STATE OF THE STATE
February 7, 2019
Southern Torch (3535 articles)
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STATE OF THE STATE

By Marla Jones, Managing Editor • marla@southerntorch.com

FORT PAYNE, Ala. — (Full Video on our Facebook) On Tuesday night, citizens gathered in Fort Payne to hear about the State of the State of Alabama. The event was sponsored by the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce. 

Senator Steve Livingston and House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter addressed the crowd, giving an overview of what happened in and around the state in 2018. They also discussed what’s coming next in the upcoming legislative session.

They reported the following:

  • The largest education budget (6.63 billion) since the Great Recession. The budget included a 2.5% pay raise for teachers and support personnel. 
  • The announcement of the Alabama School for Cyber Technology and Engineering, which will be based in Huntsville. It will serve as a public magnet school for grades 7-12.
  • The state boasts a balanced budget in the general fund with no new tax increases. This year, a targeted increase for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to put 30 additional state troopers on the road.
  • The budget gives a 3% cost-of-living raise to state employees (the first one in ten years)
  • Corrections was given a $55 million increase to hire additional mental and medical health staffers. The Mental Health budget was increased by $8 million to address the opioid crisis
  • The recognition of February 15th as Military Appreciation Day and the Parks for Patriots Act gave current military members and veterans free access to our state parks
  • The Veterans Employment Act establishes a one-time $2,000 income tax credit for businesses that hire a veteran for a full-time position paying at least $14 per hour
  • Gave the green light to ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in the state
  • Toughened penalties for obstructing human trafficking (which includes child sex trafficking) investigations. The maximum offense is now a Class A felony (minimum ten years sentence). 
  • The Broadband Accessibility Fund will award grants to telecommunications and cable companies that build broadband infrastructure in underserved areas
  • The Child Care Safety Act increases safety reporting requirements for daycare centers while protecting faith-based daycares from DHR licensure
  • Reported a growth of 112 new jobs in DeKalb County and 315 new jobs in Jackson County

Livingston also said that he would support legislation to teach the Bible as a high school elective in the next session. 

Ledbetter and Livingston also discussed the need to further diversify northeast Alabama’s workforce. They said that they had met with Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker of the Alabama Community College System to discuss a plan. 

“We have got to look at doing something about workforce development,” said Ledbetter. “A certified plumber can make more money in DeKalb County than a lawyer can. We have a lot of lawyers. We don’t have enough plumbers. It is the same way with electricians.” Livingston went on to say that there is a big need for HVAC workers, who have the opportunity to make up to $37 per hour.

In regards to the high possibility that a gas tax could be passed within the year, Livingston said, “The devil is in the details. We have seen a lot of growth. If we don’t address this all of that could come to a screeching halt.” Livingston said he had not seen the bill, but has heard a possibility of raising the tax to 26 cents per gallon.

The legislators stated that the trucking industry pays just over 40 percent of fuel taxes in the state, followed by 23 percent from people traveling through the state. According to Ledbetter, in-state Alabamians only purchase 33 percent of fuel sold in the state. 

Huntsville economic developer Nicole Jones stated her strong support for infrastructure improvements.

“If we are going to continue our state’s economic momentum, we must be proactive and address infrastructure now. This means dredging a small part of Mobile Bay so ships can move in more cargo as well as fixing our highways so 18-wheelers can transport goods effectively and constituents can travel to and from the workplace in a safe and reliable manner,” said Jones. “Infrastructure is a quality of life issue and a bipartisan issue that will dominate the upcoming legislative session.” 

The current gas tax is 23 cents per gallon in fuel tax with diesel at 22 cents. Neither number has been changed since 1992 and has remained under a quarter for a quarter-century. 

Southern Torch

Southern Torch

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