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Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're Moving

We wanted to let readers know we are moving our blog and making it easier to find.

You can now find us at:

or go to and there is a direct link to the blog at the top of the page as one of our "Featured" sites.

We also have a South Union Street page on Facebook, where we post links to the latest updates we've placed on the blog.

Please e-mail us at if you have any suggestions or have any questions.

The South Union Street Team

Ag commissioner announces layoffs

The commissioner of the state’s agriculture department has started notifying about 60 workers they will be laid off to make cuts necessary to balance the budget.
Commissioner John McMillan said the department informed 17 people this week that they were being laid off and expects to announce more layoffs next week. Those employees who are laid off will remain on the payroll through April.
He said he is trying to cut personnel without affecting the departments that handle food safety and consumer protection. McMillan said he is eliminating the two-person international trade section.
The commissioner said international trade is "mighty important," but not as important as the department’s duties inspecting poultry flocks and meat processors in the state to try to catch any instances of avian flu, hoof and mouth disease, or any other disease or danger.
The department, as evidenced by the stickers on gas pumps throughout the state, is also responsible for inspecting pumps and scales such as those in grocery stores.
The agriculture department is in the last tier of priorities for the administration of Gov. Robert Bentley. In that tier, all departments or agencies are cut at least 45 percent.
McMillan said he knew when he entered the office in January that "we had some challenges, but I didn’t have any idea." He said he was expecting about 10 percent proration in the General Fund this year and about 15 percent cuts for the 2012 budget.
Instead, most agencies in the General Fund are facing 15 percent proration, across the board cuts declared by the governor to balance the budget.
McMillan said that proration led to an immediate cut of $2.3 million and that the department faces another $4.7 million cut in the 2012 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
"It's deeply troubling, but we have had no other choice but to reduce staff," McMillan said.
McMillan said he brought four employees with him when he started as commissioner including at least one that worked for his campaign.
"The people that I brought in I chose very carefully for their knowledge and experience with the intent of making a good many changes in the department," he said. McMillan said he wanted them to help analyze and evaluate issues at the department.
"They have the ability to work hard. They are going to have to shoulder a lot more of the load, as is everybody that will still be out there."

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Armistead selects new executive director for state GOP

Timothy James "TJ" Maloney will become executive director of the Alabama Republican Party on Monday, the party announced Thursday.
New Party Chairman Bill Armistead, a former state senator, said he made his choice after a thorough search for the person with the necessary experience and skills to direct the daily operations of the party.
“We have a strong team shaping up, and TJ has the experience and knowledge to take the helm,” Armistead said. “His prior experience in Alabama, having run a congressional campaign in 2008, is a real plus for us."
Maloney worked in 2008 as campaign manager for Wayne Parker in his unsuccessful bid to defeat Parker Griffith for the 5th Congressional District seat.
Maloney, who is relocating from Virginia for the job, has worked extensively in politics the corporate world.
"He has a reputation of being a solid team player and a hard-working leader, unconcerned about who receives credit,” Armistead said.
Maloney said he enjoyed his previous campaign work in Alabama and “coming back to Alabama is like coming home for me."
“I enjoyed living here when working on a previous campaign, and I'm glad to be back,” he said. “There are exciting things happening in Alabama and there is much to accomplish.”
John Ross worked as the executive director when Mike Hubbard was chairman of the party. Hubbard, who is now speaker of the House and presided over historic Republican wins in November, did not run for another term.
Armistead defeated state Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery in the contest to succeed Hubbard.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bentley: Lawmakers should sacrifice if they expect the same from teachers

Gov. Robert Bentley said he is leaving it up to lawmakers about how to handle the much-publicized and much-criticized pay raise, but he does have some advice.
"If they're wise, they should consider a cut like every other agency is taking a cut," the governor said.
Bentley said that lawmakers should be willing to sacrifice if they are going to ask teachers to sacrifice.
He also believes that lawmakers need to take out the automatic cost of living increase that they included when they passed a resolution in 2007 giving themselves a more than 60 percent increase in salary and expense allowances.
Bentley said he does not believe lawmakers need to go back to making closer to the $30,000 a year they did before the pay raise. He said that pay level makes it difficult with them staying in a hotel here, with gas approaching $4 a gallon, and eating while they are here.
The governor believes that lawmakers taking a cut like state agencies have would be a "good-faith effort" on their part.
Many Republicans ran criticizing the pay raise that the Democratic-led Legislature passed for themselves in 2007 as one of their first acts of business in the four-year term.
Now, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate appear to agree on a resolution that, beginning in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1., would cut the pay of lawmakers at the same level that the governor declares proration if the Legislature passes a budget in which spending is outpacing the money coming into the state.
Bentley reminded the Montgomery Advertiser in a conversation that he will not take a salary as governor until unemployment reaches 5.2 percent. He said that pledge to not take a salary as governor until Alabama reaches full employment is probably the reason he won the election.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Bentleys cutting back at mansion

Gov. Robert Bentley, talking Monday at the Montgomery Advertiser about the budgets, said he and his wife are trying to save the state money at the mansion.
He said he and his wife, Dianne, had the six phone lines coming into the mansion cut to one. And they decided they only needed one cable box instead of four.
The governor said his wife is frugal and they are cutting services and saving money where they can.
The governor's mansion has a current budget of $311,519 with a proposed budget of $185,352 for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Bentley signs bill overhauling education funding

Gov. Robert Bentley signed his first bill into law on Friday, a day after the Republican-led Legislature passed the bill overhauling how lawmakers budget money for Alabama schools.
Republicans, including Bentley, pushed the so-called rolling reserve bill to keep lawmakers from spending all of the available money in good economic years and from keeping Bentley and future governors from having to declare proration, across the board cuts required to balance the budget when not enough money is coming into the state to meet spending, in economic downturns.
Democrats are concerned the proposal could hurt Alabama schools, that Republicans are relegating their duties to a formula, and that the Legislature passed the bill during down economic times, which will place the cap unnecessarily low and keep funding from getting to schools for books, supplies, professional development and other needs.
Some years lawmakers passed budgets they knew would go into proration, requiring cuts to schools during the year when teachers and support staff were hired, and children were in classrooms.For too long, state Rep. Greg Canfield said, teachers, administrators and local school boards have "suffered under the burden of uncertain budgets."Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, the sponsor of the bill, said the lofty budget proposals used to put together the budgets were a false promise.In the last 11 years, Canfield said one in three budgets went into proration."When you look at having proration every third year, that is unacceptable," Bentley said.
The bill would use a 15-year average of money available for the education budget to set a spending cap. Additional revenue beyond that cap would be used to replace money the Legislature borrowed from a state rainy day fund to balance the budget in previous years and revenue after that would be placed in a reserve fund intended to stabilize the education budget. Based on the 2011 fiscal year, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates there would be 3.38 percent growth for the 2013 education budget.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said it is fitting that the budget change is the first bill passed in this four-year term for lawmakers, the first with Republicans in the majority in more than a century. He said the legislation ushers in a new era of fiscal responsibility.
"It sends a message we're going to change the way Montgomery operates," he said. " ... This was the right thing to do."
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Governor Won't Get to Sign DROP Bill

It looks like Gov. Robert Bentley will only get to sign one of the two major pieces of legislation that he needed lawmakers to pass to make his budget proposals for fiscal 2012 work.

Though the House passed legislation that would eliminate the state's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP program, the Senate adjourned without concurring on an amendment that was put on in the House. The amendment would create a study committee that would develop ideas for retaining the state's top teachers and public employees.

That means that Bentley won't get to sign the bill until after the Senate takes it up when that body returns from spring break. Lawmakers are expected to return to Montgomery on March 22.

The Senate gave final passage to a bill that would change the way that the legislature develops the education budget by capping appropriations from the Education Trust Fund and creating reserve funds to help stave off proration, or across the board cuts to education.

-- Markeshia Ricks

DROP Bill is Amended to Create a Study Committee on Teacher Retention

A bill that would eliminate the state's Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP program, was amended from the floor Thursday to create a study committee that would look for ways to help the state retain its "best and brightest" classroom teachers and public employees.

The amendment was offered by state Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville The committee would have to report its findings by the fifth legislative day of the 2012 session. Lawmakers voted for the measure 78 to 8, though state Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said he wanted the people back at home to know that the current DROP program would still be ended under this bill.

State Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Bay Minette, had attempted earlier in the day's debate to amend the bill to change the effective end date of the program from April 1 to July 1, giving people who might have planned to enter the program this year time to put in their applications.

State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, had successfully fought attempts Wednesday evening to amend the bill to move the end date, arguing that it would cost the state between $10 million and $12 million to move the date to June 1.

State Finance Director David Perry said the governor's budget plans partially hinge on the DROP program being eliminated by April 1. He said that state agencies would have to figure out how to cut the additional millions from their budgets if the April 1 date was pushed back. It is unclear how much a move to July 1 would cost.

House members ultimately voted to reconsider the Shiver amendment, while he was out of the room, and ultimately decided to table the amendment.

House members continue to debate the bill, with mostly Democrats offering amendments. McCutcheon's amendment has been the only successfully one offered so far Thursday. The amended bill would have to go back to the Senate, but it is expected to be accepted in the upper chamber.

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard of Auburn told members before they recessed at just after noon to have a big lunch because there likely would be no break for dinner.

-- Markeshia Ricks

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Legislature passes rolling reserve bill

State lawmakers passed a bill on Thursday that could keep funding for education at or below 2007 levels for another five years.
The House passed the measure on Tuesday and the Senate passed the legislation on Thursday 23-10 along partisan lines with Republicans voting for it.
Democrats in the House and Senate expressed concerns that the "rolling reserve" bill could hurt the progress Alabama has made in education.
"In the interest of showing the public we are fiscally conservative we are going to hurt the education of our children," said Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.
The Senate passed the bill intended to keep the education budget from going into proration, which are across the board cuts that the governor must declare to balance budgets if the amount of revenue the state is taking in cannot keep up with spending levels passed by the Legislature.
Republicans believe the bill is necessary to keep lawmakers from spending every penny in good years and from going into proration in economic downturns.
Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, mentioned the bill in his state of the state address and said he would sign it if lawmakers pass it.
The bill would use a 15-year average to set a spending cap for the education budget. Additional revenue above that level, in good economic years, would be placed in a rolling reserve fund or used to replace money the Legislature borrowed from a state rainy day fund to balance the budget in previous years.
Sanders tried to get the Republicans to delay implementation until better economic years. He said the Republicans are including down economic years when the state has cut funding for books, school supplies and professional development.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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"STOP JUAN CROW": Opponents of bill targeting illegal immigrants rally at State House

People opposing an Arizona-style bill that they believe will lead to racial profiling and cost the state heavily to defend it in court rallied in front of the State House on Thursday.
They carried handmade signs that read: "Stop Juan Crow," "Don't spend my taxdollars on your hate," and "This country was built by immigrants."
A House committee already passed the bill and it now goes to the full House for consideration. Many observers expect the Legislature to pass a bill this year targeting illegal immigration.
If the bill passes, people who are here illegally could be arrested for trespassing just for being in Alabama and those who cannot produce papers documenting their legal status can be jailed indefinitely.
Proponents of the bill said it is needed because of the costs of health care, school, law enforcement, and lost tax revenue due to illegal immigration.
Speakers on Thursday said the bill has already cost other cities and states, including Arizona, millions to defend similar legislation in court.
A translator was there on Thursday to relay the words of the speakers to the Spanish-speakers in the crowd. More than 100 people attended the rally.
Those protesting the bill at the Celebrating a Diverse Alabama Rally included religious leaders, Welcoming Alabama, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Center for Progress in Alabama, Southern Poverty Law Center, Alabama American Civil Liberties Union, and Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice. They are part of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Democrats announce legislative agenda

Democrats in the Alabama Legislature rolled out their agenda on Wednesday, saying their platform is a handshake with working people and not with big corporations.
They were taking a dig at Republicans, who are pushing through bills from their Handshake with Alabama, a list of campaign promises from the 2010 election.
This is the first regular session in which Democrats will be trying to pass their agenda as a minority. About two dozen Democrats were in the House chamber on Wednesday to share their goals.
Their agenda includes online filing of campaign finance forms and creating a searchable database; trying to curb the purchase of medication used in making methamphetamines; fighting distracted driving; creating tax incentives for existing and potential industries using millions of dollars from revenue from offshore oil and gas; and eliminating tax loop holes for out-of-state corporations that Democrats believe are costing the state millions in revenue.
Some of their goals are ones they had difficulty passing while they were in the majority including removing the state portion of the sales tax off of groceries, and rewriting the state's 1901 constitution.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, acknowledged that Democrats have been run over in the Alabama Senate. During the special session and so far in this session, Senate Republicans have quickly shut down any effort by Democrats to debate issues and moved to quickly vote on issues.
Ford said they hope, like they did with one bill during the December special session, that they will be able in the House to peel away some Republicans to vote with them on some issues.
State Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said he is continuing his fight to remove the 4 percent state sales tax on groceries. He said he is open to talking to anyone with suggestions of how to replace that revenue.
Republicans oppose replacing the revenue by stopping Alabamians above a certain income level from deducting the federal income tax they pay from their state income tax.
Bedford is pushing a resolution that would allow people to vote in the June 2012 party primaries on whether they want the constitution rewritten by convention, which would be conducted later by a man and woman elected from each House district.
State Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, plans to introduce bills that he believes would close the loopholes for out-of-state corporations that compete with corporations headquartered here. Also, with the state needing revenue for education, Lindsey said the state is losing out on $100 million in revenue because of the loopholes.
Bedford and Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, said Sudafed is a main ingredient in methamphetamines and said people are crossing the border from Mississippi to purchase it so they want to make Sudafed a Class III drug, which would only allow it to be purchased by prescription.
Rep. Joe Hubbard, D-Montgomery, has introduced a bill that he believes would create greater transparency through online filing of campaign finance forms.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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House Goes to Special Order on Fifth Legislative Day

The Alabama House of Representatives will start working from a special order calendar Thursday that could allow several bills important to the Republican majority to come up for debate before lawmakers head off to spring break.

House Rules Chairman Blaine Galliher, R-Gadsden, told members that they would begin working from the special order on the fifth legislative day, which is Thursday.

A special order calendar could allow bills such as one that would eliminate the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP program, and a bill that would require state and local officials to enforce federal immigration law to come up.

The House has been operating from its regular order calendar which allows members to take up bills in the order they come out of committee. A special order would allow lawmakers to craft a calendar that would bring up bills ready for debate on the regular calendar out of order.

-- Markeshia Ricks

Major players in Alabama have large sums in DROP program

The following is a list of the people with the top 50 balances in the DROP program or Deferred Retirement Option Program. The Alabama Senate voted on Tuesday to kill the program and the House could vote on its version as early as Thursday. The name of the officials are followed by their balance in the program.

REED, JOE LOUIS; $1,475,952.21; Associate Executive Secretary, Alabama Education Association

HUBBERT, PAUL R; $1,374,311.70; Executive Secretary, Alabama Education Association

PORTERA, MALCOLM; $1,325,210.85; Chancellor, University of Alabama System

MOULTON, V GORDON; $1,188,669.94; President, University of South Alabama

PEEVY, KEITH JACKSON; $850,979.97; Pediatrician, University of South Alabama Hospital

MOORE, MAL M; $849,659.52; Athletic Director, University of Alabama

HAWKINS, JACK; $841,726.82; Chancellor, Troy University System

DAVIS, M WAYNE; $836,460.20; Vice-President, University of South Alabama

DELUCAS, LAWRENCE J; $835,433.66; Optometrist, University of Alabama at Birmingham

MASON, JOSEPH B; $769,941.43; Dean, University of Alabama College of Business

CAPILOUTO, ELI; $757,275.19; Provost, University of Alabama at Birmingham

LOBUGLIO, ALBERT F; $755,807.85; Director, University of Alabama at Birmingham Cancer Center

ROQUEMORE, PERRY JR; $750,454.75; Executive Secretary, Alabama League of Municipalities

BLAKENEY, LARRY; $748,161.90; Football Coach, Troy University

WHITT, JOE; $699,555.01

WHITLEY, RICHARD J; $696,527.03


IRWIN, J DAVID; $661,061.84



ALDERMAN, CHARLES W; $631,116.91

JONES, RONALD L; $621,247.48

ROGERS, WILLIAM J; $615,526.07

LUCAS, LINDA C; $614,172.99

QUINDLEN, EUGENE A; $601,967.87

BENEFIELD, R ALAN; $599,568.08

DALE, LOUIS; $586,065.84

BREZOVICH, IVAN A; $579,167.38

DULEK, RONALD E; $578,125.32

STAGNO, SERGIO; $570,164.37

WYSKIDA, RICHARD M; $569,713.41

COCHRAN, JOHN E JR; $569,431.00

YANCEY, DONALD L; $563,241.18

SCRIPA, ROSALIA N; $559,557.32

DYER, DAVID F; $558,511.68

GREGORY, JOHN C; $556,001.70

MERRITT, JUDY MILES; $554,659.42

STEPHENS, JERRY W; $546,935.11

MCALPINE, HELEN T; $545,568.25


BLOUGH, DAVID K; $540,709.13

BRANCH, GARY LEO; $530,272.28

ANDREWS, J BARRY; $529,213.67

CAPLES, VIRGINIA; $526,227.74

DOUGLASS, PEGGI L; $525,464.47

MICHALEK, SUZANNE M; $521,521.73

ESSARY, REBA J; $520,759.17

BONNER, JUDITH L; $518,955.73

BROWN, DAVID B; $499,686.03

VAN MATRE, JOSEPH G; $497,818.97

source: Legislative Fiscal Office

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Senate Republicans vote to kill DROP program

Democrats in the Alabama Senate attempted to delay a vote on the bill that would kill a retirement program the state started to keep quality longtime employees, especially teachers, from retiring or leaving for other states, but Republicans quickly shut down debate.
On Tuesday, Republicans approved the bill repealing the DROP program or Deferred Retirement Option Program on a 23-12 vote.
The DROP program allows state and education employees who are 55 years old and have 25 years of service to receive salary and retirement benefits while continuing to work.
The bill now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives for consideration.
Democrats in the Senate had also pushed for an amendment that would allow people to continue to enroll until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, instead of ending enrollment April 1, but that died 19-16.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said some people have "been counting" on the program for years.
Republicans argued the "luxury" retirement plan was too costly during these tough financial times, an argument that Democrats object to. Bedford said the state would save from not having to pay benefits for the DROP enrollee and a new hire.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Senate Democrats attack repeal of DROP

Democrats in the Alabama Senate are calling the attempt by Republicans to stop the DROP retirement program a punitive attack on teachers and state employees hidden behind the guise of saving money.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said that Republicans in the regular session, like they did in the special session on ethics, are bringing up a bill that would hurt teachers and state employees as the first proposal they consider. During the special session, the first bill considered and passed by the new Republican majority stopped politically active associations that represent teachers and state employees from collecting their dues through the state's automatic payroll deduction system.
The Deferred Retirement Option Program or DROP program allows state and education employees who are 55 years old and have 25 years of service to receive salary and retirement benefits while continuing to work. The program was passed in the hope that it would discourage valuable employees from taking early retirement.
State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said the intent of DROP was to slow teachers leaving Alabama for other states.
Projections from the Legislative Fiscal Office and others put the savings to the state for repealing DROP between $35 million and $70 million.
Republicans believe the "luxury benefit plan" needs to be repealed during these tough financial times.
"DROP is simply an added luxury that public employees enjoy, but the state does not have the resources to continue funding luxuries while cutting the budgets for the necessities. I believe the people of Alabama can understand that logic," said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. "It's the same logic that they follow when making financial decisions that impact their families - it's simply common sense budgeting."
Bedford said the purpose is "not to save money, but to punish them because a disproportionate number of them chose to vote for Gov. Robert Bentley over not-Gov. Bradley Byrne"
The Alabama Education Association supported Bentley, then a two-term state legislator, over Byrne, former chancellor of the state's junior college system who was supported by some of the state's most prominent Republicans, in that party primary.
Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, said the bill is an attack on teachers and state employees.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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