Primary Election Results
June 5, 2014
One of the leading political blogs in the state had the following headline recapping Tuesday’s primary election, “Alabama’s Republican primary was an unmitigated disaster for the AEA”. If this true, then one could say that your decisions in the primary were an “unmitigated success” for your association.
Your PAC was involved in twenty legislative races. Currently, candidates backed by you have won or are leading in seventeen of those races with only two possibly headed to a runoff. Only three candidates have lost, and there may be a recount in one of those primary races. All three of the races where your candidate lost or is trailing were in the House of Representatives. Not one senate candidate that you backed lost.
So briefly, our PAC was successful in 85% of the races in which AGC was involved. Financially speaking, out of all contributions made in the races we supported, only three thousand dollars went to losing causes, representing a 98% success rate. Any organization would love to have this kind of success. These are numbers that you should be proud of.
Much appreciation and kudos goes to your PAC committee. Their hard work and due diligence ensured the best investments from your contributions.
We also thank you, our members, for your support as well – your attention to races and issues, as well as your financial contributions, go a long way to supporting your industry and this association works with government.Chris Williams Director, Governmental Relations firstname.lastname@example.org 334-244-4001
AGC of America’s Brian Turmail on Thursday, May 22, joined Alabama AGC CEO Billy Norrell and Keith Dillard, vice president of Alabama Guardrail, on the Dunn Construction I-20/59 jobsite to promote work zone safety.
Black/Benak, working closely with Alabama AGC, coordinated the event to promote work zone safety as the summer travel season begins. Media from Birmingham participated in the event, spreading the word that drivers have a responsibility to observe traffic rules to keep highway workers safe.
“These type events are an important function of the Alabama AGC as we work to represent our members,” Norrell said. “We were pleased to have Brian here from our national office and we appreciate the cooperation of our members in this effort.
“The tragic fatal accident on a work zone on I-459 a couple of weeks ago points out the importance of safety on our highways. The people who work there deserve the right to be safe and to get home to their families. The contractors are doing their part to keep their employees safe, but so much of it is in the hands of those of us who drive on our highways.”
Here are links to a story on ABC 33/40 and AL.com pointing out the need for safety in work zones.
Since 2007 there have been more than 15,000 work zone crashes in Alabama Highway work zones and more than 120 of those have been fatal, Norrell said.
A recent AGC survey reveals 50 percent of contractors reported at least one crash in their work zones in Alabama. Construction workers were injured in 25 percent of those crashes.
By Cary Estes
Increasingly, many of the roads in Alabama are paved only with good intentions. Actual paving, along with other repair and maintenance work, is being scaled back due to a lack of funding on both the state and federal level. Meanwhile, major new road and bridge projects are barely even being considered, as the state struggles to avoid a huge financial pothole that threatens to swallow up much of the highway budget.
“There is a lot of concern out there from the industry and from the elected leaders as to how this is going to be addressed,” says Billy Norrell, Chief Executive Officer of Alabama Associated General Contractors. “Because it’s for real, and it’s a problem that is not going to go away. In fact, if something isn’t done, it will only continue to get worse.”
Part of the problem stems from governments relying on gasoline sales taxes to provide the bulk of highway funding. The amount of revenue generated by these taxes has taken a hit in recent years, battered by the combination of greater vehicle fuel efficiency (which results in fewer trips to the pump) along with higher gas prices and a sluggish economy (which results in people driving less).
Speculation abounds that the federal Highway Trust Fund will be depleted by September and will be unable to make full payments to the states for the 2015 fiscal year. By federal law, the HTF cannot run a negative balance. So the United States Department of Transportation likely will either pay a reduced amount of the $46 billion it usually gives the states, or delay payments entirely, possibly until 2016.
Norrell says Alabama receives approximately $1.4 billion in HTF funding, with $700 million to $800 million of that money going toward construction. In addition, revenue generated by the state’s fuel tax of 18 cents per gallon has dropped from $409 million in fiscal year 2010 to $397 million in 2013.
“This downward trend in collections is more of a pattern than it is a one-time issue,” Norrell says. “We are seeing more and more of our dollars spent on simple rehabilitation and system preservation. Because there is no new funding for dealing with things like capacity issues, adding extra lanes, and other new projects. Those types of projects are becoming very few and far between, because that is big, big dollars, and we just don’t have it.”
The Alabama Department of Transportation has a $1.2 billion budget for this fiscal year, according to ALDOT Chief Engineer Ronnie Baldwin. Approximately $260 million of that money is dedicated to road resurfacing, $150 million for capacity and system enhancements, and $80 million to bridge replacement. Without federal funding, Baldwin says Alabama will be able to spend a total of $250 million to $300 million on highway projects in fiscal year 2015.
But Baldwin says the state is not far away from being able to bridge the gap between funding that is available and the amount that is needed. He points out that people in the state pay an average of $46 per month in gasoline taxes. He says that with an extra $2 per month – about the cost of a regular coffee at Starbucks – “we would solve our transportation funding issues.”
“The system is definitely not falling apart,” Baldwin says. “But what our population and elected officials have to determine is, what do you consider a good roadway network to be, and what improvements do you think need to be funded? The bottom line for us is that at the current funding levels, we have sufficient funds to basically maintain the existing highway system and do some capacity improvements. That’s about it.”
The quickest and easiest way to generate additional revenue is to increase the state’s fuel tax, which has been at 18 cents per gallon since 1992 (back when gas was barely a dollar a gallon). That rate is approximately 10 cents less than the national average. And while it is definitely politically difficult to enact any sort of tax increase these days, it is not impossible. Wyoming, Maryland and Massachusetts all increased their gasoline taxes last year. In 2012, voters in Arkansas approved a half-cent sales tax increase to cover a $1.3 billion bond issue for roads and bridges.
“A lot of people are trying to tackle the delicate situation of how to fix this system without doing it the easy way, which is raising gasoline taxes. That is a political albatross that nobody wants hanging around their neck,” Norrell says. “That is certainly the simplest form of addressing it on a short-term basis. But there are a lot of different ways to tackle this. Nobody knows the perfect mouse trap yet, because there are a lot of good, common-sense options out there.”
Tom Layfield, Executive Director of the Alabama Road Builders Association, says he favors some sort of tax based upon road usage and vehicle weight rather than on the amount of times a driver fills up at the pump. Layfield points out that hybrid cars and many of the newer more fuel-efficient vehicles still put wear and tear on the roads, but they are paying less to use those roads through the gas tax. Likewise, heavier vehicles place greater stress on pavement, but they do not pay a greater share toward highway maintenance.
“The gas tax doesn’t reflect everything that is taking place (on the roads),” Layfield says. “We don’t get a fair share (of revenue) from more fuel-efficient vehicles, and we don’t get enough from the commercial industrial. There are a number of different ways to approach this, but I think the best way is through usage.”
One of the more innovative solutions took place last year in Virginia, where legislators agreed to an expansive overhaul of the state’s transportation funding system. Virginia’s gas tax of 17.5 cents per gallon was eliminated and replaced with a series of new fees, including a sales-tax increase (with a slightly greater increase in the high-population areas of northern Virginia and Hampton Roads), a 3.5-cent tax on wholesale gas and diesel, and registration fees for hybrid, electric and alternative-fuel vehicles. The changes resulted in more than $1 billion in increased revenue for transportation spending, according to Jeff Southard, Executive Vice President for the Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance
“It was the largest transportation funding package in the history of Virginia,” Southard says. “We were just about bankrupt. We were going to run out of state money pretty fast. We were having to use more than $5 million a year of construction money to pay for basic maintenance. So we put together a comprehensive package of new fees and revenues, where everything took a little bit of a hit.
“It’s made a huge difference. Last year, when the bill took effect, (the Virginia Department of Transportation) put $2.6 billion worth of work on the street, which is the largest program in Virginia history. We have more work going on now in Virginia than we’ve had in years.”
Norrell says he likes the Virginia plan, calling it “very attractive.” He said it is the type of innovative thinking that Alabama should consider. “I’m interested to see where Virginia is in about a year or two with this,” Norrell says. “So far it’s gotten them to where they wanted to be. I think it’s real exciting to see what they’ve done. They did a tremendous job of putting together something new.”
Whatever the solution, there appears to be a general consensus that something needs to be done to generate more income for highway funding. If for no other reason than to make an investment in the overall state economy, which relies heavily on a quality transportation system.
“Freight movements and things of that nature are vital to our economy,” Baldwin says. “We have several counties in the state that do not have any four-lane access to the interstate system. In most places, businesses will tell you that in order for their business to be able to thrive, they need a good roadway network that ultimately connects them to the interstate system. There are a lot of economically disadvantaged areas that would potentially benefit by having a four-lane route come into their area.”
Layfield agrees: “We are an integral component in respect to economic development. You go to any city or county, and they are always working on recruiting business to their area. And they’ll tell you that while having a good road does not automatically get you the project, not having one will certainly eliminate you as a contender. Putting money into our roads is an investment.”
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