- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

March 4

Anniston (Alabama) Star on legislature’s integrity:

No way, says House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, not gonna do it. Hubbard is unwilling to step down as speaker of the state House of Representatives.

No amount of pending criminal corruption charges will change his mind. Neither will the embarrassing emails released by prosecutors last week that portray Speaker Hubbard as a politician with a continually outstretched hand.

In the emails, Speaker Hubbard begs for investment money from powerful Alabamians. He seeks to sell himself as a “consultant” to institutions with a direct stake in the operations of state government. And he complains that he’s not making enough money in his elected job.

At one point in the messages, Hubbard suggests that he ditch the speakership to work for a lobbying firm. From the tone of those messages, his speakership is something he holds cheaply, especially if it prevents him from cashing in.

If Hubbard won’t step down as speaker, it’s time for his House colleagues to step in. Perhaps they presume the toxic nature of Hubbard’s methods, so recently revealed in court records, won’t leak into their own mission or that of the House as a whole. That would be a mistake.

Every member of the House of Representatives will be judged by their actions or inactions in the light of the most recent revelations about Hubbard. Those messages with their too-cozy relationship between lobbyists/powerbrokers and the speaker display a shameful side of Alabama politics. Whether Hubbard is found innocent or guilty of corruption charges, the emails introduced as evidence last week are shocking.

The integrity of the Legislature and its members is at stake.




March 4

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on low income housing:

A study by the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama has uncovered some disturbing information about the costs of housing. The good news is there’s a solution available - if lawmakers are willing to create a new revenue stream.

According to the study, Alabamians earning minimum wage would have to work 72 hours a week to afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment. That just isn’t going to happen for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the overtime pay rule.

To avoid spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a worker would have to earn a minimum of $13.13 per hour. Most of the new jobs created in Alabama in the past four years have starting wages lower than that amount.

The study found that Alabama needs about 90,000 housing units that low-wage workers and seniors can afford. But how to make them available is vexing - unless a dormant state trust is given the money it has never had.

As a result, many low-wage families and fixed-income seniors are forced to live in substandard housing and in unsafe areas.

The Alabama Housing Trust Fund was established by the Legislature in 2012. It was designed to be a flexible source of money to build new or renovate existing homes for rental and ownership. The problem is, lawmakers neglected to fund the trust.

State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, has a solution. She says she will sponsor a bill to raise the mortgage filing fee buyers pay as part of their closing cost. The change would increase the fee from $300 to $600 on a $200,000 mortgage.

Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery, said the fee increase would generate about $20 million a year for the trust. It would also act as an economic stimulant and increase revenue for state and local governments, Deravi said.

Here’s how Deravi sees the economic effect of the fee over 10 years: 7,100 new or rehabilitated homes would become available; 6,500 new jobs would be created for the construction/renovation; a $1.1 billion overall economic impact would be created for the state; $151 million in new revenue would be created for state and local governments.

The report assumes that for every $1 spent by the trust, $5 in private or federal funds would be spent by developers.

The benefits, it appears, outweigh the costs. It’s difficult to see a disadvantage to Todd’s proposal. In the final analysis, it’s the right thing to do for all of the right reasons.




March 4

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on court ruling on AAA:

The Alabama Supreme Court this week upheld the Alabama Accountability Act, a GOP-led initiative that offers tax credits for parents who take their children from failing schools and send them to non-failing public schools or private schools. The state’s high court ruled that because the tax credits go to parents, the act doesn’t violate state law by funding private institutions with public funds.

The ruling is sound, as the question before the court was whether public funds were used to support private schools. Directly, they are not. It simply proves that architects of the bill did a competent job of skirting the law. But the AAA still smells to high heaven.

The problems with the initiative begin in the legislative chambers, where opponents say the bill was ram-rodded through without thoughtful consideration shortly after Republicans took control of the Legislature. They continue with nebulous ideas of what constitutes a “failing” school, and a track record of scholarship awards that seems to make little sense.

Perhaps the most egregious problem with the Alabama Accountability Act is the laughable irony of its name. While the measure allows some parents to cash in, whether it really provides opportunities for a broad segment of Alabama public school students to get a better education is debatable.

There’s no doubt that lawmakers who support the AAA will see the court ruling as a validation of the nobility of the act. They’d be deluding themselves - because for every child who benefits from the Alabama Accountability Act, there are thousands of Alabama’s students left behind in a state-supported public school system with challenges the Legislature has done nothing to address beyond paring off a chunk of funding to operate a tax-credit program for families of students bound for private school.



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