This has been a tumultuous year in Alabama state politics. The embarrassing scandal involving our former governor catapulted our state into the headlines of the New York Times and the Washington Post. In conversations with friends and neighbors, I could hear the frustration in their voices: is positive, character-driven leadership too much to ask for in our elected officials? The frustration I heard wasn’t partisan. Republicans and Democrats alike want our state to be represented with class and dignity.
While many of the news headlines were filled with the latest salacious details of the state’s former chief executive, I want to assure you that quietly – away from the blaring headlines – men and women of solid character reached across party lines to get work done in the recently-concluded legislative session.
Whatever your political persuasion, Alabamians can agree that education is the foundation for our state’s success. Without world-class schools and teachers, our children will be at competitive disadvantage in the twenty-first century. That’s why Republicans pressed hard in 2011 to pass something called the Rolling Reserve Act, which established an emergency budget fund to ensure our schools aren’t hammered if another financial crisis comes. Thanks to the Rolling Reserve Act, we have avoided proration – the mid-year slashing of schools’ budgets – for seven years and counting.
That fiscal discipline has led to a healthy and growing Education budget. In fact, the Fiscal Year 2018 Education budget is $6.4 billion, the largest budget for our schools since the financial crash of 2008. It includes an increase for transportation and funds the hiring of 150 new teachers.
Academic studies of Pre-Kindergarten seem to indicate that students who complete Pre-K may have an advantage going through elementary school. That tentative finding, combined with the fact that Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program has been named the best-in-the-country by the National Institute for Early Education Research, is the reason I supported a $13 million increase for Pre-K.
Another achievement from the 2017 session was the passage of the Kelsey Smith Act, which requires wireless communications companies to give call location data to law enforcement officers in the event of an emergency situation. The desire to protect private data should always be balanced with the need to locate missing persons, especially when police officers believe a missing person is in imminent physical danger.
The Legislature also moved to make health care a little more affordable in Alabama by clarifying that individuals and companies don’t need insurance coverage to directly contract with doctors and dentists for basic care. Let’s say you’re a healthy young person, starting out your career as a small-business owner. A gold-plated insurance plan with sky-high premiums may not fit your needs. Under a Direct Primary Care agreement, you can contract with a doctor to have basic medical checkups and tests covered for a monthly fee similar to what your monthly cell phone bill costs. Combined with a catastrophic insurance plan to cover life-threatening illnesses like cancer, your overall insurance costs might be considerably cheaper. Direct Primary Care agreements won’t fit everyone’s situation, but the option is now on the table.
Jumpstarting economic growth in northeast Alabama is a priority for me. So I am glad to report the Legislature expanded a tax credit for investment in agricultural irrigation equipment. If you install a new irrigation system on your farm, or convert an existing system from fuel to electric, you can now claim a tax credit equal to 10% of your out-of-pocket costs. I want to grow the private sector – not government – and lowering the tax burden on businesses and families is key to that goal.
State legislators, working with Governor Kay Ivey, are working hard to position Alabama for success in the twenty-first century. It is a deep honor for me to serve you in the Alabama Senate; please contact my Senate office at (334) 242-7858 if you have any questions about the 2017 session.
Senator Steve Livingston represents District 8 in the Alabama State Senate, which is comprised of all or parts of Madison, Jackson, and DeKalb counties.