September 2012 Group Watch

September’s been a busy month so far with announcements about new hires, new jobs and lower utility rates for businesses. Plus, a major issue is up for vote tomorrow. Will the people speak and what will they say?

  • Proponents of September 18 Referendum Say Vote is Key: Proponents of using $437 million from a state trust fund to prevent deep budget cuts are encouraging a big voter turnout by people whose paychecks or loved ones will be affected by the outcome. Proponents, like Governor Robert Bentley, are aiming their pitch toward those who could be affected the most. He says he is counting on people such as the Alabama State Employees Association, hospitals and nursing homes to take the lead in turning out yes votes. At Manufacture Alabama, which represents many of the state’s largest industries, President George Clark is distributing material for his members to display in employee break rooms. Clark, a former state representative from west Alabama, sponsored legislation in 1981 that created what is now the $2.3 billion Alabama Trust Fund. According to Clark the money was set aside for use during tough economic times like these. If the constitutional amendment fails, he said states competing with Alabama for new industries will make sure those industries know Alabama is cutting state services. Single-issue elections such as this usually draw an extremely low turnout. Will this be different?
  • New Community College Chancellor: The State Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Shelton State President Mark Heinrich of Tuscaloosa as head of the state’s two-year college system. The board president, Governor Robert Bentley, who is from Tuscaloosa, said he voted for Heinrich because he saw firsthand what he did at Shelton State after the Board named him president in 2008 following a corruption investigation. Heinrich, 59, received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tennessee Tech University and his doctorate from the University of Alabama. The school board still must negotiate a contract with the chancellor, but Bentley said the salary is likely to be closer to the $198,000 paid to the state school superintendent than the $289,000 paid to the previous chancellor.
  • New Auto Supplier: Governor Robert Bentley was recently in his hometown of Tuscaloosa to announce that a new auto supplier will create 100 jobs.  The governor joined Tuscaloosa officials for the announcement of the new supplier at the North River Yacht Club. According to the governor’s office, the supplier will invest $34 million and will supply products to the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant in Vance.
  • PSC Extends Special Rates: The Alabama Public Service Commission voted unanimously to extend special electric rates that were started last year to stimulate the economy. Commissioners say the rates are designed to give businesses one more reason to create jobs during tough times. One of the special rates provides a one-year rate discount for a business that opens in a building that has been vacant for at least six months. The incentive applies to a new business or to a business that opens an additional location. Relocations don’t qualify. The other program is aimed at larger companies that invest enough money and create enough jobs to qualify for the state’s Capital Investment Tax Credits. The discount is for two years, with 10 percent off the base rate for the first year and 5 percent for the second year. The PSC extended the program from January 1, 2014 to January 1, 2016.

September 2012 Group Watch: Governor Seeks Hearing on Immigration Law

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley announced the State has filed petitions asking the full Court of Appeals to reconsider parts of two opinions issued in August regarding the state’s immigration law. The governor contends that the three-judge panel’s decision to strike three of the provisions, including those dealing with harboring, contracts and school data, are contrary to the U.S. Constitution. The governor said in a prepared statement that he was filing this request based upon principle, and as governor he has a duty to uphold and defend Alabama law. He added that the federal court should not restrain state governments in a way contrary to the U.S. Constitution.

September 2012 Group Watch: Principal Perspective

by Allen Sanderson

Our clients already know that The Bloom Group is a trusted source of information on all things political in our state, but we’re also delivering that info in ever faster and more convineient ways. We’ve got Group Watch, which highlights important, timely issues right in your inbox, but we’re also on Twitter, routinley “tweeting” the status of State House happenings when the Legislature is in session as well as links to articles and opinions of intertest all year round. If you’re not doing so now, I encourage you to follow us on Twitter by clicking here. It’s just one more way we continually connect you to the news you need to know.

September 2012 Group Watch: Football & Fortune

Fall in our area means the arrival of many things, not the least of which is SEC football. The tailgating, the roaring cheers in packed stadiums, and the rivalries all add up to a whole lot of fun being had on any given Saturday. But what does football have to do with leadership skills? If  you’re curious about how and where these two concepts meet, check out this article in Fortune magazine that delves into the mind of Alabama’s highly successful football coach Nick Saban and attempts to answer this question.

August 2012 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Kids are back in school all across the state, and education news tops the headlines coming out of the capital.

  • 75 Percent of Schools Made Adequate Progress: The state Department of Education recently announced that Alabama’s schools and systems achieved adequate yearly progress. The “adequate yearly progress” standards measure how well schools are moving toward federal law’s goal of having all students proficient in math and science by 2014. Of its 1,365 schools, 342 failed to make adequate progress, down from 377 the year before. Only 26 of the state’s systems failed to make progress, down from 49 the year before. State School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice said the numbers are headed in the right direction and described the overall scores as “very encouraging.”
  • Education Trust Fund Revenue on Track: TState Budget Director Bill Newton recently announced that education trust receipts are on target to meet spending for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. He also predicted the General Fund, the major source of state money for non-education agencies such as prisons, Medicaid and Human Resources, should collect enough revenues to meet its trimmed spending target for the year without further cuts.  Finance officials say the growth in education revenue is currently at 5.9 percent. A growth rate of 5.6 percent for the year is needed to support appropriations for the year. The General Fund revenue grew by 18.5 percent in the current year, which factors in a $266.4 million windfall from the Alabama Trust Fund. The governor also trimmed General Fund obligations for the current year by prorating budgets 10.6 percent.
  • Search for Leader of Two-Year Colleges Underway: The state Board of Education recently voted unanimously to interview eight persons recommended by a consultant (who reviewed 29 applications) for the head of the state’s two-year college system. Governor Robert Bentley, who chairs the school board, said the board will conduct the interviews over a two-day period later this month and then invite three back for a second interview in mid-September. The previous chancellor made $289,000 annually, but the board has not decided what to offer the next chancellor. All of the interviews will be held in Montgomery and are open to the public.

August 2012 Group Watch: Alabama & Austal Agreement

Governor Robert Bentley announced a $5 million agreement between the state and Austal USA that will help the shipbuilder add up to 1,000 full-time jobs in Mobile. The agreement is a five-year project that will help the shipbuilder continue its workforce expansion with training assistance services from the Alabama Industrial Training program. Austal currently employs about 3,000 people to build Joint High Speed Vessels and littoral combat ships for the U. S. Navy. Under the current project agreement, that number is expected to grow by an additional 600. Once the new agreement is complete, the company expects to employ 4,600 in Mobile. Last month, Austal completed three buildings that total more than a half million square feet of additional manufacturing and office space as part of a $200 million investment.

August 2012 Group Watch: AG Defends Redistricting Decision

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says the state asked a District of Columbia federal court to approve a redistricting plan for the Alabama Legislature because it is possibly quicker than seeking pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department. According to Attorney General Strange, assertions by Democratic legislative leaders that the Republican AG is asking the court to review the plan because he believes it will lead to the election of more Republicans are untrue. Strange said that last year the state filed suit asking the courts to approve Congressional and state school board lines, but the Justice Department went ahead and pre-cleared the districts.

August 2012 Group Watch: Principal Perspective

By Allen Sanderson

Now that school has started, we wanted to take this timely opportunity to highlight one of our clients: School Superintendents of Alabama. As Alabama’s association for school superintendents and their system leaders, the SSA gives these important figures in our education system a voice in the halls of government and is the only association in Alabama for all school superintendents and members of their leadership team. There are approximately 725 members, including 132 public school systems, individual, retired, associate and business members. Under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Eric Mackey, SSA has proven a valuable addition to the discussion about the future of education in Alabama, fulfilling its mission of providing professional development for school superintendents and their leadership team and to serve as chief advocate for Alabama’s school children. In recent years, SSA has continued its work despite tough economic times, awarding several major scholarships annually that reinforce SSA’s primary purpose: to promote high quality public education throughout the state. In 2012, SSA gave $9,000 in student scholarships to students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in education as well as $4,000 in scholarships to teachers and administrators for graduate school programs. These scholarships are just one facet of the contribution SSA makes to Alabama’s education system. Another is its advocacy in the Alabama Legislature on behalf of the children and youth in every Alabama community who deserve a quality education. Through SSA, superintendents and school system leaders are helping policymakers make better funding and policy decisions when it comes to education. We at The Bloom Group are proud to help SSA accomplish its goals.

July 2012 Group Watch: Federal Judge Denies Siegelman New Trial

A federal judge has denied former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman a new trial on federal charges. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller denied the motion by attorneys for the former governor as he has done for co-defendant Richard Scrushy. Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted in 2006 on charges that Scrushy arranged a $500,000 contribution to Siegelman’s campaign for a statewide lottery in exchange for the governor appointing Scrushy to a hospital regulatory board. The former governor will appear before Fuller for a new sentencing; his original sentence was to be more than seven years in prison. Siegelman is expected to receive a lesser sentence after a partially successful appeal in the federal judiciary.

Alabama Supreme Court Tosses $78M Verdict

The Alabama Supreme Court overturned a $78 million verdict the state won against drug manufacturer Sandoz, Inc. The court ruled 7-1 in an unsigned opinion that the case should not have made it to a jury, much less resulted in a verdict against the company. The state won the verdict in 2009 claiming the company made Alabama Medicaid pay too much for prescription medication over a 14-year period ending in 2005. The jury ordered the company to pay $28 million to compensate Medicaid for its losses and $50 million in punitive damages. The Supreme Court ruled that the state based its reimbursement payments on policy concerns and regulations and not on actions by the company.

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