It’s Not Just AEA Anymore. Alabama Legislators Draw National Lobbying Attention

Across the country, national companies and causes, from Uber to pharmaceutical manufacturers, are turning their lobbying power onto state legislatures where they seek a better chance of influencing decisions than in Washington. The Alabama Legislature, now in session in Montgomery, is no stranger to this new attention.

From 2010 through 2014, Alabama’s 140 senators and representatives were the focus of six times that many entities pushing their messages and protecting their interests in Montgomery.

These are findings of a just-released study by the Center for Public Integrity, a national government watchdog group.

Birmingham’s Economy 2016: Three Views

2016 could be a very good year for business expansion and employment in the Birmingham area, except ….

That’s a bottom line from conversations with people who have fingers on the economic pulse of the area: Andreas Rauterkus, Associate Professor in University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business; Devon Laney, President and CEO of Innovation Depot, and Art Carden, Associate Professor of Economics, Brock School of Business at Samford University.

On their lists of 2016 stories-that-matter on the local economy:

You’re going to the doctor more. That’s a good thing.
Healthcare and financial services are dependable pillars of the Birmingham economy, and 2016 should be a good year for those enterprises, Dr. Rauterkus says. Local unemployment is down from recession levels, and that helps healthcare. “People go to the doctor more,” he explains. In financial services, most Birmingham-area businesses have little international exposure which means

Education Issues to Follow in 2016

Keep your eyes on Montgomery advises Trisha Powell Crain, executive director of Alabama School Connection and contributor to BirminghamWatch. The governor, Alabama legislature and education officials face a full plate of decisions that affect classrooms throughout the state. Among important items, Crain says, are:

The RAISE Act

senatormarsh

Sen. Del Marsh. Photo, Office of President Pro Tem.

RAISE (Rewarding Advance in Instruction and Student Excellence Act) is still a draft proposal, not filed as a bill. It affects teacher evaluation, teacher pay and teacher tenure. An element in the draft calls for rating teacher effectiveness partly by student test scores. Del Marsh, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem, has circulated the draft to traditional players in setting education policy, including the Alabama Association of School Boards and the Alabama Education Association. This update last week is from Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser : Tenure bill greeted cautiously, raises some concerns

Education Trust Fund allocations

More dollars, millions more, are available to be budgeted for 2016-2017 than were allocated for the current fiscal year. The big question: What agencies and missions will get the new money?

No Football Scores but Lots of Other Stats on Alabama Colleges, from PARCA

The average annual cost of attending an Alabama college ranges from almost $29,000 to about $8,500. Graduation rates vary from 70 percent to 26 percent. And the chances of a college’s former students earning more than $25,000 a year vary widely too.

In an analysis published Tuesday, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama focused on cost, outcome and other statistics for the state’s colleges, and discussed factors involved in those numbers. The information from colleges nationwide was released last month by the U.S. Department of Education in its College Scorecard.

Katz: “Break Some China” to Build Birmingham as Economic Power

A national advocate who believes cities must lead economic development and change dysfunctional politics visited Birmingham Thursday, and this is what he quickly noted:

A downtown still anchored by handsome old buildings, something gone in many places. The rail lines. “Crazy amounts” of affordable housing. The presence of a major health and science research university. Challenges, including addressing poverty and identifying local companies known worldwide for their work.

Could it be a better budget plan for Alabama?

The Alabama Legislature passed a 2016 general fund budget, and Gov. Robert Bentley signed it. That long, hard-fought deal keeps state government running and juggles a lot of political interests. But the deal also seems in sync with budget reform ideas from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama: Set clear priorities and find more effective ways to handle state business. Want to dig deeper? Here are Parca’s reports on Alabama’s approaches to corrections and Medicaid.

Meet AIIJ’s Board of Directors

The Board is the policy-making and oversight body of AIIJ. Members are Brett Blackledge, Brant Houston, Mark Kelly, Jerome Lanning, Carol Nunnelley, Emily Jones Rushing, and Odessa Woolfolk.  
Brett Blackledge
Government and Investigations Editor at The Naples Daily News in Florida, won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting while working with The Birmingham News in 2007. His Pulitzer Prize-winning work detailed nepotism and cronyism in Alabama’s two-year college system. The series also earned Blackledge a national public service award from Associated Press Media Editors.

Meet the people behind BirminghamWatch

The journey to creating Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism and BirminghamWatch is a story about many things. It’s about Birmingham’s need for news that asks important questions and searches for trustworthy answers. It’s about pushing against a tide, and putting more reporters to work covering school boards, digging through data, and informing voters. It’s about working with other Birmingham news organizations that share this mission.

Today, I want to tell our story in a personal way, by introducing people behind it. AIIJ’s directors share a common passion for good journalism. They stepped up to do hard work in founding a nonprofit news organization.

Supporters

The photographs throughout this initial edition of BirminghamWatch.org are the work of Walt Stricklin, generously donated by him for use on the website. BirminghamWatch and Alabama Initiative for Independent Journalism gratefully acknowledge all the support and volunteer contributions during the project’s development.