Friday, May 23, 2011

This past week saw the passage of two more bills attacking teachers and State employees by the republican majority and Alabama senate. Senate Bill 419 and its ugly twin brother Senate Bill 310, did three basic things. First, it broke the moral contract that the State of Alabama had with its teachers and State employees when they first hired them. That contract was that if you come to work for the State of Alabama, even though it is at reduced wages compared to what you can make in the private sector, if you do your job well, work hard and accomplish the goals we have set for you, you will have a good retirement and healthcare. These two bills, one which effected members of the education family and the others which effect the State employees radically changed that. Not only did it double the cost of what retirees will have to contribute to their healthcare costs, but it also cut back on the benefits that have been promised to them these many years.

As I said at the microphone, it is wrong to try to balance the budget on the backs of State employees and teachers. We should first try to close the loop holes in our corporate tax structure that allow some corporations to make hundreds of millions of dollars in profits in Alabama and pay absolutely no State taxes. Instead of closing those loop holes, the republican majority decided to balance the budget on the back of State employees and teachers both active and retirees. They have now raised the cost of insurance along with the cost of retirement. At the same time, they have cut back on the benefits that were promised to State employees and teachers when they went to work for the State of Alabama.

The better way would be to change it for new hires, not people who are in the system and have been there for many years. While the members who have been in the teaching profession and working for the State are somewhat trapped in the system, the long term problem will be that bright young workers will leave the State and the teaching profession to go into the private sector where they can make more money and have less volatility perhaps toward their retirement.

I fought against the republican efforts to pass a general fund budget that provided twenty-five million dollars more to prisoners than Governor Bentley recommended while cutting thirty million dollars worth of benefits in the medicaid program. It is wrong to be cutting medicaid by thirty million and adding twenty-five million to prisoners. The prisoners will have free health care, it’s the seniors and children who will not have it with cuts to medicaid of such a severe nature.

During the twelve years that I had the privilege of serving as chairman of the budget committees, we made providing good health care to our seniors and children a priority. Something that should be protected and not cut.

As you know, seventy-eight percent of all nursing beds in Alabama are paid for by medicaid dollars. Thirty-eight percent of the children in Alabama receive healthcare coverage under medicaid. In fact one in two live births in Alabama is paid for by medicaid dollars. During these hard economic times one in four Alabama families has someone on medicaid. The tornado damage will increase medicaid roles even more. However, this new majority has decided to cut medicaid and provide additional benefits to prisoners.

As I said at the microphone and I say in this column, I think that is wrong and misplaced priorities.

Our senate district continues to restore itself from the tremendous devastation which struck our area. We continue to receive high line winds, but fortunately nothing like the severity of the tornado damage. I am very proud of our neighbors, churches, civic groups and first responders who have continued to go above and beyond the call of duty in helping their neighbors and families to rebuild. All of us can take great pride in the efforts that are going on here in our senate district and throughout the State. It really makes me proud to be an Alabamian when I see such Christian compassion and love and support of neighbor for neighbor and even from complete strangers who have traveled into our area to help.

Congratulations goes out to Mayor Perry Franks and the City Council of Brilliant, along with the merchants and organizers of another successful Coalfest. I enjoyed the fine music, vendors and hospitality that took place there. As always, I enjoyed playing in the checker tournament against Larry Pollard, world champion who takes on all comers. While, as usual, I did not defeat Larry Pollard, I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to play checkers with such a fine Alabamian.

I am pleased to announce to you that the Alabama Department of Transportation open bids for a highway project on May 27 that was greatly needed in Marion County. It is lighting for the interchange on Corridor X at State Road 171, U.S. 43. This lighting will help improve safety and also hopefully attract businesses into our area. You may rest assured that I will continue to work to do all that I can to bring jobs and our tax dollars back into our senate district. It was interesting to note that the Alabama Baptist featured Hackleburg on the cover of their recent newspaper. I appreciate them doing that as well as the attention that was given to us in Alfa’s monthly publication as well. We need all the help we can get in rebuilding as this will be a marathon and not a sprint.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) Workforce Investment Act (WIA) awarded a grant in the amount of $15,000.00 to North American Lighting, Inc. to provide training to sixteen employees in Basic Molding Machine Techniques and Advanced Decoupled/Scientific Molding Techniques in order that the company may remain competitive, reduce downtime and scrap and increase skill levels, wages and advancement opportunity. ADECA also awarded a grant to the City of Haleyville in the amount of $59,146.00 to help provide temporary employment on projects for clean-up, demolition, repair, renovation and reconstruction of destroyed or damaged public structures, facilities and lands within the affected area. Franklin County Commission was awarded a WIA National Emergency Grant from ADECA in the amount of $155,594.55 to provide temporary employment on projects for clean-up, demolition, repair, renovation, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to the disaster area in Franklin County along with Lawrence County Commission, who was awarded $288,462.00 for the same purpose.

It was my privilege to be the graduation speaker at Hubbertville High School this past Friday. The high school seniors look so proud and have such a bright future ahead of them, as do the thousands of other graduates who graduated from high school this past weekend. It is quite an accomplishment and one which I know their families are very proud of them for as well. As we have entered the twenty-first century it becomes clears that the more that a child learns, the more they will be able to learn. I am proud of the teachers and support personnel who continue to produce year after year students of exceptional quality and character here in our senate district. Unlike some areas of the State, our parents remain very involved in the school systems and help make not only for a better quality of education, but just as importantly a better quality of life here in Northwest Alabama. So congratulations to all of our seniors and I wish them the very best and brightest future ahead of them.

I want to thank everyone for your letters, emails and thank you notes about the issues at hand. I appreciate your continued support. Should you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at the addresses and telephone numbers listed below.

Please continue to contact me about your views and concerns at the following:

Alabama State House

11 S. Union Street, Suite 738

Montgomery, AL 36130

Phone: 334-242-7862, Fax: 334-242-4736

Russellville Office

PO Box 370

Russellville, AL 35653

Phone: 256-332-6966, Fax: 256-332-6967


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