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March 18, 2005   Email to Friend 

Farmers Federation supports Governor Riley’s budget proposals

Contrary to the wishes of the governor and his supporters, the Alabama House voted 46-40 Wednesday to approve a $1.53 billion General Fund budget. It now goes to the Senate. No Republicans voted in favor of the bill. All “yes” votes were Democrats. Two Democrats and 38 Republicans voted “no.”

Gov. Bob Riley originally proposed a balanced education and general fund budget with no new taxes. He has recognized Alabamians are still unwilling to accept any new taxes until meaningful reforms are passed. The governor has worked hard and responsibly to craft budgets that fund the essential functions of government without requiring new revenue from our citizens and businesses. His General Fund spending plan keeps government at a lean and streamlined level, while at the same time increasing funding for vital programs such as Medicaid, prisons and the hiring of 100 new state troopers to patrol our highways.

As farmers and businessmen, each of us understands the need for long-range thinking and long-term solutions to the fiscal problems that face our state. Time and time again, our group has spoken in support of and worked with other interested groups to implement a fair and equitable overhaul of Alabama's tax system, but only after far-reaching accountability and cost-saving measures have been put into place. To that end, the Alabama Farmers Federation worked through the Business Association's Tax Coalition (BATC) and presented legislators with a package last year that addressed many of Alabama's most looming challenges and offered a blueprint for solving them.

Included in it were thoughtful and workable reforms of employee retirement and insurance programs, budget stabilization and cash management recommendations, state auditing practice revisions and a new approach to teacher tenure. BATC's package would produce substantial savings for the state while ensuring taxpayers that their dollars are being used wisely, but the Legislature failed to act on the recommendations last year and has not yet chosen to consider them this session, either.

Until those accountability measures, efficiencies and reassurances can be provided to the taxpayers of our state, we agree with their reluctance to accept any new revenue measures.

Those opposed to the budgets have attacked the governor's Education Trust Fund proposal despite that fact that it allocates more money for education programs than at any other time in our state's history. Every K - 12 need requested by the Alabama Department of Education has been met, and every request from our state's higher education institutions are fully funded, as well.

The Education budget now before our legislature also prepares students to join the 21st Century workforce by putting a funding emphasis on reading, math, science and technology initiatives in our schools. A state-of-the-art distance-learning program is funded so that students in any school in any corner of Alabama can have access to the classes and curriculums they need to prepare for the future.

The Governor’s education budget would fairly address the needs of our deserving teachers and other education support personnel with an affordable 4% pay raise to help combat the rising costs of living and to recognize the important service they provide in Alabama classrooms everyday. The Governor’s general fund budget would also adequately fund Medicaid, mental health, department of corrections and children services.

Alabama's legislative fiscal experts warned lawmakers that the 7% pay raise advocated by the Alabama Education Association will send our state into proration next year. After defending his plan with television and radio ads, AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert publicly admitted such a raise would “cripple” the education budget. Yet the AEA and opponents of Riley's budget continue to push for a plan that will inevitably lead to proration. As the debate ensues over the appropriate level of pay raises for our teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other education employees, it's important that our children - the foundation of Alabama's economic future, are the first consideration, not an afterthought.

After much thought and careful consideration, the Alabama Farmers Federation considered the budgets based on the preservation of vital programs and one which would not put Alabama's public schools in proration. We have chosen to endorse Gov. Riley's budgets because only they met our criteria in a fiscally responsible manner while respecting the demonstrated thoughts and feelings of the taxpayers of Alabama.

Alabama Farmers Federation members are encouraged to contact your legislators and ask them to support the governor's budget because the only available alternatives are higher taxes or unavoidable proration.

Minimum10-mill property tax

The Alabama Senate now will consider whether to approve a constitutional amendment requiring a minimum of 10 mills property tax in every county.

The House approved the measure this week which ultimately must be voted on by all Alabamians because it is a constitutional amendment. HB 136 sponsored by Richard Lindsey, D- Centre would require residents in 30 counties and cities to pay higher property taxes.

Twenty-four counties and six cities would have to raise their ad valorem to the minimum 10 mills even if it is defeated within those counties and cities but wins an overall majority vote by Alabama votgers.

The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee chaired by Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, voted 10-0 Wednesday for the legislation, which passed the House 71-19 on Tuesday. Director of Governmental Affairs, Freddie Patterson said “Alabama Farmers Federation continues to monitor this legislation to ensure that it passes in its current form.’’

BellSouth rate bill passes senate and now heads to House

Alabama Farmers Federation has been monitoring the BellSouth bill, SB 114 by Sen. Hap Myers, R-Mobile, and opposing it as written. It passed the Senate this week and now will be considered by the House.

Rural membership especially has expressed concerns about the BellSouth rate bill. Many legislators were interested in slowing down this bill to take a closer look and allow time to work out differences. The Farmers Federation is very concerned about the impact of the Bellsouth Deregulation bills (SB114 and HB211 by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia). Rural Alabamians could see an increase in the cost of basic phone service and may have trouble obtaining basic phone service if these bills pass in the current form.

“We were successful in getting amendments accepted to the bill that would allow customers some guarantees that they will not be denied service” said Freddie Patterson, director of Governmental Affairs. “We still have concerns over the rates that customers could be charged for phone service.”

There are still many undecided legislators in the house who want to learn more about the specifics of the bill and how it will affect their constituents. Because of spring break, the House will not consider the bill until the week of March 28. AFF Opposes the bill as written.

Bills In Brief

Seasonal Cotton Module Tag & Weight Exemptions - HB 520 and SB 332

SB 332 sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman and HB 520 is sponsored by Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre would provide that the annual license tax and registration of a vehicle designed and especially constructed to transport raw cotton from harvest to a cotton gin could be a maximum of two hundred fifty dollars ($250). Both Bills are currently awaiting action in their house of origin after SB332 was approved in the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee this week. The bill will reduce the amount of money going into the road and bridge fund. This bill would clarify the exemption for axle and gross weight requirements. After opposition from the public safety the exemption for width, height, or length was removed. This bill was needed because they are currently paying road taxes for 12 months and only traveling on the road for 3 of those months. Because of the way the truck is manufactured with the axles located toward the front of the truck it also makes the weight laws almost impossible to comply with. AFF Supports

Center for Rural Alabama - SB 366

SB 366 sponsored by Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe now goes to the full Senate for consideration after the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee approved the legislation. They voted Tuesday to create the Center for Rural Alabama, which would address problems in rural areas. The committee held public hearings across the state in Montgomery, Alexander City, Winfield, Boaz, and Demopolis that were all well attended. AFF Supports

Fish Weighing Bill - SB 324 and HB392

HB 392 is sponsored by Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville and SB 324 is sponsored by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. Both bills are awaiting action before the senate, but if the house version is approved then it will go to the Governor for his signature. This bill would require draining the water in weighing baskets containing farm-raised catfish before weighing and require the weighing device to conform to specific legal requirements. This bill would require farm-raised catfish to be weighed with a weighing device capable of electronically printing a ticket, which provides an exact duplicate of the weight indicated and would allow a deduction for any foreign substances in the weighing basket. AFF Supports

Queen Bee as the State Insect - HB 376 HB 376 sponsored by Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney is stalled in the Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee chaired by Sen. Myron Penn, D- Union Springs. This bill would designate the queen honey bee as the Official State Insect of Alabama. Currently, the monarch butterfly is designated as the Official State Insect. AFF Supports

Casualty Deduct for Timber and Cattle - SB390

SB 390 sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville was approved by the Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee on Wednesday. This bill would allow timber and cattle producer's income tax deductions for the entire amount of loss from the decline in value of these commodities suffered during Presidential declared disasters. In an effort to help farmers because of Hurricane Ivan the effective date would be September 16, 2004. Under current law, the allowable deduction for casualty losses is first reduced by the amount reimbursed by insurance and then reduced by 10% of the taxpayer's adjusted gross income. This bill will reduce income tax collections to the Education Trust Fund. AFF Supports

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