Mar
2
2015

Serious Problems Require Serious Solutions

It’s no secret that our state government is in serious financial trouble. The hole in the state’s General Fund budget is estimated to be at least $250 million. But while everyone acknowledges the problem, what has been most surprising is how so many of those in leadership have failed to offer any solutions.

The exception has been Gov. Bentley.

This weekend, Gov. Bentley released his plan to raise more revenue for the state. And I have to commend the governor on having the courage to not only acknowledge the problem, but also for offering a plan to address the problem.

I also want to thank the governor for finally addressing some of the main priorities that have been a part of Alabama Democrats platform for the past several years. Closing corporate tax loopholes is a matter of both revenue and fairness. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. It is just plain wrong that they are being asked to pay taxes that their competitors from other states aren’t having to pay. Closing these loopholes will level the playing field, and provide desperately needed revenue.

Increasing the tobacco tax is another good option, as it is a voluntary tax. People chose to smoke or dip, so anyone who doesn’t want to pay the tax can choose to quit. We will either raise revenue or improve public health—it’s a win-win.

But while I am encouraged to see the governor embracing these ideas, I still don’t understand why he hasn’t called for a lottery or a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.

A lottery is also voluntary, and could raise hundreds of millions of dollars; a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians would benefit the state by raising revenue and growing our economy. It would also allow the Poarch Creek’s to expand their business. Again, it’s a win-win.

But even though the governor has not included a lottery or compact in his plan, at least he has offered a plan, a huge difference from the leadership in the Alabama legislature.

The state of Alabama faces serious problems. The taxpayers deserve serious proposals from their elected leaders. The Republican Caucus’ legislative agenda is, at best, insulting to the intelligence of the taxpayers.

Their agenda didn’t include a single proposal to address the budget hole. Instead, all they offered were a series of bills that will get tied up in lengthy and expensive court battles paid for by the taxpayers.

In fact, the only substantive issue they offered was on charter schools. However, charter schools will only create more problems and more expenses in the budget.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes conducted a pair of studies on the academic success of charter schools. What they found was that only about 25 percent of charter schools performed better than traditional public schools, while 56 percent produced no significant difference in reading, and 40 percent produced no significant difference in math. At the same time, 19 percent of charter schools performed worse in reading, while 31 percent were “significantly worse” in math.

But charter schools don’t just have academic problems. They are also plagued by serious cases of fraud.

In Pennsylvania, it has been reported that charter schools have defrauded the taxpayers out of more than $30 million dollars since 1997. Another study, conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, found that charter schools in 15 different states have defrauded the taxpayers of more than $100 million! They didn’t even look at the other states that have charter schools.

So instead of addressing the very real problem of the massive hole in our budget, leaders in the House Republican Caucus have offered an agenda that will only lead to more waste of taxpayer money through fraudulent charter schools and taxpayer-funded legal defenses of unconstitutional legislation.

Our state faces real problems. We don’t have enough state troopers on the roads to take care of accidents and, in some cases, are having to drive patrol cars that have more than 200,000 miles on them. Cuts to Medicaid have led to the closings of 10 hospitals so far, and the closings of numerous OB/GYN clinics in rural areas. We don’t have the resources to fund the Department of Human Resources, which is causing delays in adoptions. Unfortunately, these are just some of the problems.

It’s going to take serious leadership to address these issues. Gov. Bentley and the Democrats are ready to work together to solve those problems. It’s time for the Republican Caucus’ leadership to join us.

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

###

Feb
25
2015

Making Progress On I-759 Will Take The Whole Team

Many times in my life I’ve seen that teamwork really does work. Whether it’s in sports, business or government, every member of the team gets together and comes to an agreement—a little give from some people and a little take from others. For teamwork to really work however, everyone involved, including the leaders, must be willing to work together. Teamwork does not work when one or more of the people involved doesn’t make an effort. Unfortunately for Gadsden and the I-759 project, that is exactly what is happening.

The I-759 project received a lot of attention in the press last week. Most of it was encouraging, as our local elected leaders and I came out in support of taking action and renewed our call for progress.

But then the press asked our U.S. Congressman, Robert Aderholt, what he would do to help.

Congressman Aderholt is Alabama’s most senior congressman. Now serving his 10th term in U.S. Congress, Rep. Aderholt serves on the House Committee on Appropriations, which is a very powerful committee and, most importantly, is the committee that makes decisions regarding funding the operation of the federal government.

Our congressman literally sits on the committee that decides the highway and transportation budget. This means that our congressman is in a better position than anyone to secure federal funding for I-759. Making the situation even better for us, Alabama’s own Congresswoman Martha Roby also sits on the Appropriations Committee. With her help and his experience and seniority, Congressman Aderholt should have no problems getting a little extra money for I-759. It is the job we elected him do these past twenty years, and the job he is in prime position to fulfill.

But when the press asked the congressman what he was doing to help with I-759, his exact words were, “We’re to a point right now where federal funding for earmarked projects has been taken off the board” and that his “hands are tied.” Then he went on to shift the blame to state leaders, saying we needed to lobby the Alabama Department of Transportation and the governor.

How is this possible? How is it that our congressman, with twenty years of experience and being a senior member of the House Appropriations committee, is unable to secure federal funding for I-759?

Only Congressman Aderholt can secure federal funds. To say he can’t do anything is a total cop out. Senator Shelby has been a complete champion for our state in Washington, having secured millions of dollars over the years for infrastructure projects like I-759.

It’s also not just a problem with securing federal funding.

As The Gadsden Times reported, the other major problem has been getting plans that would pass federal approval. However, no one ever clarifies what federal approval is, exactly. So you would think it would be our congressman’s job to step in and help coordinate the federal agencies with the state department that is drawing the plans to make sure everything is in order. After all, having been in congress for twenty years, Congressman Aderholt should know better than anyone how to navigate Washington and get approval for projects like this. I find it hard to believe he couldn’t offer more guidance to the Alabama Department of Transportation on how to draft a proposal that would exceed federal expectations. But Congressman Aderholt hasn’t.

Completing projects like I-759 require a team effort. Yes, state leaders need to work together to secure state funding. But no one is in a better position than our Congressman to secure the federal funds and to make sure our plans meet federal guidelines. But instead of being a team player, Congressman Aderholt has been absent from the table.

Etowah County is the largest county in Congressman Aderholt’s district. As such, we have a great deal of traffic coming through. The extension of I-759 should be a priority for him, like it is for myself and the rest of Etowah County’s elected leaders. Congressman Aderholt has now served two-thirds as long as former congressman, Tom Bevill, did. But if he accomplished a tenth of what Congressman Bevill did for our district, most of us would be happy.

It’s time for our congressman to do his part and join the team. He was elected to serve the people of Etowah and to fight for the best interests of this district, and I-759 is in the best interest of this district. The people of Gadsden have supported rep. Adherolt for twenty years. We deserve his support now.

###

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

Feb
25
2015

House Minority Leader Craig Ford Statement On Republican 2015 Legislative Agenda

For Immediate Release: February 25, 2015

“Once again, they are not addressing the real problems. They are dodging the issue of the multi-million dollar hole in the General Fund budget, and offering absolutely no solutions. They don’t even acknowledge the problem! And because they have no answers to the budget problems, they hope to distract the taxpayers with talk about charter schools and other non-relevant issues.

House Democrats have offered a real solution, including a state lottery and negotiating a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. We are committed to focusing on the real problems and offering real solutions that protect the taxpayers.

Instead of wasting the taxpayers’ money and time, the Republican Caucus should be focusing on solving the actual problems our state is facing. It’s time to let the people vote on a state lottery! It’s time to consider negotiating a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. Instead of taking money out of our already underfunded public schools to create new charter schools, let’s look at actual reforms to make schools better.

Alabama faces serious problems. The taxpayers deserve serious solutions. The Republican Caucus’ agenda offers no solutions at all. But Gov. Bentley has shown he takes the state’s problems seriously, and House Democrats are ready to work with the governor to pass a lottery and work together on other solutions.”

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

###

Feb
21
2015

STATEMENT BY REPRESENTATIVE DARRIO MELTON ON ELECTION OF NEW ALABAMA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIR

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 21, 2015

“Today, the Alabama Republican Party sent a strong message when they chose to reject the status quo and their own leadership in Montgomery. As Governor Bentley recently said, there are a lot of divisions in the Republican Party, which we saw on display today in an election for Party Chair that wasn’t even close. But like the Governor, House Democrats are ready to work beyond the division to build a bipartisan coalition to govern the state of Alabama for what’s best for the people we represent.”


Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

###