Jun
29
2015

It’s Time For A Real Solution To The Gambling Question

Decisions made by the government and high profile court rulings consumed the news last week. Most of the breaking news has centered on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions. But there is one court ruling that hasn’t gotten as much attention, and it’s just as important to the people of Alabama because it has such a huge impact on the future of our state.

Late last week, an Alabama circuit judge ruled that the state was wrong to “cherry-pick” the casinos it prosecuted (and I think “persecuted” would be more accurate), and that the state must return all the seized money and bingo machines. The case was brought by VictoryLand owner, Milton McGregor, and the judge’s ruling means that VictoryLand is once again free to open its doors.

With VictoryLand opening back up, state leaders can no longer afford to ignore gambling or keep kicking the can down the road. Now more than ever we must pass legislation that addresses the issues of gambling, making sure that gambling interests are competitive and pay taxes on their profits just like every other business in Alabama. We need to keep Alabama dollars in Alabama instead of sending it to Georgia, Tennessee or Florida to play their lotteries and send their kids to college.

Gov. Bentley has previously said he will not include gambling in the call for a special session. Now that the court has made this ruling, I hope the governor will reconsider his position. We can’t afford to keep putting this issue off! Furthermore, I believe a gambling bill could allow us to get out of this budget crisis without passing the Republicans’ tax package (the “RTP”). That’s why, regardless of whether the governor includes gambling in the call, I will introducing a gambling bill in the special session.

Some legislators may argue that since Attorney General Luther Strange filed an appeal of the decision on Friday, we need to wait for the state Supreme Court to decide on the issue before the legislature takes action. But I believe we cannot sit back and wait to act! The casinos are opening back up, so sooner or later we are going to be forced to act. And at a time when tax dollars are already stretched as far as they possibly can be, I don’t believe the Attorney General should waste more tax dollars fighting the court’s ruling.

The circuit court judge was not wrong in his decision. The state has unfairly “cherry-picked,” as the judge pointed out, which casinos it wanted to prosecute. It’s time for the state to move on, and way past time for state leaders to stop wasting the taxpayers’ money prosecuting these casinos, all of which are legally operating businesses!

We all know the state is in financial trouble . If we act now, instead of waiting, a gambling bill could prevent the tax increases in the RTP. If we pass a gambling bill, casinos like VictoryLand could potentially start paying application and licensing fees, as well as taxes on profits, as soon as October. Those fees and taxes could generate hundreds of millions in revenue for the state, which would allow us to avoiding raising taxes.

This isn’t just my opinion, either: Poll after poll has shown that the people of Alabama prefer bringing a gambling bill to a vote instead of the RTP. That’s why Coach Pat Dye and other prominent state business leaders have created an organization to promote casinos and a state lottery.

And even within the Republican leadership, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, leader of the state Senate, and Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Dothan, chair of the House Ways and Means—General Fund budget committee, have sponsored and co-sponsored gambling legislation and the creation of a state lottery. The support for this type of legislation is there, across the board. Now is the time to pass a bill and let the people vote!

Sticking our heads in the sand is not working. The gambling “issue” is not going to simply go away. Alabamians gamble. Alabamians play lotteries in other states. Our state government has failed to stop gambling. So before we raise taxes and waste taxpayer money fighting to stop gambling, let’s tax gambling and save taxpayer money!

Gambling may be a poor way to fund government in some people’s minds, but the gambling interests should still have to pay their fair share, just like every other business in the state. If they do, and the state acts quickly enough, we can avoid passing the RTP that is on the horizon and legislators can honor their campaign pledges not to raise taxes.

If we don’t address gambling, gambling interests will continue to go untaxed, the state will continue to have an unbalanced budget and the hard working people of Alabama will see their taxes increased.

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Jun
22
2015

Opposing Gambling Legislation Protects Gambling Interests, Not The People

Last week, Gov. Bentley announced that he would not include any gambling proposals in the call for a special legislative session later this year. I believe Gov. Bentley is wrong to refuse to include gambling in the call for a special session, and I will introduce a gambling bill when the legislature returns to Montgomery.

There are only two options for getting our state out of this budget crisis: either raise taxes or let the people vote on gambling. It seems the governor has chosen taxes. But nothing will happen without the legislature agreeing to it, and I don’t think too many legislators want to break their campaign promises and raise taxes.

Opponents of the lottery and expanded gambling say it is a “bad way to finance government” and that they are protecting the people and the state from the negative impacts of gambling. But their arguments ignore the reality of what is going on in Alabama.

People in Alabama gamble. They do it every day. Drive by the casinos in Atmore or Wetumpka, or the casinos in Mississippi with all those cars with Alabama license plates in the parking lots, and you can see the evidence. But right now, the gambling interests in Alabama don’t pay taxes on their profits like every other business has to do.

Alabamians also play the lottery. But instead of playing it here, where the proceeds would go to benefit our own state, they’re playing it in other states. Just a few years ago, one of Tennessee’s top-selling lottery outlets estimated that 60-65 percent of its business comes from Alabama lottery players.

Whether we like it or not, Alabamians are spending their money on gambling. State leaders have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of hours of law enforcement’s time trying to fight gambling, but gambling still takes place in Alabama every single day.

I deeply respect Gov. Bentley, and have no doubt that he believes opposing a gambling bill is protecting the people of Alabama. But opposing a gambling bill isn’t protecting the people of Alabama. It’s protecting gambling! It’s protecting the gambling interests from competition and paying taxes on their profits, and sending millions of our dollars to other state’s to play their lotteries instead of keeping that money here in Alabama.

Leaders throughout the state and on both sides of the political aisle are starting to agree that it’s time to let the people vote! The leader of the state Senate, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, introduced a gambling bill during the legislative session. Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, the chairman of the House Ways and Means – General Fund committee, co-sponsored one of the lottery bills that I introduced. And last week, former Auburn football coach, Pat Dye, and business leaders from around the state announced they are forming an organization to support casinos and a state lottery.

The time has come to let the people vote! And that is why, despite the governor’s objections, I will introduce a comprehensive gambling bill in the special legislative session. And if three-fifths of legislators support it, we can pass it even if the governor refuses to include it in the agenda for the special session.

Some people argue that it’s too late for a gambling bill to help with the budget crisis. But I disagree. If we hurry, we could pass the bill in time to put it on the ballots this August when many voters are already going to the polls to vote in local municipal elections (thereby saving some of the costs of a special election). If passed by the people, a gaming commission could be set up in September, and we could start collecting licensing fees and tax revenue from casinos just in time for the new budget to go into effect, which would allow us to avoid the budget crisis.

The people of Alabama deserve the right to vote on gambling and the lottery. What they don’t deserve is to see their taxes go up. Alabamians already gamble and play the lottery. Alabamians are going to gamble, whether the government likes it or not. But right now, the casinos aren’t paying taxes on their profits like every other business in Alabama has to pay, and our neighboring states are making millions of dollars off of Alabamians playing their lotteries when most of that money could be staying here.

So here we are, four months after the governor’s State of the State Address, and we are still asking the same question we asked before the legislative session began: Would you rather have gambling and a lottery, or the Republicans’ tax increases?

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Jun
22
2015

Alabama House Democratic Caucus Names State Rep. Anthony Daniels ‘Legislator of the Year’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 16, 2015

Montgomery – The Alabama House Democratic Caucus has named State Rep. Anthony Daniels the Caucus’ “Legislator of the Year” for 2015. The award was presented during the Caucus’ annual “End-of-the-Year Dinner” on June 10th.

The Caucus presents it’s “Legislator of the Year” award annually to one male and one female representative who have “displayed leadership, integrity, and commitment to the principles of the House Democratic Caucus” throughout the legislative session. The Caucus presented its female “Legislator of the Year” award to Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile.

“It’s humbling to be recognized in this way by my colleagues in the legislature,” said Daniels. “There’s a lot of experienced legislators in this Caucus, and for them to have chosen me for this award is truly an honor.”

Daniels was elected to the Alabama state House of Representatives on Nov 4th by 78% of the vote. Daniels holds a Bachelor degree in Elementary Education and a Masters degree in Special K-6 education from Alabama A&M University. He also earned a certification in educational fundraising from Dartmouth College.

Daniels background includes: Elected Chairman of the National Education Student Program in 2006 where he served a two year term in Washington, D.C and was spokesperson for the College Affordability Campaign. As a result of his leadership and the help of other national organizations, President Bush signed into law the College Cost and Reduction Act.

Daniels unique educational background also includes teaching in three different settings; 3rd Grade in a Public Magnet School (Academy of Science and Foreign Language), 4th grade at a Title I school(University Place Elementary) , 4th &5th Grade Combo on an Indian Reservation(Cochiti Elementary School) and Corporate and Foundation Relations Officer at Alabama A&M University.

Currently, Anthony is a small business owner in Huntsville Alabama.

The Caucus’ Vice Chair, Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, presented the award Wednesday night, remarked on Daniels’s drive and determination during the past legislative session.

“I have been inspired by the passion this young man has displayed during his first year as a legislator,” said Caucus vice Chair, Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston. “Representative Daniels is an example to all of us of what true service and selflessness require.”

Upon receiving the honor, Daniels thanked the House Democratic for their support during his first session.

“This caucus has been a source of support for me, and I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of the state of Alabama with the members of this body,” Daniels said.

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Jun
22
2015

Alabama House Democratic Caucus Names State Rep. Barbara Drummond 'Legislator of the Year'

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 19, 2015

Montgomery – Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, was presented with the Alabama House Democratic Caucus’ “Legislator of the Year” Award during the Caucus’ annual “End-of-the-Year” Dinner on June 10th.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized in this way by the members of the Democratic Caucus,” said Drummond. “To have these men and women-many of whom have been serving the people of Alabama for years-present me with this award is humbling.”

Every year at the end of the regular legislative session, the House Democratic Caucus, which consists of all the Democrats serving in the Alabama House of Representatives, selects a member of the Caucus as their “Legislator of the Year.” The award is presented to a representative who has “displayed leadership, integrity, and commitment to the principles of the House Democratic Caucus” throughout the legislative session.

“Rep. Drummond has done an outstanding job of fighting for her district and getting some crucial legislation passed,” said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. “She has really stepped up, serving in the Caucus’ leadership and taking a lot of initiative within the Democratic Party, especially when it comes to getting young people more involved in state politics.”

Drummond earned her Bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of South Alabama, and served her community as a reporter with the Mobile Press Register for 21 years before her election to the legislature last year. She is currently the owner of B-inspired Marketing and Consulting Inc., and the former executive director of administrative services and community affairs for the City of Mobile. She is also a former public affairs director for Mobile Count, and a graduate of Leadership Mobile and Leadership Alabama.

At Wednesday’s dinner, Drummond graciously accepted the award and thanked the members of the House Democratic Caucus for their support during her first legislative session.

“I’m thankful to have found such an amazing support system in my fellow members of the Democratic Caucus,” Drummond said. “I look forward to continuing the fight for the people of this great state with you all.”

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