Tag: Fiscal Transparency Act

Budget Decisions: Consequences of Gambling Expansion (Compact) Vs. Other Ways

May 13, 2015

To:   Governor Robert Bentley

Members, Alabama Senate and House

From: Eunie Smith, Eagle Forum of Alabama

You are in our prayers as you make the hard, limited-government choices that result in the most cost-effective government and the most liberty for our citizens.  We wish to share the following four points with you as you wrestle with budget decisions. Explanations follow.

  • It is NOT a foregone conclusion that the Poarch Creek Indians will have any gambling going forward.
  • We’re not just talking about gambling on Indian Reservations.
  • Gambling interests will take control of politics and policy making in Alabama.
  • There is Another Way.

1.      It is NOT a foregone conclusion that the Poarch Creek Indians will have any gambling going forward.

The push for a compact is premised on the notion that Indian gambling is here to stay, and therefore we might as well tax it.  This is a false premise!  It is being used to convince conservative legislators who would otherwise oppose gambling to give up and support a compact!

The Alabama Attorney General has a strong case pending in the federal Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (in Atlanta) that could be decided in a matter of weeks.  If the appeal is successful and the Attorney General eventually wins the case, it will undermine the right of the Poarch Creek to conduct any gambling operations in Alabama!

For over five years, the issue of “electronic bingo” has been fought out in case after case in Alabama state courts.  It is this form of gambling that has been conducted up until now on both Indian and non-Indian land in Alabama.   Just a few months ago, in a case called Houston County Economic Development Ass’n. v. State (November 21, 2014), our Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling that finally settles the matter once and for all:  so-called “electronic bingo” is illegal under Alabama law.  Only paper bingo is allowed.  Now that this ruling is in place, there is good reason to believe that the federal courts will take notice and rule that, since this gambling is illegal under Alabama law on non-Indian land, federal law will not permit it on Indian land either.

In addition, the case brought by the Attorney General also includes a sound argument that  the land on which all of the Indian gambling is being conducted in Alabama was not even properly taken “into trust” for the benefit of the Poarch Creek tribe.  In a 2009 case called Carcieri v. Salazar, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that only Indian tribes recognized as such by the federal government in 1934 could benefit from land taken into trust for them by the Secretary of Interior.  Alabama’s Poarch Creeks were not recognized as a tribe until the 1980’s!

2.  We’re not just talking about gambling on Indian Reservations.

If we enter into a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, non-Indian gambling bosses will never let us hear the end of it.  They will keep pushing until they have the same rights.  Once we “cross the Rubicon” and become a gambling state, the political pressure from non-Indians to be treated “equally” will be relentless.   (The tools available will include massive political contributions to those who favor increased gambling and equally massive contributions to recruit and support opponents for those who oppose increased gambling.)

The result of gambling expansion is NOT more reliable net revenue to the state.  However, the costs are reliable: more addictions, more family breakdown, more divorces, increased crime, increased law enforcement and public assistance programs, business and restaurant closings …   See http://stoppredatorygambling.org/

3.     Gambling Interests will Take Control of Politics in Alabama.

In Mississippi today, whenever a new law is proposed in the legislature, the first question legislators ask is “Where are the casinos on this?”  Do we in Alabama really want to turn control of our state politics over to the gambling bosses?

Right now the two biggest donors in Alabama state politics are the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Business Council of Alabama.  Of course there are other “players,” but these are the two dominant forces.  But if we legalize casinos, the amount of cash generated will easily swamp the combined political resources available to current donor groups.  The gross profits from three or more Las Vegas style casino operations could easily exceed $2 million dollars a day.   Whether Indian or non-Indian, the gambling money is huge, it is politically minded and it will likely not be chasing after conservative candidates.  Gambling money will control Alabama politics.   (While there is talk of restricting political participation by casinos, this is only being proposed as to Indian casinos; and, besides, substantial First Amendment questions exist as to whether any such restrictions will be enforceable.)

Make no mistake:  Signing a compact with the Indians will usher in a new era in which gambling bosses will control Alabama politics.  They will have much more influence than most people realize over who we elect to our courts, as our Governor, and as our representatives in Montgomery and even in Washington.

4.  There is Another Way – Un-earmarking and combining the budgets

“The solution to Alabama’s budget ‘crisis’ is so simple it will blow your mind,” according to Yellowhammernews, which explains that there will be a surplus in education trust fund tax revenues this year of $287 million!  This is almost exactly the same amount as the projected shortfall of $290 million in this year’s general fund budget!  So without one dollar from gambling interests, the State already has enough money to fund essentially the entire deficit!    What is required is that we un-earmark all or even just part of the excess money that is now restricted.  And much of this money can be un-earmarked simply by an act of the legislature.

Additionally, the legislature can continue to cut out inappropriate expenditures; and it is time to combine our education and general fund budgets.  If 47 other state legislatures can manage dollars used for education without a separate budget, so can Alabama.  Please consider these options as you move forward.

Reforming Alabama: Recapping the 2011 Legislative Session

Focus Of 2011 Session Was Serious Reforms

Last Thursday marked the end of the first Republican-controlled legislative session in 136 years.  It was an extremely productive session with Republicans passing several badly needed reforms.  The first of these was Representative Greg Canfield’s Rolling Reserve Budget Act which also had the distinction of being the first bill Governor Bentley signed into law.  It will have a significant impact on the future budgets and prevent proration for years to come.  Also noteworthy were Senator Trip Pittman’s reform of the teacher tenure system, the elimination of the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), and Representative Jay Love’s legislation to increase retirement contributions by state employees.

Alabama made national news with the passage of Senator Scott Beason and Representative Micky Hammon’s immigration reform legislation.  According to Kris Kobach, one of the nation’s top immigration lawyers and current Kansas Secretary of State, Alabama now has the strongest law deterring illegal immigration in the country.

The legislature passed pro-life legislation including a ban on abortion after 20 weeks when the unborn child can feel pain (HB18).  Unfortunately, several pro-life bills got caught up in the filibuster process and failed to pass.  These include Personhood legislation that would define persons as all humans from the point of fertilization and the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act which gives health care providers, institutions and payers the right to decline to perform services that violate their consciences.  Also on the health care front, the legislature passed Representative Blaine Galliher’s HB60 which prohibits mandatory participation in any health care system, essentially opting us out of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

The legislature also passed legislation that will improve campaign finance records and improve transparency.  Two great examples are Senator Arthur Orr’s SB136 which requires electronic filing of campaign contributions starting a year before the election monthly, and then requires weekly filings beginning a month before the election, and Representative Paul DeMarco’s Fiscal Transparency Act which requires the State Finance Department to produce monthly financial reports for the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund, and to publish them in a prominent place on the department’s website.  They also took measures to improve election security by passing Representative Kerry Rich’s amendment to the Alabama Constitution to require voters to provide a valid photo ID in order to vote.

Businesses both big and small will benefit from Representative April Weaver’s legislation to allow businesses to deduct 100% of the amount they pay in health insurance premiums on their state income tax and Representative Blaine Galliher’s bill to authorize an income tax credit for employers creating jobs.  The legislature also took steps to protect the right to a secret ballot in employee representation by passing Representative Kurt Wallace’s HB64.

Another good budget measure passed was Representative Jack Williams’ HB13 which will allow for the use of life cycle budgeting in competitive bids and public works projects.

There were a few pieces of controversial legislation that sparked heated debate this session.  One such bill would have reauthorized the Forever Wild Land Trust program.  Eventually a compromise was reached, and the legislature passed Senator Dick Brewbaker’s constitutional amendment to reauthorize the Forever Wild program allowing the people of Alabama to vote on the issue in 2012.

Representative Jack Williams’ bill to grant the Jefferson County Commission limited home rule to levy additional taxes prompted fierce debate on both sides.  After passing the House Jefferson County Delegation by a vote of 9 – 8, the bill died in the Alabama Senate after a contest filed by Senator Scott Beason.

Another controversial bill would have enforced a sales and/or “use” tax on goods ordered on the internet from out of state.  Eagle Forum fought hard against this legislation and we are very pleased to say it did not pass.  To learn more about this bill, go to alabamaeagle.org.  Eagle Forum also worked against Representative John Merrill’s HB6 which would have lowered the mandatory school age from 7 to 6 years of age.  This bill was stopped in the Alabama Senate.

There were a few pieces of good legislation that didn’t pass.  We would have liked to have seen passed Representative Paul DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (HB427) and Senator Cam Ward’s Foreign Law Prohibition Bill (SB61), along with Senator Dick Brewbaker’s resolution encouraging the State Board of Education to retain complete control over Alabama’s academic standards (SJR153), but time ran out.  While Senator Paul Bussman’s shared parenting legislation (SB196) did not pass, a constructive dialogue began and we hope he will come back next year with a stronger bill.

Overall, we think the members of the Alabama Legislature, Speaker Hubbard and Pro Tem Marsh deserve a solid A for this successful session, and we hope they will continue to be committed to passing the kind of serious reforms they addressed this year.

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.

Legislation Will Bring More Transparency To Open Alabama

Most states have websites where their state checkbook, budget, etc is posted online. Alabama’s version of that site is called Open Alabama. The problem is that Open Alabama isn’t all that open.  Like the state’s online legislative information system, it is incredibly difficult for the average person to navigate and use.  Most people without a degree in accounting aren’t going to be able to read and understand the data.

In an effort to address this problem and thus increase transparency regarding state spending, Rep. Paul DeMarco has introduced H.B. 25 the Fiscal Transparency Act.  The press release below gives a good overview of what H.B. 25 does and why.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE PAUL DEMARCO

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MONDAY, MARCH 7, 2011

Rep. DeMarco Introduces Fiscal Transparency Act to Mandate Better Reporting of State’s Finances

BIRMINGHAM – State Representative Paul DeMarco today announced the introduction of the Alabama Fiscal Transparency Act, a bill that will require more accurate and timely reporting of the state’s fiscal situation by the state Finance Department.

Currently, reporting of the state’s finances lacks proper transparency, Representative DeMarco said.

“State Agencies, local school systems and the general public have no official source of information to monitor budget conditions and provide early warning whenever proration becomes likely,” Representative DeMarco said. “In other states, official monthly financial reports exist to meet this need. It’s time our state Finance Department provide transparent monthly reporting of budget conditions within state government.”

At the start of the annual budget process, the Finance Department and the Legislative Fiscal Office each estimate the revenues available for expenditure from the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund. These forecasts are used to developing the final budgets, which are required by law to be balanced. However, these estimates are not updated periodically thereafter to track whether actual revenues, and those expected, are sufficient to finance all of the appropriations enacted for the year.

House Bill 25 remedies this shortcoming by requiring the State Finance Department to produce monthly financial reports for the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund, and to publish them in a prominent place on the department’s website. This increased transparency will allow government agencies and the public to monitor the condition of the state’s budgets, making it easier to prepare for budget cuts, should they become necessary.

While this proposed legislation amounts to advanced accountability, it will not be expensive to administer, Representative DeMarco said.

“Appropriations are already monitored to maintain control over expenditure authorizations, and expenditures are monitored as they are made,” he said. “A number of these detailed reports already are posted monthly, but there is no straightforward report that brings the complicated details together to focus on the overall condition of the General Fund and Education Trust Fund. The Alabama Fiscal Transparency Act will cure this oversight by requiring such reports every month.”

The bill is scheduled to be before the House State Government Committee on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. in Room 601 of the Alabama State House.