saturday, March 4, 2006
Folsum for Lt. Gov?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:58 pm

Via the AP: Democrats look to Folsom to run for lieutenant governor

The Alabama Democratic Party, which started signing up candidates Saturday, has a big hole on its ballot, and it’s looking to former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. to fill it.

So far, no Democrat has announced for the lieutenant governor’s job, which is being vacated by Democrat Lucy Baxley.

[…]

If Folsom runs, it could set up a race between two of the biggest family names in Alabama politics. Public Service Commission member George Wallace Jr., the son of Govs. George C. and Lurleen Wallace, is one of four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor on June 6.

Interesting. I did not live in the state when Folsom was governor, although I am aware of his father, also governor, who was a tad on the colorful side, to put it mildly. Quite honestly, I would prefer that both families fade from state politics.

The state Democrats also:

Before the State Democratic Executive Committee began signing up candidates Saturday, it passed resolutions opposing a national port security contract with a Dubai-based company and calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit governments from using eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another.

I remain cautiously supportive of the ports plan, but wholeheartedly agree on the eminent domain issue.

Filed under: Alabama Politics | Comments (2) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Friday, February 24, 2006
Peach Wars
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:42 am

Via the NYT: Alabama Adopts the Peach, Nettling Growers Next Door

Representative James M. Martin, a Chilton County Democrat and sponsor of the Alabama resolution, said he did not think Georgia should have a lock on peach pride.

“If you’ve ever tasted Alabama peaches, you’d throw rocks at Georgia,” Mr. Martin said.

In Georgia, which has a blushing peach adorning its license plates and no fewer than 40 thoroughfares named “Peachtree,” those are fighting words.

“I didn’t realize Alabama had any peaches at all,” said Thomas T. Irvin, Georgia’s agricultural commissioner since 1969.

Ah, yes-nothing like politicians behaving like adults, not to mention oh, I don’t know, actually governing by dealing with something that is actually important. Pretty soon it will be my peaches can beat up your peaches.

Quite frankly, all of these official this/official that resolutions get to be a bit much. They have increasingly grated on me since moving to Alabama, because the legislature never seems to have enough time to address the real legislative needs of the state, but we forever have time to declare the newest official snack food, facial tissue or pork product.

And yes, Chilton County peaches are quite good, although that giant fiberglass peach that one can see off of I-65 is a bit silly looking…

Filed under: US Politics, Alabama Politics | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Thursday, February 23, 2006
We’re So Proud
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:41 pm

Alabama alone taxes family of four below $10,000

A family of four in Alabama starts paying a state income tax at $4,600 of annual income. The next lowest state is West Virginia at $10,000.

And, we charge sales tax on food and medicine. Indeed, the sales tax rate in 10% in Montgomery County.

However, if you own acres and acres and acres of land and grow pine trees on it to make paper, then we have a hefty tax break for ya—even if you are an out of state business interest.

Oh, the joys of Alabama politics…

Filed under: US Politics, Alabama Politics | Comments (4) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Good News for Constitutional Reform
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:03 am

Via the Birmingham News: Senate panel backs bill to allow vote on constitution convention

State voters could decide Nov. 7 whether to call a convention that could propose a new state constitution, under a bill passed Tuesday by a Senate committee.

The Senate’s constitution and elections committee voted 10-0 for the bill. It next could be voted on by the full 35-member Senate as soon as Thursday, if the agenda-setting Senate Rules Committee were to give it priority.

Of course, one committee vote is a long way from a convention. Still, it is progress.

Filed under: Alabama Politics | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Friday, February 17, 2006
Riley in Good Shape
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:44 am

The latest SurveyUSA numbers are out and Riiley has a 52% approval rating.

I continue to think it highly unlikely that Moore can beat Riley in the GOP primary in June and that neither Baxley nor Seigleman can beat him in the general election.

Moore’s main constituency would be regular church attenders, and they approve of Riley 55% to 38% who disaaprove. Riley also has solid approval with 35-54 year-olds (52%) and the 55+ crowd (57%). He also has a 48% approval/46% with independents.

For all the states go here.

h/t: The Political Wire.

Filed under: US Politics, Alabama Politics | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Alabama Constitutional Reform Suffers Setback
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:48 am

Via the Mobile Register: Constitutional reform stalls as referendum is denied

Reformers must find another path toward a citizen convention to rewrite the state’s 1901 Constitution after an Alabama House panel deadlocked at 7-7 Wednesday, effectively killing a bill that would allow a public referendum on the matter.

Tie votes in legislative committees go to the “nays.”

The deciding vote on the House Constitution and Elections Committee was cast by Rep. Joseph Mitchell, D-Mobile, who said he generally supports the concept of a rewrite and a citizen convention but opposes the details of how convention delegates would be chosen under the bill sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham.

7-7 is progress, I suppose. Of course, I always find reasoning along the lines of “I like the proposal, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted” to be most annoying.

The proposal is not yet dead, as there is a pending Senate bill, and the House bill could, theoretically, be recalled.

This state desperately needs constitutional reform, so all setbacks are disappointing. Of course, that the process has made it to this stage is encouraging. I fear it may take several more legistlative sessions before a bill even makes it to the floor, but will maintain hope that the Senate bill will escape committee and go from there.

Filed under: Alabama Politics | Comments (5) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Riley Leads Moore in GOP Primary Poll
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 11:45 am

Via the AP: Riley posts big lead over Moore in governor’s race poll

Gov. Bob Riley has widened his lead over former Chief Justice Roy Moore in a poll of Alabamians likely to vote in the Republican primary for governor.

The Mobile Register-University of South Alabama survey of likely Republican voters showed Riley with 56 percent to Moore’s 28 percent, with 16 percent undecided.

h/t: Politics in Alabama

Also, Politics in Alabama has some Rasmussen numbers of possible gubernatorial match-ups. Going by those, admittedly quite early, numbers, it would appear that the state’s first choice is Riley then Baxley, then Siegelman, then Moore.

Filed under: Alabama Politics | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Alabama: State House Votes for Teacher Pay Raise
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:20 am

Via AL.com/the AP: House votes to give teachers 5 percent pay raise

The Alabama House approved bills Tuesday to give education workers, including teachers, a 5 percent pay raise and to extend the school year from 175 to 180 days.

The House also debated a record $6 billion education budget, but delayed a vote until Thursday.

Of course, it is a little bit less of a raise if they are going to add another week’s worth of work. I must confess, I am not sure what the optimal amount of days is for K-12, but I am not certain that another week was needed. I would rather they use the money that is required for another week of school and work on the buildings and materials used for instruction.

The teacher’s raise is no surprise. Not only is it an election year, but the educaiton budget is flush with cash for a change.

Filed under: Alabama Politics | Comments (0) |Send TrackBack
Thursday, February 9, 2006
And the Irrelevance Continues…
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:26 pm

Via the AP: House rejects plan to move up presidential preference primary:

The House voted 43-31 to bring the bill up for consideration, but it was short of the three-fifths vote needed. The vote fell along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans complaining the more than $3 million cost of holding the separate primary was too high.

Some things are worth paying for-like having the voters in one’s state be relevant in the process of picking the major party nominees for the presidential election.

Ah well. Maybe we can break to low turn-out record for the June primaries again in 2008!

Filed under: US Politics, Alabama Politics, 2008 Campaign | Comments (4) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, February 5, 2006
PoliColumn: Crossover Voting in Primaries
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:01 am

From today’s Mobile Register

Note: I originally wrote this about a month ago when there was a debate with the Alabama GOP on cross-over voting and it appeared that there would be at least three candidates in the GOP gubernatorial primary. At the moment, it may end up being only Riley and Moore.

Crossover voting has pundits pondering
Sunday, February 05, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Register

Last month, the executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party reversed itself on a plan to ban “crossover voting” in the second round of the Alabama Republican primary.

Alabama Democrats have long banned crossover voting, and even used the presence of crossover voting to overturn the primary results in 1986.

A question emerges: What is “crossover voting” and why does it exist?

It’s interesting, too, to contemplate what effect the decision would have had if there had been a runoff scenario in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.

First, though, let’s look at primaries and see how the structure of the Alabama primary system can lead to this situation. There are two key elements: the basic structure of the primary process, and whether there is a majority requirement to win the nomination.

There are, for practical purposes, two categories of primary used in the United States: the open primary and the closed primary.

In simple terms, open primary states allow for voters to decide on primary election day which party they wish to adhere to, by engaging in the selection process for that party’s candidates. A voter goes to the polls and, in the case of Alabama, asks for either the Republican or Democratic ballot.

Other states actually have separate polling locations for each party during the primaries.

Open systems afford voters a great deal of leeway in terms of accessing the nomination process of the major parties, and can be deemed more democratic than closed primaries. The knock on open primaries is that they allow those who might not take a given party seriously a chance to vote in their nomination process.

Party leaders often fear, for example, a scenario in which Party A has no serious primary contest, so its voters choose to vote in Party B’s primary in order to try to select the weakest of Party B’s candidates.

In closed-primary states, voters register their party preference in advance of the elections, and are therefore bound to vote only in their party’s primary. There are variations as to precisely how it works state-to-state, but that’s the basic idea.

Some favor this structure because it requires some reflection on the part of voters before they choose their partisan affiliation, and also it excludes those who might not really consider themselves “members” of the party in question.

There is also the question of what threshold is required for victory: a mere plurality (i.e., the most votes wins) or an absolute majority (i.e., 50 percent plus one). Alabama requires a majority, meaning that if no one gets a majority on primary day, there is a runoff between the top two voter-getters a month later.

When an open primary system meets a majority requirement, the question emerges as to whether the second round should be open to all comers, or just to adherents of that party. In other words, a voter might vote in the Democratic primary on primary day, but then “cross over” to vote in the Republican runoff.

This brings us the political implications of crossover voting. What if there is no runoff in the Democratic Party, yet there is one in the Republican Party? What happens when all those Democratic voters with nothing to vote for on their side cross over and vote in the GOP runoff?

Consider the potential for crossover voting if state Sen. Harri Anne Smith had stayed in the gubernatorial race. (She announced last month that she had decided not to, and instead threw her support to incumbent Gov. Bob Riley.)

If Smith had gotten enough votes to cause a runoff between Riley and Roy Moore, the conventional wisdom was that Democrats who support Moore’s position on the Ten Commandments might have crossed over to vote for Moore over Riley.

Other Democrats, figuring Moore would be the weaker candidate, might have crossed over to vote for Moore in hopes of dethroning Riley via the primary process, rather than have their candidate face him in the general election.

Complicating the scenario, however, is the fact that there’s a contingent of Democratic voters who view Moore as an undesirable governor. They might have crossed over to the GOP primary for the purpose of ensuring that Moore was defeated.

Usually, though, the likelihood that such crossover voting sways the outcome of a runoff is small (barring a massive mobilization effort), given that it is traditionally difficult to get even hard-core partisans to vote in primaries and especially runoffs.

Now, all of this is moot, of course. Either Riley or Moore will secure the nomination outright.

At this point, it appears that the incumbent has the upper hand. Back in October, a Mobile Register/University of South Alabama poll gave Riley a 44-25 lead over Moore. Since that time, the news has been nothing but good for Riley, as state revenue figures and employment numbers have been quite positive.

The governor will be able to run on economic prosperity — and that’s a powerful tool for any incumbent.

Further, the situation is shaping up that the Alabama GOP is going to be fully behind Riley, with Moore running as something of an outcast.

Still, we’ve barely kicked off the campaign season; and the guesses of political scientists are irrelevant once the voters cast their ballots.

Let the games begin.

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | Comments (3) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Thursday, January 26, 2006
THIS JUST IN!!
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 2:47 pm

Senator Sessions says he will support Alito

And here I was on pins and needles…

Filed under: US Politics, Alabama Politics, Courts/the Judiciary | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Air Pork
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 4:00 pm

The Mobile Register has a story on the expansion of the Troy airport and a clash with a neighboring Methodist Church: Airport expansion pits church against city of Troy.

The story includes this little tidbit:

The project is among the latest in a string of small-airport expansions across Alabama, fueled largely by the state congressional delegation’s ability to cover the bills with taxpayer money. It has the enthusiastic backing of U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, who helped to push it forward with a $1 million appropriation released last year.

[…]

In all, the project will cost about $5.7 million, almost all of it from the federal government, according to projections filed with the state aeronautics bureau in 2003.

Lovely.

I have no problem with the airport expanding, per se. I have a great deal of trouble with the notion that federal taxpayers should be paying the bills. I lived in Troy for 4 years, and have worked there for 7.5, and I have never even seen the darn airport. The only time I even hear about it is when there is a crash.

Indeed, the most amusing reference to the Troy airport ever was when a plane belonging to Jerry Jones (owner of the Dallas Cowboys) hit a deer on the runway. One of Jones’ sons was in the town for some sort of fundraiser for a local school. The amusing part was the the local newspaper, the Troy Messenger had a write-up on their web page that Dallas Cowboys’ Head Coach Jimmy Johnson was in town on the flight. This was funny because a) the Dallas HC wasn’t in town and b) at the time, Jimmy hadn’t been the HC for years.

Back to the airport and local politics:

Like several other Shelby-backed aviation endeavors, however, it is also drawing questions about who will benefit.

[…]

Far and away, the biggest potential gainer from an expansion would be the companies owned by Wiley Sanders Jr., best known outside of Troy for the long-distance trucking company that bears his name. Other Sanders ventures include lead and plastics recycling businesses. With more than 1,300 employees altogether, Lunsford said, they collectively comprise the largest employer in surrounding Pike County.

Out of a total of 542 penalized flights, the survey found, Sanders aircraft accounted for more than 80 percent. But Barge Waggoner planners also suggested that a 6,500-foot runway would not be long enough to solve the problem.

At least 7,340 feet would be needed for the Sanders companies to operate their two Gulfstream II turbo-jets “at maximum takeoff gross weight,” the survey said, adding that 10,000 feet could be required under certain conditions.

If Sanders needs a longer runway, then perhaps he ought to fund the expansion himself. In fairness, he isn’t a big contributor to Shelby:

While he may carry weight as a local employer, Sanders is not particularly active as a political donor, records show. He has given no money to congressional races since 2000, when he contributed $2,000 to Shelby’s campaign fund, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., research organization.

Of course, Sanders wouldn’t be the only to benefit, however:

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which has a missile plant in the area, was “very interested” in bringing larger aircraft into the airport but could not estimate the number of operations because of security concerns, the Barge Waggoner survey reported.

For Troy University, it would allow the Division I football squad to fly into Troy rather than taking chartered Boeing 727’s to Dothan, said John Schmidt, the school’s senior vice chancellor for student services.

Filed under: US Politics, Alabama Politics | Comments (1) |Send TrackBack | Show Comments here
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