By Steve Flowers
The Alabama Legislature usually gets very little done during an election year session except passage of the budgets.
However, the Legislature may have to address issues pertaining to prison health care. A Federal judge has ruled that our prison mental health care is “horrendously inadequate.” This year the solution will probably be to simply add $30 [million] to 50 million to the prison budget and kick the can down the road to the next quadrennium.
Our Medicaid agency funding is always a key issue. Medicaid now consumes more than a third of the General Fund budget. Using part of the BP Oil spill money will allow legislators to wait until next year to tackle this money-eating monster.
Mental health or drug addiction issues will probably be pushed back until next year after elections, as will the gasoline tax issue. The gas tax was not been raised since 1992. The state’s gas tax is earmarked for roads and bridges. Business groups, county governments and legislative leaders, especially Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Legislators from Huntsville and other growth areas, are emphasizing the need for adequate transportation infrastructure.
The Trump administration is advocating for a national infrastructure initiative. If this comes to fruition in Washington, the state will have to act in order to match federal dollars.
The two budgets will not be difficult since both the General Fund and Education budgets are in better shape than normal, especially the Special Education Trust Fund budget. It is dependent on sales and income growth taxes and the economy is growing.
Teachers and state employees may receive a cost of living raise. Alabama state employees have not received a cost of living raise since 2009.
Speaking of the economy, Alabama has been blessed with two gigantic coups in the past few months. The landing of the new Toyota-Mazda plant near Huntsville was huge. In addition, the decision by the U.S. Defense Department to locate the F-35 lightning aircraft deployment to Maxwell / Gunter in Montgomery will translate into a significant boom to the River Region for years to come.
The January announcement that Alabama won the coveted Toyota-Mazda plant was tremendous. We beat out North Carolina for the $1.6 billion facility, which will be located at a Limestone County mega site adjacent to Huntsville.
Alabama currently has 57,000 residents employed in the automotive industry. Exports of Alabama-made vehicles and parts total over $9 billion. We are now the number two state in America for automotive production. Community College Chancellor Jimmy Baker is moving in the right direction to prepare our young people for these opportunities in the state’s industrial expansion.
Huntsville mayor, Tommy Battle, battled mightily for the new automotive facility. He deserves kudos for the victory as does Montgomery mayor, Todd Strange, for landing the F-35 to Maxwell / Gunter. Our senior senator, Richard Shelby, was instrumental in both of these bonanzas behind the scenes.
Speaking of the legislature and their adjourning early for an election year, there will be 10 open Senate seats and 22 House seats with no incumbents. One of the most hotly contested state senate races will be in the Huntsville area. It will be an intra-party battle between Sam Givhan and Mary Scott Hunter. It is for the seat currently held by State Senator Bill Holtzclaw, who is not seeking reelection.
Ms. Hunter is a State School Board member, who is close to the BCA [Business Council of Alabama]. Givhan is a lawyer and heads the Huntsville / Madison GOP.
He has been endorsed by ALFA. It is fitting and proper that the Alabama Farmers Federation is backing young Sam Givhan. His grandfather was the legendary State Senator Walter Givhan who was a Black Belt planter and stalwart ally of the farmers.
State Representative Mack Butler is favored to win the Republican Gadsden area seat of retiring Senator Phil Williams.
The Wiregrass will see a battle royale between State Representative Donnie Chesteen and incumbent State Senator Harri Anne Smith.
The open Republican Senate seat of retiring State Senator Dick Brewbaker in Montgomery and Pike Road may be the best senate race in the state.
There are numerous powerful and popular incumbents, who will coast to reelection most with no opposition. That list includes Jabo Waggoner, Jimmy Holley, Jim McClendon, Cam Ward, Greg Reed, Steve Livingston, Clay Scofield, Shay Shelnutt, Clyde Chambliss, Billy Beasley, Bobby Singleton, Gerald Allen, Tom Whatley and Senate President, Del Marsh.
The leadership of the State Senate will return.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.