Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Conservative Alabama is nonetheless a welfare state

  It is common knowledge that the Indian casinos in Alabama and throughout the country are granted federal sovereignty and are not subject to state intervention and authority. Several years ago state attorney general Luther Strange filed a hail Mary frivolous lawsuit against PCI Gaming Authority for political posturing purposes. The federal district court in Montgomery took about three weeks to rule against the state.

  It was ludicrous that it was even filed. Federal District Judge Keith Watkins pretty much implied as much by ruling so quickly. It was a perfunctory decision that could be written by a first year law clerk in less than an hour. One of the puzzling questions is why in the world the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has sat on its final ruling for over three years. Speculation in Montgomery is that there is an agreement between Luther Strange and former Alabama Attorney General and now 11th Circuit Jurist Bill Pryor to delay the ruling. They are close Mountain Brook buddies.

  There was a very poignant and telling caricature of George Wallace during his heyday that very accurately depicts Alabama’s long standing relationship with the federal government. In the picture Wallace has his hand out receiving federal money. In the other hand he has a dagger ready to attack Washington.

  This same scenario of taking federal money while criticizing the federal programs that sustain Alabama continues today. We receive a lot of federal dollars, folks. In fact, a recent government analysis revealed that Alabama is in the top three states when it comes to receiving funds from Washington.

  Alabama’s financial relationship with the federal government is very beneficial. According to an analysis from WalletHub, Alabama is ranked third in economic dependence on the federal government. WalletHub included three measures in their ranking. First they studied the number of federal employees per capita in a state. Secondly, they compared the amount of federal revenue received to total state revenues, and third, a comparison of federal revenue to federal taxes paid.

  Alabama receives $3.28 for every $1 in federal income taxes paid by our residents. Amazingly 37 percent of Alabama’s state spending is paid for with federal money. The survey estimates that nearly 12 percent of Alabama’s workforce consists of federal government employees.

  This illustrates what a gigantic impact our federal military bases have on Alabama’s economy. Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Maxwell and Gunter in Montgomery, and Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass are extremely important to Alabama’s economic well-being.

  There is a glaring irony in the study. The states where the Republican Party dominates are more likely to be dependent on federal government dollars. Last year the Bureau of Economic Analysis did a detailed study of the 50 states and ranked them in order of per capita income. The analysis ranked Alabama 42nd in the nation in per capita income. Our per capita income is $36,501. They came to that figure by taking all of the money earned by Alabamians and dividing it by the number of people living in the state. Alabama’s per capita figure was 18 percent lower than the national number or, in other words, Alabamians earned 82 cents for every dollar earned throughout the country.

  We are not only a low income state, we are also a low growth state. Alabamians' personal income grew by only 1.8 percent, whereas most southeastern states saw growth of at least 2 percent or more. However, if you happen to be a teacher or state employee in Alabama, your income decreased.

  The states with the highest percentage of growth in 2013 were Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Therefore, it appears that if you live west of the Mississippi your income grew the most.

  Over the years in Alabama we have had a large number of dry counties. That means they do not sell alcohol in these counties. Of Alabama’s 67 counties, 25 do not allow alcohol sales countywide. Most of these counties are in north Alabama. This region is very conservative and very religious. Alabama is known as the Bible Belt, and north Alabama is the buckle of the Bible Belt.

  However, it is not a bad reflection of those counties that they are dry. Since we are discussing economic statistics, a cursory look at those 25 counties will indicate a direct correlation to prosperity and per capita income. These counties are also in the top tier of Alabama counties when it comes to per capita income.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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