- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Dec. 30

The TimesDaily of Florence on the Alabama Republican presidential primary:

If you’re looking to place a friendly wager on which Republican candidate will win Alabama’s GOP presidential primary March 1, the smart money has to be on either Texas Sen. Ted Cruz or New York businessman Donald Trump.



Cruz has been barnstorming the South, campaigning in Alabama and other states participating in the “SEC Primary,” when the biggest single haul of GOP convention delegates will be awarded. Cruz is aiming his message at evangelicals in particular, the same group that has propelled him - for now - to the top of the pack in Iowa.

It’s a smart play. In the two most recent Republican presidential primaries, the GOP’s evangelical wing delivered Alabama to Rick Santorum (2012) and Mike Huckabee (2008), rather than to eventual nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain, respectively. But Cruz can’t take Alabama’s Republican delegates for granted.

To the extent Trump is similar to any major political figure of recent memory, he most resembles Alabama’s own Gov. George C. Wallace.

Wallace was, by the standards of his day, a liberal on race relations until he lost the Democratic Party’s 1958 nomination for governor - back when that was tantamount to election - to John Patterson, who ran on a segregationist platform and had the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. According to Seymore Trammell, Wallace’s finance director, Wallace vowed never to let that happen again.

The man who attorney J.L. Chestnut recalled as “the most liberal judge that I had ever practiced law in front of” reinvented himself as the politician who promised “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

By the 1980s, Wallace returned to his roots, seeking forgiveness for his segregationist past and becoming governor one last time thanks, in large part, to winning the black vote.

Two things, however, remained constant throughout Wallace’s political career. First was his ability to demagogue almost any hot-button issue. Second, was his populist messages aimed squarely at lower- and lower-middle class, mostly blue-collar whites.

Running for president as an independent in 1968, Wallace carried five states, all in the South, but he also did well among blue-collar voters in the North and Midwest, especially in the heavily industrial “rust belt” areas.

These are the same constituencies Trump is trying to reach today, with an updated version of the same message, tinged with racism and playing to fears and resentments, as well as the sense of a lost golden age.

Like Wallace, Trump has been ideologically inconsistent as a matter of convenience.

The irony of a fast-talking New York real estate mogul reaching into Wallace’s playbook would not be lost on Wallace, but Trump clearly thinks that strategy has a chance of working, or he wouldn’t keep bringing his carnival-barker routine to Alabama and other states Wallace won in ‘68.

In Alabama, Trump vs. Cruz will say a lot about how much the state’s politics has or hasn’t changed in the past 30 or so years. The state’s party realignment, from solid Democratic to solid Republican, is in many ways a surface phenomenon. It’s what has shifted beneath that matters.

Is Alabama’s dominant politics still the populism of Wallace, or is it now the evangelical conservatism of the broader Republican Party base?

The showdown between Trump and Cruz will answer that question, and if the state’s political leaders are watching, the answer could shape the state’s politics for years to come.

Online:

https://www.timesdaily.com/

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Dec. 28

The Decatur Daily on a possible fuel tax increase:

The Legislature is looking at another session in February that promises to be as dismal as the last, with no new revenue on the horizon that isn’t created either through new taxes or closed loopholes.

Add to lawmakers’ heartburn the prospect of increasing the fuel tax.

The Alabama Department of Transportation is providing information to the Legislature’s Permanent Joint Transportation Committee about funding needs. A series of public meetings is planned around the state in January.

The last time the fuel tax was increased was 1992, at 5 cents per gallon. That places the state fuel tax at 16 cents. Material cost increases, inflation and better fuel efficiency in vehicles mean tax dollars have been stretched to the breaking point.

Tony Harris, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Transportation, said the department’s cost of doing business has increased 250 percent since the fuel tax was last increased. He also said the department faces the prospect of becoming a maintenance-only operation without new revenue. Even that will be difficult to accomplish at current funding levels, he said.

The ability to build new roads and bridges is an important component of economic development. Without that ability, attracting new industries to the state could become difficult, at best.

The chairmen of the House and Senate General Fund committees said recently a level-funded 2017 General Fund is optimistic. Deep cuts and consolidations already have been made in state departments, leaving little room for further austerity.

The Legislature is controlled by a Republican supermajority that has been loathe to even discuss new revenue, much less act on it. That mood prevails with the fuel tax discussion.

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, is chairman of the permanent committee. In the Legislature’s second session this year, he introduced a bill to increase the fuel tax by 5 cents per gallon, with a provision to adjust the tax up or down 2 cents each year, based on consumer prices and other factors. The bill died. It’s not clear whether he will reintroduce the bill next year.

The fuel tax in Alabama is divided between the state, cities and counties. Some lawmakers said they would want to study any proposal to increase the tax before making a decision. That’s good.

But given the state’s revenue woes, increasing the fuel tax appears to be an inevitable choice that must be acted upon. To ignore so critical a component of economic development as roads and bridges would be a mistake, placing Alabama at a competitive disadvantage when competing with other states for jobs.

Road building materials inevitably will become more costly, and vehicle fuel efficiency will continue to improve.

As long as road and bridge maintenance and construction are tied to fuel sales, periodic tax adjustments must be made.

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Dec. 27

The Dothan Eagle on Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s beach mansion:

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is concerned about things that make Alabama look bad. On the action list of the second-term governor, who recently lost two Gulf Shores beach houses in a divorce from his wife of 50 years, is spiffing up the state’s decaying governor’s beach mansion, which has been gutted and boarded up since 1997’s Hurricane Danny.

“The governor doesn’t want this property to be an embarrassment any longer,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis.

Earlier in December, work began on the 7,500 square-foot mansion, a two-story beachfront cinderblock structure in Baldwin County. Estimated cost of the renovation and rehabilitation is $1.5 million to $1.8 million, and will include updated security features.

“It will have to be brought up to the standard of a governor’s residence,” Ardis told the Associated Press.

Surely the state has more pressing economic needs that almost $2 million could address. After all, the beach mansion has been untouched for almost 20 years because no politician had the audacity to put tax money into the luxury home when so much of the state has struggled.

Then again, this bill won’t be footed by taxpayers. It’ll be paid by “left-over” funds from the BP settlement after the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

That’s stunningly audacious rationale, particularly considering the devastating impact the oil spill had on many areas of Alabama’s Gulf Coast and up into Mobile Bay, where the seafood industry of Bayou LaBatre and surrounding areas still feels the crippling effects of the disaster.

The settlement money has been burning a hole in the administration’s pocket; the first plan was to use it to build a hotel and conference center on the beach until lawsuits started flying. However, that could have tangentially met the purpose of the settlement by infusing the area with more tourist traffic.

Restoring the governor’s mansion with the money won’t make whole any person or entity that has suffered from the disaster, save for those few craftsmen and vendors involved in the work - and the sitting governor, and future state executives.

This decision is a slap in the face to every Alabamian.

The governor’s right; this beach mansion situation is an embarrassment.

Online:

https://www.dothaneagle.com/

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