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Alabama editorial roundup

January 9, 2019

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Jan. 8

The Dothan Eagle on proposed rule changes in the Alabama Legislature:

The Alabama Legislature’s regular session doesn’t convene until March 5, but the discord has already begun.

Lawmakers gather this week in an organizational session, and among the changes to the rules of the House of Representatives proposed by the Republican majority is one that would end a two-hour period of debate for items on the special order calendar. Instead, the House Speaker would determine how much time to allow for debate. The change, Republican leaders say, will help speed up debate. It will also undermine the ability of the minority party to be heard, Democrats say.

“This is supposed to be the people’s House, a house of debate,” Assistant Minority Leader Merika Coleman said. “It doesn’t matter if you are conservative or if you are liberal or if you are independent, the best pieces of legislation actually end up being formed when everybody is forced, or chooses, to negotiate. People have to listen to each other.”

Another change involves a constitutionally protected right of lawmakers to call for a bill to be read at length on the House floor - a popular filibuster tactic. The reading, once done by humans, would be done by computer, with the Speaker controlling the rate at which the computer reads the text. We cannot help but envision a lengthy document read at such an incomprehensively high speed that it sounds like an excited nest of mice.

Whether such change is good or bad depends on which camp you’re in - majority or minority. It makes no difference which party is in control - the tactics are essentially the same.

Twenty years ago, newly elected Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, a Republican, presided over a combative organizational session in the Democrat-controlled Alabama Senate that ultimately left him as a figurehead, transferring the most significant powers of the office to then-Senate President Pro Tempore Lowell Barron, a Democrat.

There’s no coup this time around, as Republicans control both legislative chambers; House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh were overwhelmingly re-elected by their colleagues.

Online: https://www.dothaneagle.com/

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Jan. 9

Decatur Daily on the partial government shutdown and volunteers:

On Jan. 9, the partial shutdown of the federal government enters its 19th day, and President Donald Trump and Congress seem no closer to reaching an end to their stalemate.

It’s no big deal for the president and Congress. Congressmen still get paid, and the president still enjoys the White House and all of its amenities. For those down the food chain, however, things are starting to get tight, and the president gives every indication he will wait as long as it takes to get his wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

“We told the president, we need the government open,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters. “He resisted. In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Trump confirmed that statement shortly thereafter, even going so far as to claim, without evidence, that federal workers going without their paychecks would say the wall is worth it.

“This really does have a higher purpose than next week’s pay,” Trump told reporters, “and the people that won’t get next week’s pay or the following week’s pay — I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think they’d say, ‘Mr. President, keep going. This is far more important.’”

Newly restored House Majority Leader Nanci Pelosi, D-Calif., however, continues to hold the line on rejecting any funding for the border wall.

Meanwhile, the “nonessential” federal activities suspended during the partial shutdown involve several of those closest to the public, such as national parks and some government buildings being closed.

For Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the timing couldn’t be worse. This is the refuge’s busy season, and its biggest event, the Festival of the Cranes, is this month.

On average, the two-day festival attracts 5,000 visitors, with hundreds more visiting in the days before and after the event.

Fortunately, volunteers have stepped in. The Friends of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge will cover electricity costs for the visitor center and observation building Saturday and Sunday, allowing them to open to the public. Friends of Wheeler members and other volunteers will also staff the visitor center.

Volunteers have stepped in elsewhere across the nation, too.

“In Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign are paying $2,000 a day to keep the park open during the federal government shutdown,” reported The Washington Post last week.

This is the true spirit of cooperation and community. It is, to use an often abused word, real patriotism. Private citizens are stepping up to the challenge where their elected leaders fail.

Online: http://www.decaturdaily.com/

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Jan. 7

The Gadsden Times on the Legislature appearing ready to hike a gasoline tax:

Apparently tax is no longer a four-letter word — we’ve used that flippant description a time or two — for Alabama’s Legislature.

Based on the talk a couple of months ahead of the 2019 session — it starts March 5 — a top item on the agenda will be a gasoline tax, targeted toward fixing the state’s increasingly decrepit infrastructure.

We’re not using hyperbole in our assessment of the problem; neither was the Associated Press in its description of legislative leaders’ concerns over “congested and neglected roadways and crumbling bridges.”...

Both House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville, and Senate President Pro Tem, R-Anniston — neither of whom has a reputation for profligacy — are on board with the idea.

McCutcheon told the AP, “You cannot build roads for the price of what we built them in 1992. If we are going to stay competitive in the economic growth of our state, and attract companies to produce jobs, we’ve got to have a good infrastructure in place.” He’s right on all accounts.

Marsh chimed in, “Everybody hates to say gas tax, but the reality is you are going to have to have revenue to address the structural issues.” He’s right, too. Budget hawks, save your breath. It’s impossible to cut enough out of current spending to cover what needs to be done to Alabama’s roads and bridges unless you simply dismantle the rest of the government. (We’re quite aware that some absolutists would love to see that happen.)

Proponents point out that Alabama’s state gasoline tax has been 18 cents a gallon — one of the lowest rates in the United States — for 27 years, sort of hinting that there’s room for an increase.

There’s always a “but,” though.

The reason the gasoline pump is such an inviting target right now is that prices are quite low. The average per-gallon price for regular in Alabama, according to GasBuddy, was recently $1.90, which ranks 44th among the states and Washington, D.C.

Just for discussion purposes, say the state gasoline tax is doubled to 36 cents, pushing the average pump price to $2.08. That would only move Alabama up to No. 32 on the list. That wouldn’t be a huge “ouch” and likely wouldn’t be a difficult sale for the Legislature.

However, what happens if a major pipeline breaks, a big storm brews up in the Gulf of Mexico or there are cataclysmic events in the Middle East? (We’re aware that the U.S. is using more domestic oil, but perceptions are as critical as reality in setting prices.)

It’s not been that long since pump prices were approaching $4 a gallon — which is what opponents of raising the tax will cite loudly and often, with some justification. That’s always been our concern about this idea — along with the regressiveness of a tax that primarily would affect those with lower incomes — although we absolutely see the need for more revenue for infrastructure.

Our advice to those who want this to happen:

. Don’t overreach. Among the ideas on the table are linking any new tax to a regional averaging or indexing, to lessen the pain at the pump. We think that’s wise.

. Engage the Democratic minority. Yes, the Republicans could slam this through the Legislature on their own. Still, even if it’s only for appearances, a little bipartisanship could help prevent any legislative shenanigans designed to show up the majority.

. Make clear to people what they’ll be paying for. We know Alabama has other massive and pressing needs, but money from this tax should go toward infrastructure, period, lock the vault and spin the dial.

. Make a commitment that every area of the state — from Ardmore to Mobile — will benefit, not just the big population centers that seem to get all the improvements these days. We’ll certainly have our hands up and out in these parts.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/