Death penalty moratorium is a chance to end injustices in Alabama’s capital punishment system

Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden released the following statement Monday in response to Gov. Kay Ivey’s request for a pause on executions in Alabama:

“All Alabamians deserve equal justice under the law. Gov. Kay Ivey’s call for a temporary halt to executions is a welcome and necessary move toward ending many of the injustices plaguing Alabama’s capital punishment system.

“The attorney general should agree to the governor’s request. The Department of Corrections should complete the thorough review of the state’s death penalty procedures that Ivey demanded. And the department should pull back the curtains and provide greater public transparency on those procedures.

“Legislators must do their part to reduce the unfairness of Alabama’s death penalty system, too. They should retroactively apply the state’s 2017 ban on judicial override, a practice that allowed judges to impose death sentences despite a jury’s recommendation otherwise. Lawmakers also should require unanimous agreement from jurors to sentence someone to death. And they should provide state funding for appeals of death sentences, as other states with capital punishment do.

“Our state’s death penalty is broken and should be abolished. Short of that, these policy changes would be important steps to reduce the inequities that pervade capital punishment in Alabama.”

Alabama Arise unveils 2023 roadmap for change in Alabama

Expanding Medicaid and ending the state sales tax on groceries will remain top goals on Alabama Arise’s 2023 legislative agenda. More than 400 members voted on Arise’s issue priorities in recent days after the organization’s annual meeting Saturday. The seven issues chosen were:

  • Adequate budgets for human services like education, health care and child care, including Medicaid expansion to make health coverage affordable for all Alabamians.
  • Tax reform, including untaxing groceries and capping the state’s upside-down deduction for federal income taxes, which overwhelmingly benefits rich households.
  • Voting rights, including automatic universal voter registration, removal of barriers to voting rights restoration for disenfranchised Alabamians, and other policies to expand and protect multiracial democracy in the state.
  • Criminal justice reform, including retroactive application of state sentencing guidelines and repeal of the Habitual Felony Offender Act.
  • Death penalty reform, including a law to require juries to be unanimous in any decision to impose a death sentence.
  • Public transportation to empower Alabamians with low incomes to stay connected to work, school, health care and their communities.
  • Payday and title lending reform to protect consumers from getting trapped in debt.

“Arise believes in dignity, equity and justice for everyone,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “Our 2023 issue priorities reflect the need to work together to break down policy barriers that keep people in poverty, and that disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic Alabamians. We must build a healthier, more just and more inclusive future for our state.”

Displaying Arise's 2023 Policy Priorities: Tax reform, Adequate state budgets, Voting rights, Criminal justice reform, Death penalty reform, Public transportation, Payday and title lending reform

The time is right to expand Medicaid in Alabama

One essential step toward a healthier future for Alabama is to ensure everyone can afford the health care they need. Arise members believe Medicaid expansion is a policy path to that destination, and research provides strong support for that position.

Expanding Medicaid would reduce racial health disparities and remove financial barriers to health care for more than 340,000 Alabamians. It would support thousands of new jobs across the state. And most importantly, it would save hundreds of lives every year.

Medicaid expansion would ensure health coverage for more than 220,000 Alabamians caught in the coverage gap. These residents earn too much to qualify for the state’s bare-bones Medicaid program but too little to afford private plans. Expansion also would benefit another 120,000 Alabamians who are stretching to pay for coverage they cannot readily afford.

Alabama is one of only 12 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid to cover adults with low incomes. But an Alabama Arise poll earlier this year found that more than seven in 10 Alabamians (71.5%) support Medicaid expansion. That figure included 65.8% of Republican voters.

“Medicaid expansion would boost our economy and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Alabamians,” Hyden said. “It’s time for Gov. Kay Ivey and lawmakers to say yes to the generous federal incentives for Medicaid expansion. Making this crucial investment in Alabamians’ well-being now will make our state better for decades to come.”

Why and how Alabama should untax groceries

Alabama’s state grocery tax makes it harder for people with low incomes to make ends meet. The tax adds hundreds of dollars a year to the cost of a basic necessity for families. And most states have abandoned it: Alabama is one of only three states with no sales tax break on groceries.

The state sales tax on groceries brings in roughly 6% of the Education Trust Fund’s annual revenue. But lawmakers have a path available to end the state grocery tax while protecting funding for public schools. Arise will continue to support legislation to untax groceries and replace the revenue by capping the state income tax deduction for federal income taxes (FIT).

The FIT deduction is a skewed tax break that overwhelmingly benefits the richest households. It is also exceedingly rare: Alabama is one of only two states to allow this deduction in full. The FIT deduction and grocery tax are two policies that contribute heavily to Alabama’s upside-down tax system. On average, Alabamians with low and moderate incomes must pay twice as much of what they make in state and local taxes as the richest households do.

“By untaxing groceries and capping the FIT deduction, lawmakers can make Alabama’s tax system more just and equitable,” Hyden said. “This plan would empower more families to keep food on the table while also protecting funding for our public schools. The Legislature should seize this opportunity to make life better for every Alabamian.”

Here’s what Alabama Arise heard from you in summer 2022!

We deeply value the input we get from Alabama Arise members, our allies and most importantly, those directly affected by the work we do together. We depend on what we hear to help guide our issue work and our strategies.

Despite the ongoing challenges of connecting in person, we kept working at finding ways to listen. We did another series of three statewide online Town Hall Tuesdays. And we held seven additional listening sessions around the state, engaging about 200 people.

The town halls happened every two weeks, starting July 12 and ending Aug. 9. Other meetings took place throughout the summer. Below are summaries of what we heard in those meetings.

Town Hall Tuesdays

Food and health

Most participants deeply cared about Medicaid expansion. They discussed how it would help many people, including rural communities struggling with access to care. Many were frustrated that Gov. Kay Ivey has not yet expanded Medicaid in Alabama. Others discussed the connection between health and access to healthy food and nutrition. Some participants noted that other barriers like transportation also directly impact health, nutrition and employment.

Related issues raised were the needs to address the racial wealth gap and increase wages for front-line workers. Many people expressed appreciation for food banks and pantries but acknowledged that they cannot meet all food security needs. Participants encouraged Arise to remain vigilant about the threat to impose stringent work requirements for Medicaid and SNAP food assistance. Many participants also mentioned untaxing groceries as a way to improve food security.

Democracy and justice

Many participants expressed concerns about legislative attempts to suppress voting rights and said Election Day should be a state holiday. Others also expressed concerns about ballot access for people with disabilities, limited numbers of voting precincts and gerrymandering. Bottom line: We should make it easier to vote, as ballot access is key to a strong democracy.

Several participants expressed concerns about the need for more services for people leaving incarceration. We need to expand community corrections programs, enact real prison reform and get rid of unjust fines and fees.

Some participants identified language accessibility as a potential barrier to receiving many services and participating fully in our democracy. Others were concerned about allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds and wanted more funding for the Housing Trust Fund.

The path forward

This town hall was an opportunity to talk about any issues of concern people wanted to highlight. Participants raised the following needs and concerns:

  • Expand Medicaid in Alabama now and address health disparities, including women’s health issues.
  • Untax groceries and improve our regressive tax system.
  • Improve voting access, including restoration of voting rights for people who were formerly incarcerated.
  • Address environmental issues, including working to improve air quality in schools.
  • Improve affordable housing access and language access, fully fund the child home visitation program and address gun violence.

Group and regional listening sessions

Session participants around the state strongly affirmed Arise’s work on the current 2022 issue priorities. They also emphasized the ongoing work to be done in those areas. Current issues highlighted were Medicaid expansion, criminal justice reform (particularly in the area of unjust fines and fees), more funding for child care and first class pre-K, public transportation and death penalty reform.

Session participants also discussed issues that aren’t on the Arise agenda but are of concern to them and their communities. Some of those issues include:

  • Affordable housing, with a focus on increased funding and availability. One example was discussion of whether to limit the number of vacation rental properties one person could own in an area, as this can contribute to the shortage of affordable housing. Many renters also discussed the soaring prices of rent.
  • Automatic organ donor registration linked to getting and renewing driver’s licenses.
  • Broadband internet extension to reach more rural households and Alabamians with low incomes.
  • Constitutional reform.
  • Government intrusion on private medical decisions. One example shared was concern over lawmakers interfering with rights of transgender teens to seek medical care. Another concern raised was doctors being able to provide medical care during pregnancy and decide the right time to intervene on a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother.
  • Gun violence prevention.
  • Marijuana sentencing reform.

Join us for Town Hall Tuesdays!

Listening is key to shaping and advancing public policies that matter most to those marginalized by bad policies. Alabama Arise depends on what we hear to help guide our work toward our vision of a better Alabama for all.

Our online Town Hall Tuesdays will return once again this year. These events are a chance to hear issue updates and share your vision for our 2023 priorities.

Please join us this summer to help identify emerging issues and inform our actions. Registration is required for any or all of the sessions. You can register at the link in each session below.

July 12th, 6 p.m.Making the vision a reality: Food & health

Everyone should have access to food and the health care they need to live a long and healthy life. Join this session to discuss issue and advocacy opportunities in areas of access to food and health care. Click here to register for this session.

July 26th, 6 p.m. Making the vision a reality: Democracy & justice

We envision a state where all government leaders are responsive, inclusive and justice-serving. Voting rights barriers and an unjust justice system have hindered our vision. But together, we can move forward. Join us to discuss how to improve voting access and advance criminal justice reforms. Click here to register for this session.

August 9th, 6 p.m. Making the vision a reality: The path forward

Arise’s vision for Alabama can be realized because of our commitment and perseverance. We are committed to issues that matter to those marginalized by poverty, and we persevere in raising our voices together for change. Join this session to discuss issues already identified and to raise others. Click here to register for this session.

 

 

Highs and lows: Alabama Arise’s look back at the 2022 regular session

The Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session adjourned sine die late on Thursday, April 7. Lawmakers capped off the session’s last week with intense debates and late nights, with the final gavel dropping just before midnight.

Alabama Arise is grateful for the many positive outcomes that came out of the State House this year. We also were glad to play a role in stopping several misguided pieces of legislation from becoming law. These wins wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Arise’s determined members and various coalition partners.

We were not able to get every good bill across the finish line or stop every harmful legislative effort from happening. But Arise saw real progress on several important issue priorities this year. Keep reading below for recaps on some of the key bills we supported or opposed in 2022. Then visit our Bills of Interest page for updates on all of the legislation we tracked.

Adequate state budgets

Alabama’s fiscal year 2023 General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets are both the largest in state history. The General Fund budget of $2.7 billion includes a provision to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, which will help reduce maternal mortality and improve health outcomes for more than 30,000 women. Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, has been a longtime legislative champion for postpartum Medicaid extension.

The Education Trust Fund budget of $8.2 billion will provide a major boost in teacher pay. The increases will range from 4% all the way to 21% depending on seniority.

SB 140, sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, did not pass this session. The bill would have allowed the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools to private schools. Arise opposed this effort.

SB 261, sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook, passed out of both chambers. This bill will increase the income tax credit filers can claim for contributions to scholarship granting organizations for private schools. Arise opposed this effort.

Tax reform

HB 163 and SB 19, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This legislation will increase the standard deduction and dependent exemption. That change will provide a small but significant income tax cut for low- and moderate-income Alabamians. Arise supported this effort.

SB 43, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, did not pass this session. The bill would have repealed the state’s 4% grocery tax and capped the state deduction for federal income taxes. Despite strong bipartisan leadership from Jones and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery, the bill did not come up for committee consideration. Arise supported this effort.

Photo of Arise members rallying against the state grocery tax inside the State House
Alabama Arise members gathered for an Untax Groceries Rally at the State House in Montgomery on March 15, 2022. Bills to end the state grocery tax did not move in the Legislature this year, but the effort continues to enjoy growing bipartisan support.

Voting rights

HB 53 and SB 6, sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, and Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, passed the Senate but did not advance to the House floor. This bill would have eliminated application requirements for voting rights restoration. It also would have restored the right to vote for many indigent individuals. Arise supported this effort.

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley, did not pass this session. The bill would have criminalized the prefilling of any voter application or absentee ballot application. Arise opposed this effort.

Hall’s HB 167 failed to pass this session. This legislation would allow inmate identification cards to be used as valid ID for voting. Arise supported this effort.

HB 194, introduced by Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy, passed out of both chambers. The bill will prohibit state and local election officials from soliciting, accepting or using donations for election-related expenses. Arise opposed this effort.

Criminal justice reform

HB 52, sponsored by Rep. Jim Hill, R-Moody, passed out of both chambers. This bill will allow judges to use discretion in the length of someone’s sentence if their probation is revoked. Arise supported this effort.

HB 95, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, passed out of both chambers. The bill will create a 180-day grace period for people to repay court-imposed fines and fees following release from incarceration. Arise supported this effort.

SB 203, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This bill will require the Administrative Office of Courts to establish a database of municipal fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.

HB 230, sponsored by Rep. Rolanda Hollis, D-Birmingham, passed out of both chambers. This bill will ban the routine shackling of incarcerated individuals during pregnancy, delivery and immediate postpartum time. Arise supported this effort.

HB 200 and SB 117, sponsored by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, failed to pass this session. The bill would have ended driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines and fees. Arise supported this effort.

SB 220, sponsored by Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, failed to pass this session. The bill would have required that time served awaiting a hearing for parole violation be applied retroactively. Arise supported this effort.

HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, did not pass this session. This anti-protest bill would have created minimum holding periods for people accused of the crimes of rioting or interfering with traffic. It also would have penalized certain local jurisdictions that reduce funding for law enforcement. Arise opposed this effort.

Hill’s HB 55 failed to pass this session. The bill would have required every judicial circuit to establish a community corrections program. Arise supported this effort.

Unemployment insurance benefits

SB 224, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, passed out of both chambers. This bill will impose additional job search requirements as a condition of eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits. Specifically, individuals will have to show a “reasonable and active effort” to find work by providing proof every week that they have contacted at least three prospective employers. Unless a new job notice has been posted, a job seeker cannot apply for or seek work at an employer where they already made contact. Arise opposed this effort.

Food security

SB 156, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, did not pass this session. The bill would have required both custodial and non-custodial parents to cooperate with child support enforcement to qualify for SNAP food assistance. Arise opposed this effort.

‘Divisive concepts’

HB 312 and SB 292, sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery, did not pass this session. The bill would have prohibited the teaching of “divisive concepts” related to race, religion and sex in public K-12 schools, colleges, universities and certain state training programs. Arise opposed this effort.

Arise legislative update: April 12, 2022

Arise’s Robyn Hyden breaks down successes and missed opportunities from the Alabama Legislature’s 2022 regular session, which ended Thursday night. She highlights breakthroughs on federal ARPA funds, postpartum Medicaid extension and criminal justice reform, among other issues.

Grocery tax, health care key Arise focuses this year

Untax groceries. Expand health coverage. Make the criminal justice system more just. Those are a few of Alabama Arise’s major priorities during the Legislature’s 2022 regular session. And we’re making real progress toward turning those goals into realities.

Untaxing groceries

Ending the state’s regressive sales tax on groceries has been a longtime Arise priority. It was the centerpiece of Alabama Arise Action’s online Legislative Day on Feb. 15, which attracted nearly 200 advocates from across the state. It also will be the focus of a March 15 rally in Montgomery.

Legislative Day attendees heard from two lawmakers working to untax groceries: Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery. Jones’ and McClammy’s bills reflect growing support for untaxing groceries while protecting funding for public schools.

McClammy said the grocery tax is a policy concern that transcends political lines. “It’s important that we stand together united as one and show the citizens that we all care about what’s going on in our homes,” she said.

Jones expressed optimism that lawmakers are nearing a breakthrough on the grocery tax. “This is not a partisan issue,” he said. “This is something that really meets the full criteria of being a bipartisan issue.”

Nearly 200 advocates from across Alabama attended Arise’s virtual 2022 Legislative Day on Feb. 15. Supporters gathered to learn more about our issue priorities and get updates on where things stand legislatively on them. Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre (top right), and Rep. Penni McClammy, D-Montgomery (bottom left), joined us for a discussion of their bills to untax groceries.

Expanding health coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored a cruel fact: Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians can’t afford the health care they need. Gov. Kay Ivey can remove that financial barrier by expanding Medicaid to cover nearly 300,000 adults with low incomes. Arise and our Cover Alabama campaign are working hard to make that happen.

Public support for Medicaid expansion is strong and growing. More than seven in 10 Alabamians support expansion, according to a statewide Arise poll conducted in January. Expansion would create more than 20,000 jobs and save the state almost $400 million annually, a recent report estimated.

Extending Alabama Medicaid’s postpartum coverage to one year (up from the current 60 days) is another key goal this year. Nearly 70% of Alabama’s maternal deaths in 2016 were preventable, one study found. That’s why Arise is working hard to ensure legislators fund this life-saving coverage extension in the General Fund budget.

Advancing justice

Numerous reforms of Alabama’s criminal justice system are moving in the Legislature this year. Arise supports two bills – HB 200 by Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, and SB 117 by Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Montgomery – to end driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines and fees. Arise also backs HB 57 by Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, and SB 215 by Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, which would increase transparency in parole decisions.

Together, we can make a difference. Subscribe to our email list for timely alerts on these bills and others. And visit the Bills of Interest page to track legislation throughout the year.

Criminal justice debt creates major barriers to economic health

It is unconstitutional to jail someone just because they owe money. But Alabama has no set process for courts to determine if a defendant can afford to pay fines and fees. And though debtors’ prisons are illegal, thousands of Alabamians are in danger of going to jail or are driven further into poverty because they can’t pay high costs attached to the criminal justice system.

Fines and fees are everywhere

Alabama relies heavily on fines and fees to fund its court system. Largely as a result, fees are attached to every phase of criminal justice proceedings in our state.

People pay bail bonds and related fees to avoid jail before trial. They pay fines and costs if convicted. They pay fees for drug testing, parole supervision and public defender representation. And they pay for diversion programs to keep convictions off their record and community corrections programs to maintain jobs and lives while serving sentences.

The financial damage continues beyond the courthouse and jail. People pay fees to reinstate driver’s licenses and higher costs for some mandatory types of insurance. They pay interest and surcharges because they can’t pay the full amount at once. And they even pay a fee for paying in installments.

Criminal justice debt adds up

A 2014 survey by TASC, Jefferson County’s community corrections program, found 90% of participants owed court debt averaging $7,885. Costs for possessing 1 ounce of marijuana in Shelby County could total $2,611, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama found. Probation could add $960, and driver’s license restoration would add another $300.

Legal financial obligations (LFOs) often lead to incarceration and debt. In much of Alabama, a person who falls behind on payments can be jailed. TASC’s survey found nearly one in five respondents (18%) had been jailed for failure to pay fees or fines.

Mounting debt also can prompt cynicism about a system that preys on people of color and people who live in poverty. Many of the worst abuses of criminal justice debt have occurred in places with large Black and Hispanic populations. Four out of five people charged with crimes are indigent. And 60% of people surveyed by TASC said they had to choose between paying LFOs or meeting basic needs like groceries, utilities and housing.

Fixing Alabama’s criminal justice debt problems

Lawmakers have numerous policy solutions available to help repair a court system that traps many Alabamians in debt. These options include:

  • Standardize determination of ability to pay.
  • Create an income-based sliding scale for fines, fees and other legal financial obligations.
  • Eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors.
  • Stop requiring payment of fines and fees before restoring the right to vote for Alabamians who are otherwise eligible.
  • Prohibit jailing people for unpaid debt.
  • Study and remedy racial disparities in criminal justice debt.
  • Encourage courts to use alternatives to monetary sanctions, such as community service or treatment programs.
  • End driver’s license revocations and suspensions for offenses unrelated to driving, such as a drug crime or missed court date.
  • Eliminate fees for reinstating driver’s licenses.

Bottom line

Alabamians deserve a justice system that helps people rejoin society and doesn’t squeeze every cent from people with limited resources. Funding courts through adequate general appropriations instead of fines and fees would be a major step toward a more just, inclusive Alabama for all.

Alabama’s death penalty practices remain unjust and unusually cruel

Americans increasingly oppose the death penalty. Gallup found that opposition to the death penalty more than doubled in the past 25 years. This may result from disturbingly high error rates in the system. For every 10 people executed since 1976, one innocent person on death row has been set free.

Alabama took an important step toward death penalty reform in 2017, but the state’s death penalty scheme remains broken. That year, the state finally outlawed judicial override in capital cases. That change means judges no longer can impose the death penalty when a jury recommends life without parole.

But the ban was not retroactive, and 35 people who were sentenced that way remain on death row. Fixing that failure is one of several key reforms that would bring Alabama’s capital punishment system in line with national standards and federal court rulings.

Alabama’s death penalty practices are behind the times

Alabama’s death penalty scheme has failed to keep up with reforms in the rest of the United States. Under state law, prosecutors do not have to prove a defendant was at least 18 years old when the crime occurred. State law also lacks protections against executing people with mental disabilities. U.S. Supreme Court precedent is the sole authority preventing executions of defendants with IQs below 70.

An increasing number of states are abandoning capital punishment. Most recently, Virginia became the first Southern state to do so when Gov. Ralph Northam signed an abolition bill in March 2021. In all, 26 states either have abolished the death penalty or have seen their governor impose a moratorium, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Racial disparities abound in our state’s capital punishment system. In Alabama, people convicted of killing a white person are more than four times more likely to get a death sentence than people convicted of killing someone who is not white, the Equal Justice Initiative found in 2011. And Alabama has more people on death row per capita than any other death penalty state.

How to reform Alabama’s capital punishment system

Ending judicial override in future cases was an important first step toward fixing Alabama’s broken death penalty system. But other recent changes have aimed to enshrine that system instead. In 2018, the Legislature authorized a backup execution method, nitrogen hypoxia, in case courts outlaw lethal injection. This new procedure would kill people through suffocation, and it has never been used on a human before.

Efforts to prop up the state’s broken death penalty system are misguided. Alabama can and should enact numerous reforms to reduce the unfairness of its death penalty practices. Those changes include:

  • Make the 2017 judicial override ban retroactive.
  • Require unanimous agreement from the jury to sentence people to death.
  • Amend state law to require prosecutors to prove a defendant was 18 or older at the time of the crime.
  • Amend state law to forbid executions of people who have serious cognitive impairments.
  • Impose a moratorium to study and end racially biased death penalty practices.
  • Provide state funding for appeals of death sentences, as all other states with capital punishment do.
  • Ultimately eliminate capital punishment.

Bottom line

Alabama should reduce and eliminate the unequal, unfair practices present in the state’s death penalty scheme – and ultimately should end capital punishment entirely. Alabamians deserve a fair, unbiased justice system, and these death penalty reforms would be steps toward a more just state.

Funding boosts bring opportunity to invest in Alabama’s future

Alabama’s broken tax system usually starves our state of money to fund basic responsibilities adequately. But 2022 may be different. Record tax revenues and a surge of federal recovery dollars could allow lawmakers to address longstanding state needs and inequities – if they have the political courage.

State revenues that pay for our schools, including income taxes earmarked for teacher salaries, went up 16% in 2021, according to the Legislative Services Agency. Internet sales taxes and other revenues for non-education programs grew more than 11% in 2021. Alabama also has received federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to aid recovery from the COVID-19 recession. Alabama has $580 million remaining in 2021 ARPA funds, plus another $1.06 billion coming in 2022.

Coming fast behind ARPA are federal infrastructure dollars for roads, bridges and public transportation. And if the U.S. Senate passes it, the Build Back Better Act will include new funds for child care, health care and senior services.

Transformative changes for a better Alabama

Legislators already have begun talking about how to spend this money. Alabama Arise believes wise use of these funds can make Alabama a better place for generations to come. Many of our recommendations are in our statement of principles for spending recovery dollars. A few key Arise recommendations include:

  • Untax groceries. Tax cuts should help struggling Alabamians who already pay a disproportionate share of state taxes. Ending the state grocery tax is a good place to start.
  • Expand Medicaid. Federal recovery dollars can help free up state money for Medicaid expansion. This would save hundreds of lives and ensure affordable health coverage for more than 340,000 Alabamians every year.
  • Make the criminal justice system more just. Legislators just made a misguided decision to spend $400 million of ARPA money on new prison construction. They now should invest in meaningful policy changes like sentencing reform and other alternatives to incarceration.

Alabama lawmakers have a chance to make far-reaching and lasting changes in 2022. Arise and our members will work hard to ensure they seize this opportunity.