December 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

As 2015 draws to a close, gambling legislation is out (for now) and a possible gas-tax hike is in (at least in the governor’s mind). Stay tuned to Group Watch to see what actually happens when the Alabama Legislature starts its work again in February. Until then, enjoy your holidays!

Senate Leader Pulls Plug on Lottery & Gambling
State Senate leader Del Marsh said he has decided not to introduce gambling legislation in the upcoming legislative session due to begin in early February. Marsh says the votes are not there at this time to pass such legislation, adding that he thinks the idea is worthy of consideration for generating revenue and jobs. Marsh, who is known for coalition building, says that lottery and gaming legislation would tie up the Senate and keep the body from taking up other important measures than can pass and are good for the members’ constituents. A study completed earlier this year by Auburn University of Montgomery found that the economic impact of a lottery and casino-style gambling would raise an estimated $400 million in annual revenue for the state and create as many as 11,000 jobs.
Governor Bentley to Support Gas Tax Increase
In a speech to the Alabama Asphalt Pavement Association, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said he would support an increase in the state gasoline tax to support road construction and maintenance. The governor did not give specifics on the amount of increase he would support, but the last tax increase in 1992 was 5 cents to raise the total state tax to 16 cents a gallon. The Alabama Association of County Commissions is on the record supporting an increase in gasoline taxes for highway maintenance and construction. Gas tax revenue is earmarked mostly for road construction and for cities and counties. One-third of the state’s bridges on county roads are more than 50 years old.
DHR Task Force Hears Options for Reform
Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order earlier this year creating a nine-member task force to look at ways to possibly improve the way the Department of Human Resources delivers services. Some of the proposals looked at reducing the high turnover of social workers and finding a uniform standard for how parental rights termination hearings can be carried out. State Representative Chris England of Tuscaloosa differed with one of his colleagues who filed a bill in the 2015 regular session to create an ombudsman’s office. England took exception to adding another layer of bureaucracy at an annual price of $700,000. England suggested an investment be made in the existing system instead of throwing more government at it. He was supported by Fairhope attorney Rick Drummond, who suggested that it is not policy that is the problem, but how policies are enforced in individual counties.

December 2015 Group Watch: New Group Protecting Education Budget

The University of Alabama System’s chancellor is spearheading a coalition from kindergarten to four-year institutions to advocate the state’s education system. The Alabama Unites for Education Coalition was recently launched to protect the state’s education budget. The group includes the leadership of the UA System, the Alabama Community College System and the Alabama Department of Education as well as the Presidents of the UA system’s three campuses and Auburn University. Chancellor Robert Witt envisions the coalition as a long-term advocate for education in the state capable of addressing issues ranging from workplace development to funding for school nurses in the K-12 system.

December 2015 Group Watch: Happy Holidays!

All of us at The Bloom Group are looking forward to the upcoming holidays and the start of a fresh new year. We know we’ll enjoy a short break from the hustle and bustle and the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry with our loved ones, and we hope you and yours do the same. We’ll be right back at it as soon as the fun is over, working to make sure your voice is heard and helping you accomplish your goals. Watch for upcoming issues of Group Watch, which will come out weekly when the 2016 session begins in February; we’re always your source for the news, views and issues that matter to you and your business or organization.

November 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

The holidays are approaching, and we’re all looking forward to some relaxation with family and friends, but there’s still a lot of work to do around the state. Here’s what’s been happening this month so far.

Governor Says Healthcare Plans in Works for Rural Alabama
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who has opposed expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, has indicated that the state’s Medicaid reform efforts could eventually make healthcare coverage available to more people. The governor said that he will be announcing in his State of the State address in early 2016 a plan to expand healthcare for rural Alabama.

Under the governor’s new plan, Medicaid would pay regional care organizations (RCO’s) a designated amount per recipient rather than pay doctors and hospitals for each service provided. Alabama is working with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to obtain a waiver and money to help make the transition. The governor says the state could get between $600 million to $1 billion to help develop the regional care programs. The governor’s State of the State address will be at 6:30 p.m. on February 2, the first day of the 2016 regular session of the legislature.
Alabama Senate Budget Chairs Swap Positions
The chairs of the Senate budget committees will swap their positions overseeing $7.6 billion in state spending. Senator Arthur Orr of Decatur, the current chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee-General Fund, will switch with Senator Trip Pittman, who is currently the chair governing education funding. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the change presents an opportunity to have a fresh set of eyes examining each budget.

The swap comes after a protracted budget battle that took the regular session plus two special sessions to pass budgets. Neither Pittman nor Orr discussed any plans for their committees. They acknowledged that the General fund budget will be a challenge with little appetite among legislators to pass revenue generating bills and even less to transfer monies from education to shore up anticipated shortfalls in the General Fund. Analysts are projecting at least $30 million in new revenues are needed to adequately fund General Fund obligations, which include Prisons, Medicaid, Mental Health and the Department of Human Resources.
Alabama Gets “A” For Teaching Personal Finance
Alabama recently earned an A in teaching personal finance. According to the 2015 Report Card on State Efforts to Improve Financial Literacy in High Schools, Alabama is one of five to receive the grade of A for teaching the course. Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia require a semester-long course in personal finance in high school. The report evaluates how states teach the basics of need-to-know life skills involving finance. States are graded on the belief that students should have certain financial management skills before entering college or the workplace.


Gambling Enforcement News

Governor Robert Bentley said his order sending gambling enforcement back to the county level is aimed to clarify “the right approach” to the issue. According to the governor, constitutional officers such as sheriffs and district attorneys have the responsibility to interpret the law and make decision on whether they will prosecute.

He recently rescinded his 2011 executive order putting the power of gambling enforcement in the hands of Attorney General Luther Strange. That order followed an announcement earlier this year by the attorney general that said local officials would take the lead on those prosecuted in the future. Many believe both moves signaled a retreat from the state’s years-long battle with bingo operators, and may provide one way for casinos such as VictoryLand in Macon County to reopen. The governor has stated he would not oppose allowing Alabama citizens to vote on gambling. Legislative budget chairs acknowledge a need for more revenue for the General Fund and say they expect legalized gambling to be one option explored.

We’re Thankful!

As the day to give thanks approaches, we at The Bloom Group have spent a little time counting our many blessings, not the least of which are our colleagues and clients. Thanks for being a part of a very interesting 2015 with us, and we look forward to continuing to work with you and serve you through the holidays and in the coming year. Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

October 15, 2015 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

With the state’s budget woes solved (for now), the legislature is currently pretty quiet, and this month’s news comes from other areas.

RSA Briefs Legislative Study Commission
The Joint Legislative Committee on Public Pensions recently received a briefing regarding the Operations of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) in Montgomery. The RSA CEO Dr. David Bronner pointed out that his job as head of the pension system and the jobs of legislators are fundamentally different because he has to focus on producing long-term results while lawmakers are more concerned with producing short-term results to keep voters happy. Data presented indicates that retirement reforms passed by the legislature and economic recovery in the market have helped to reduce the system’s unfunded liabilities. Bronner pointed out that the percentage of new hires enrolls in RSA; the liabilities should continue to decrease. Actuaries for the system and a representative from National Association of State Retirement Administrators pointed out that finances of the pension system have improved dramatically since the 2008 economic downturn and have turned a positive corner.

Justice Department Finalizes Settlement with BP
The Justice Department and five states have finalized a settlement worth more than $20 billion arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The settlement resolves all civil claims against BP and ends five years of legal fighting over the oil spill. It requires the company to commit to a widespread cleanup project in the Gulf Coast area aimed at restoring wildlife, habitat, water quality and recreation. The settlement filed in federal court finalizes an agreement first announced in July. The next step is a 60-day public comment period. The settlement provides nearly $5 billion to five Gulf States: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

10/15 Group Watch: Senator Says “No More”

Long-time State Senator Gerald Dial (R) from Lineville recently published an op-ed chronicling the saga of not enough revenue to meet the needs of the citizenry, and proclaimed that the state has a revenue problem and not a budget problem. Dial says enough is enough, and he will stand firm on his word that no more education dollars need to be taken for the General Fund. Read his entire article here.

10/15 Group Watch: Congrats!

The Bloom Group would like to congratulate our friend Governor Bentley’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Administration Blake Hardwich as she begins to co-lead Governor Bentley’s new leadership management team along with Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Jon Bargainer.

10/15 Group Watch: Hammett Resigns

Seth Hammett resigned as chief of staff to Governor Robert Bentley effective October 8, 2015. Hammett will be replaced by a new leadership management team co-led by Deputy Chief of Staff for Administration Blake Hardwich and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Jon Barganier. Barganier will serve as the primary point of contact for the governor’s office. Governor Bentley thanked Hammett for his service and pointed particularly to the great strides in economic development and workforce training during the 2015 Regular Session. The governor said his new leadership team will help achieve his goals of creating jobs and making state government effective and efficient.

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