Category: Budget

States Facing Tough Choices Regarding Retirement Plans

Alabama is not the only state facing tough decisions on retirement plans.  Governors across the country are being faced with decisions about how to get by with less.  Revenues are down and federal stimulus money has dried up and Governors are having to prioritize.

In Alabama, legislation for 2012 may focus on the best way for the state to continue paying pension benefits provided to retirees. The Times Daily reports:

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chairman of the Senate General Fund Budget Committee, believes the state cannot afford to continue paying more each year  toward state and education employee pensions.

“If the employer’s share that the state pays continues to go up, it is unsustainable,” Orr said. “That is revenue that comes out of the education and General Fund budgets that also fund services.”

In one analytic assessment, state pension funds could run out of money by 2023.

The issue of public pension benefits has taken the spotlight as states trying to pull out of the recession still have lower-than-hoped tax revenue.  Several states are weighing their choices on how to adequately provide promised pensions to retirees, including providing optional 401(k)-style retirement contributions with no guarantee of defined pension benefits.  Alabama lawmakers increased the amounts employees will have to pay toward their pensions in this last legislative session.  Whatever route the states’ choose to take, one thing is certain–the current course is unsustainable.

Stop Sen. McConnell’s Attempt to Give President Obama Power To Raise Debt Limit

Senator Mitch McConnell has unveiled a proposal to give President Obama the power to raise the debt limit on his own by $2.4 trillion in three installments before the end of 2012–unless two-thirds of Congress votes to block it.

Senator McConnell’s proposal will undermine everything conservative Republicans have been working for in regard to spending cuts.  The GOP was using the debt ceiling as leverage to get the President and Congress to agree to significant cuts in spending, including entitlement programs.  The last thing we need to do is give President Obama the unfettered power to continue to spend us into oblivion and Senator McConnell’s proposal does not give us any real protection against that eventuality.

And that’s not all–Senator McConnell’s proposal comes out ahead of next week’s vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment.  The amendment would put the U.S. on a path to reduce the federal deficit.  Moody’s Investor Service has been very clear that a reduction is necessary to maintain our current credit rating. Their response to the McConnell proposal was not positive:

“the outlook assigned at that time to the government bond rating would very likely be changed to negative at the conclusion of the review unless substantial and credible agreement is achieved on a budget that includes long-term deficit reduction. To retain a stable outlook, such an agreement should include a deficit trajectory that leads to stabilization and then decline in the ratios of federal government debt to GDP and debt to revenue beginning within the next few years.”

So what can you do to stop Senator McConnell’s attempt to give President Obama an unlimited line of credit?

1.  Call Senator McConnell’s office along with your Senators and Representatives and ask them not to give President Obama the authority to raise the debt limit.

2.  Ask your Senators and Representatives to support the Balanced Budget Amendment

The Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121

Wisconsin Cuts Funding For Planned Parenthood

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a budget yesterday that eliminates funding for Planned Parenthood.  The Daily Caller reports:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed a state budget Sunday that cut spending on education and health clinics, including Planned Parenthood centers, reported National Journal.

Unsurprisingly, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin denounced the budget. The group, which runs 27 centers statewide, says that services like cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and birth control will be cut back. Conservatives have targeted the group because it also provides abortion services.

Julaine Appling of the organization Wisconsin Family Action said, “If organizations want to do that, we’re not saying they don’t have the right to do that under the law. While we disagree with abortions entirely, they do have that right … [But] we don’t have to use taxpayer money to do that.”  Read More

Wisconsin is the fourth state to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, following Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana.  Unfortunately, a U.S. District Judge in Indiana has halted enforcement of their law.

Planned Parenthood funding is also under fire on the federal level.  Back in February, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a budget amendment to cut funding to the organization.  The Senate, still under Democrat control, has not yet followed suit.  Stories like this clearly demonstrate why funding to the organization should be cut.

Legislative Week In Review

Things are moving right along in Montgomery.  Last Tuesday, the Alabama House passed the Education Budget (HB123)–that’s the earliest a budget’s been passed in a very long time.  The Senate passed bills:

  • prohibiting gassing as a method of euthanasia for cats and dogs (SB172),
  • allowing for election expense reimbursement from the state (SB139),
  • creating a crime of threatening harm or violence against a judicial system officer or employee (SB146), and
  • creating the crime of filing a false lien against a public officer or employee (SB197),

Wednesday was a busy day in committee.  Several good pieces of legislation passed out including:

  • HB25 Rep. Paul DeMarco’s Fiscal Transparency Act which will improve the state’s Open Alabama website by requiring the Finance Department to post monthly financial reports.
  • HB427 Rep. Paul DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights which will enhance the protections taxpayers have against tax assessments handed down by the state.
  • SB196 Sen. Paul Bussman’s Alabama Children and Families Act which will change the presumption in child custody cases where two fit parents are involved to a 50/50 split.

Also on Wednesday, there was a very contentious public hearing on Sen. Trip Pittman’s proposed Teacher Tenure Reform (SB310).

Yesterday, the House passed the controversial Forever Wild reauthorization (HB126).  They also debated HB6 which is Rep. John Merrill’s bill to lower the mandatory school age from 7 to 6 years of age.  Due to some Republican dissent, Rep. Merrill carried his bill over and a vote wasn’t taken.  Eagle Forum is strongly opposed to this legislation because we believe parents should retain the right to decide if their 6-year-old son or daughter is ready for first grade.  The House also passed HB230 which creates income tax credits for employers who create jobs.

The Alabama Senate spent most of Thursday working on Sunset Laws.

The Week Ahead

Committee Activity:

Senate:

SB34–Amends the Alabama Code to provide child includes children in utero.  A positive drug test at time of birth shall create the presumption of exposure in utero.

SB167–Prohibiting lawsuits against restaurants for obesity

SB 301–Defines “person” to include all humans from the moment of fertilization

SB308–Right to Know and See legislation requiring ultrasounds before abortions

SB202–Federal Abortion Opt Out Act prohibits insurance plans that cover abortion from participating in the state insurance exchange mandated by the Obamacare legislation.

House:

HB425–Moving state presidential preference primary to first Tuesday in March along with the general primary in presidential years.

HB324–moving property tax reappraisal on Class II and Class III property to every four years.

HB123–Education Budget

HB365–Informing consumers of duty to pay state and local sales tax on goods purchased over the internet.

Lots of activity on the House and Senate floor as well.  The General Fund budget is scheduled to pass this week probably Thursday.  I hear the House may take up Rep. Hammon’s immigration legislation (HB56).  It’s the eighth bill on the House Regular Calendar, so there’s a good chance they will take it up.

Highlights from this week’s Regular Calendar:

Senate:

SB84–Limiting liability for property owners who lease for purposes of hunting or fishing.

SB140–Forever Wild reauthorization

SB127–Limiting terms in the Alabama House and/or Senate to 3 terms.

SB112–Removes racist language and references from the Alabama Constitution

SB17–Easing the ballot access requirements

SB50–Tax credits for creating jobs

SB152–Grants small businesses (less than 10 employees) that locate or expand in Alabama a 5-year property tax exemption.

House:

HB32–Moving the presidential preference primary to June beginning in 2012

HB56–Immigration reform legislation

AL Legislature Moving Quickly On Key Reforms

Since gaveling into session on March 1, 2011, the new GOP-controlled Alabama legislature has acted swiftly to get much-needed reform measures passed. The first and one of the most important of these was Rep. Greg Canfield’s Rolling Reserve Budget Act. Changing the way we budget the Education Trust Fund, Canfield’s bill will prevent proration in tough years. Legislators have also taken steps to restore fiscal responsibility to the state’s budget through the repeal of the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program which will save taxpayers $70 million in additional benefits to state employees who work beyond retirement age.

Back in December they passed a complete overhaul of state ethics laws, and are continuing to strengthen them through legislation like Rep. Mike Ball’s HB58 requiring public officials/candidates and spouses of public officials/candidates to disclose if they are employed by the state or federal government or have a contract with the state or federal government.

Now they’ve turned their focus to the increasingly serious problem of illegal immigration. The Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform estimates the cost of illegal immigrants to the state of Alabama is $270 million a year. This estimate does not include many costs such as unemployment, gang violence and other criminal activity associated with illegal immigration. Rep. Micky Hammon and Sen. Scott Beason are looking to address this problem through HB56 and SB256 respectively.

Largely under the radar have been several pieces of legislation that make Alabama a more business-friendly environment. Rep. April Weaver’s legislation to allow qualifying employees to deduct from Alabama gross income 100% of the amounts they pay as health insurance premiums, Sen. Cam Ward’s legislation to provide tax credits to businesses that create jobs, and Sen. Paul Bussman’s bill to establish a 5-year property tax exemption for small businesses that relocate or expand in Alabama will improve economic development and create more jobs.

So far, the Alabama Legislature is off to a good start. If they continue to pass constructive reform measures and conservative legislation, they will get a solid A grading from us!

Alabama House Republicans Vote Yes On Continuing Resolution

Despite a growing opposition to the 3-week continuing resolution, all six Alabama House Republicans voted Yes.  54 Republicans voted against the CR.  Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan issued the following statement explaining his opposition:

“Americans sent us here to deal with big problems in bold ways.  We’re borrowing billions of dollars a day, yet Senate Democrats have done little more than wring their hands for the last month.  With the federal government facing record deficits and a mammoth debt hanging over our economy and our future, we must do more than cut spending in bite-sized pieces.

“Democrats control both the Senate and the White House, and it’s time they stopped dithering.  We need swift action to deal with spending for the rest of this year.  We need to stop sending taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood, and we need to defund ObamaCare.  And we need to start tackling next year’s budget, the debt-ceiling, and other challenges standing in the way of job creation.  We’ve made some solid first downs on spending.  Now it’s time to look to the end zone.”

You can find the full roll call vote here.

Find out why they should have voted NO on the CR here.

Call Your Congressman And Tell Him To Oppose The New Short-Term CR

Erick Erickson over at Red State does a better job explaining why the new short-term CR is a bad idea than I do, but in a nutshell:  House Republicans are terrified of a government shut-down.  They have introduced a new Continuing Resolution to fund the government for three more weeks.  The fact that the new CR has no policy riders to defund Obamacare, NPR or Planned Parenthood is evidence of their fear.  Passing another short-term CR buys the Democrats more time and gives them more leverage.  It also sends a message that the Republicans were not serious about the $61 billion in cuts and defunding policy riders they initially proposed.

There’s another major problem with passing this CR, it will keep things running until April.  The debate over the debt ceiling will take place in April.  Combining these two issues will be disastrous for the Republicans.  It will give them a much weaker position in negotiations, and if they fold on this, it will set the tone for the next two years.

Call your Congressman and tell him to oppose the new short-term CR!
202-224-3121

Legislative Week In Review

This was a busy 3-day week for the Alabama Legislature.  On Tuesday, the House passed one of the most significant pieces of legislation on the Republican agenda–Rep. Greg Canfield’s Rolling Reserve Budget Act–and the Senate voted to end the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).  Several important pieces of legislation also came out of committee on Tuesday including:

SB 17–Senator Cam Ward’s bill to cut ballot access requirements by half making it easier for independent and third party candidates to get on the ballot.

HB 56–Representative Micky Hammon’s immigration bill which requires businesses who receive economic development incentives to use e-verify, makes the entry, presence and involvement in economic activity of unauthorized illegal aliens a crime in this state, and requires law enforcement to verify the citizenship during routine enforcement of local, county or state laws.

SB112–Legislation by Senator Arthur Orr to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution.

On Wednesday,  the House passed an amendment to the Alabama Constitution protecting the right to a secret ballot in employee representation (HB64).

Thursday ended the legislative week with the Senate passing the Rolling Reserve Budget Act and the House passing the DROP legislation.  There was, however, some confusion with the DROP legislation in the House regarding the date DROP would end.  The enacting legislation appears to require the state to give participants 90 days to get out of the program, and the legislation the House was considering ended the program on April 1, 2011.  Some legislators were concerned the bill could be thrown out in court because of the failure to give the 90 day notice.  Rep. Harry Shiver introduced an amendment to move the end date to June 1, 2011.  While that amendment passed, it was later stripped.

Governor Bentley signed the Rolling Reserve Budget Act into law at 11:30 this morning.

Next week is Spring Break for the legislators.

Tuesday’s Legislative Activity

It was a busy day in Montgomery, Rep. Greg Canfield’s Rolling Reserve Budget Act HB 57 passed the House (you can find more information about the legislation here) and the Alabama Senate voted (23-12) to end the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) SB72 saving taxpayers millions of dollars.  For more information on DROP and why it needs to be repealed, click here.  You can find out how your legislators voted on both bills by clicking here.

Beyond that, Several pieces of legislation passed out of committee today:

SB 17–Senator Cam Ward’s bill to cut ballot access requirements by half making it easier for independent and third party candidates to get on the ballot.

HB 56–Representative Micky Hammon’s immigration bill which requires businesses who receive economic development incentives to use e-verify, makes the entry, presence and involvement in economic activity of unauthorized illegal aliens a crime in this state, and requires law enforcement to verify the citizenship during routine enforcement of local, county or state laws.

SB112–Legislation by Senator Arthur Orr to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution.