Please see below for Mayor Tommy Battle’s responses to the 2018 Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News Gubernatorial Candidate Questionnaire. Submitted Friday, May 11 at 4:00 pm
Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News
2018 Gubernatorial Questionnaire
SUBMITTED BY: TOMMY BATTLE
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND PRINCIPLES
Question: What is your political philosophy and, if elected, how would it shape the way you govern?
Battle: I consider myself a pragmatic conservative. I like to take a common sense approach to the issues and move forward to solve problems in a business-like manner. I believe in collaboration. I will engage industry experts and working alongside them, solve challenges and create opportunities that are the best for all of Alabama.
How have you demonstrated your commitment to your political philosophy?
As mayor of Huntsville for the last ten years I have improved education, invested in our work force, and added new infrastructure like roads, bridges, and fiber optic cables that increase internet speed. As a result my area added 24,000 jobs and $4 BILLION in economic investment. US News & World Report just ranked Huntsville as the 7th Best City to Live in the United States! This shows not only my commitment to my political philosophy but, the results!
What is the most important role of the governor?
The governor’s most important role is being a servant leader to the people of Alabama and providing a vision for our future. By listening to the citizens and collaborating with stakeholders, we can implement a plan to solve our problems, and take advantage of our opportunities. We can make Alabama better, together.
What is the most challenging social issue facing families in Alabama? Does government have a role in helping to solve that problem, and if so, what would you propose?
Our most challenging social issue is Crime and Public Safety. I think government’s first responsibility is guaranteeing the safety of it’s people. One of the first things I’ll do as Governor is make sure our first responders have the proper amount of resources and support. Our law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency personnel have had to make do with less for too long. We must also take a pro-active approach to the mental health programs and treatment options for our citizens. I am proud of my record in Huntsville where we have created the safest major city in the state of Alabama. With my leadership, we can make Alabama’s public safety better!
Alabama has four abortion clinics operating across the state, and Planned Parenthood has announced plans to build a new clinic in downtown Birmingham. How do you feel about these clinics and what would you do as governor about any taxpayer funds they receive?
I believe in the sanctity of life, and I believe it begins at conception. We can eliminate abortions in our state by providing better adoption opportunities for families, and educating mothers on alternative care options.
Alabama is ranked number forty-seven on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best States for Education, and ranked number 1 in Pre-Kindergarten quality. As far as public education reforms, there have been many suggestions for improvement including increased investment in STEM education, distance learning, and reforming teacher tenure. What reforms would you propose or support to improve public education and prepare Alabama’s children for school success and lifelong learning?
Huntsville is ranked number seven on US News and World Report’s list of Best Cities to Live in America. We achieved this ranking largely due to the quality of the education system we have provided our residents. We reformed our Pre-K program years ago, long before Montgomery decided it was important, and we did it with no state funding.
For too long the state of Alabama has been plagued with an education system that is lower quality than what our students deserve. We need to put control back into the hands of our local school boards, education foundations, and community leaders. In addition, we need to insure that our students receive a year’s worth of advancement out of a year’s worth of instruction. This is accomplished by providing teachers, like my wife, Eula, with the resources they need to be successful and holding the system accountable.
We need to begin empowering our children with the skills needed for 21st Century jobs. That means introducing technology into every classroom, technical programs in every high school. To do this we need vision. I made the education system in Huntsville one of the best in the state. As your next governor I will make Alabama’s education one of the best in the country!
ALABAMA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION
Dr. Eric Mackey was recently named Alabama’s next State Superintendent of Education. The governor serves as a voting member of the Alabama State Board of Education. What vision for Alabama do you share with the new superintendent and where do your philosophies differ? How will you prioritize Alabama’s school children in your role on the Board?
I think the vision we share is the desire to make sure all of Alabama’s children have access to a good quality education, and this can be achieved by collaborating and working together. Dr. Mackey has stated his top priority will be assessment of student achievement. I agree it is important to assess students in order to insure they are getting a year’s worth of advancement out of a year’s worth of instruction. I am unsure of any differing philosophies at this time but, I believe if we have a shared vision then we can accomplish that goal working together. Working with the State Board of Education I will prioritize Alabama’s school children by fiercely protecting the education budget, and not allowing it to be combined with the state’s general fund budget. I will work to insure they are equipped with the knowledge and skills to accomplish their goals in life.
The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida reignited the discussion about school safety. President Trump has suggested arming teachers while others have argued for increased use of school resource officers and funding for mental health programs. As governor, how would you ensure the safety of Alabama’s children in public schools?
I will employ the successful program that we developed in Huntsville years ago. Our plan includes; providing access control systems to educational buildings, partnering with local law enforcement to provide active intervention, and engaging district attorney’s offices to provide proactive intervention for student safety.
As a Mayor I recognize our local law enforcement officials are the first responders to school incidents. As governor, I will facilitate conversations between state law enforcement and local law enforcement to develop policies and procedures for responding to serious threats to our communities.
In 2015, Alabama became the 43rd state to approve legislation to authorize charter schools. Many states now allow parents to transfer their child from a failing public school to a non-failing public school, to utilize education savings accounts or school vouchers, or to send students to alternative schools using tax-credit scholarships, allowing parents greater control in their child’s educational endeavors. How should school choice fit into Alabama’s education system?
We all want the best education for our children, and as parents we should have the ability to put our child in a school that best fits their needs. If our educational system has taught us anything it is that one size does not fit all. We must continue to develop new means and methods for educating our children. Charter schools will work in some areas, but it is important that their funding does not come at the sacrifice of our public education system.
In Alabama, the bottom 20% of earners pay 10% of their income in state and local taxes while the top 1% only pays 3.8% of their income in the same taxes. If elected, what would be the future of the state income tax and do you see this disparity as a problem?
State government has a long history of wasteful spending and expecting tax payers to bail out bankrupt programs like PACT. If elected, my 90-Day Battle Plan calls for a performance audit. We will perform an independent examination of the programs, functions, operations, and most importantly the management procedures of the revenues and expenses of the State of Alabama to assess efficient and effective use of the available resources provided by, and too, the people of Alabama. We will report the results to the citizens and provide them annual updates on our progress. Only after insuring the proper accounting of tax payer money can we determine the future of our income tax.
STATE AND LOCAL TAXES
According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, Alabama boasts the 12th most regressive state and local tax system in the nation. One contributor to this ranking is our combined 9% grocery tax (only four states tax groceries more than Alabama). In 2017, Governor Bentley proposed decreasing the grocery tax by 4%. If you are elected, would you suggest changes to the grocery tax?
Taxes on groceries are a sales tax. Those taxes pay for police, firefighters, medical facilities, roads, schools, and other critical community needs. Those funds must come from some source. As a fiscal conservative I believe in paying your bills, and not mortgaging today’s cost on the backs of future generations. Whether it is through sales tax, or another revenue source, we need to pay for what we get.
US News ranks Alabama’s roads and bridges as the 16th and 21st best in the country, respectively. Even so, every neighbor of ours—except Mississippi—has roads and bridges that rank in the top 10. Alabama also ranks 45th in terms of broadband access. If elected, what would you prioritize as the most important infrastructure investment projects, and what innovative options would you propose to fund such projects?
Roads and infrastructure investment is vital to our growth and prosperity, but we must also be working on and investing in the infrastructure of tomorrow, like fiber internet service. I initiated the effort to install fiber cables across Huntsville, and we will soon have the fastest most reliable internet in the state. Alabama is far behind the curve in providing quality Internet access to residents. I have a better vision and plan to make Alabama a more connected state.
As for roads and bridges, every region of this state has a major infrastructure project that we need to assess and determine how best to address. Investing in our roads and bridges is an investment in our future, and certainly a top priority of mine. We hear that Montgomery does not have a budget problem, but it has a spending problem. Let’s solve that riddle once and for all by doing a performance audit of the financials as called for in my first 90-Day Battle Plan. Let’s provide the people of Alabama a complete picture of our financial health then collectively we can decide how best to move forward with funding. We must evaluate all funding options, determine the best, and communicate that to the people of Alabama; this will begin to restore trust in state government.
Most states resort to installing a state-run lottery to increase revenue and pay for government projects. Do you support a lottery to solve the state’s fiscal woes? Why or why not?
I support the people’s right to vote on the lottery and, if approved, that revenue should be used to equitably benefit all Alabamians through education, workforce development and other programs, but not to solve the state’s fiscal woes or shore up the general fund budget.
THE RIGHT TO WORK
The Census Bureau suggests that Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee are creating more jobs than Alabama. As governor, how would you foster job creation that rivals our neighbors to the north, east, and south?
I am the most effective job creator in the state. Over the last 10 years I have created more jobs than all other Alabama counties combined. That’s 63% of all jobs in the state of Alabama. I have created 53% of the jobs in this state announced while Governor Ivey has been in office. I have a better plan for job creation and as your next governor; I’ll put my plan to work for all Alabamians!
ROLE OF LABOR
Alabama is a right-to-work state. In your opinion, what is the proper role of organized labor and should Alabama remain a right-to-work state?
Yes, Alabama should remain a right-to-work state. As I travel to recruit industry and businesses like Remington Fire Arms (2,000 jobs), Polaris (2,000 jobs), and especially Toyota-Mazda (4,000 jobs) one of the most attractive things about our state to these companies is that we are a right-to-work state.
OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING IN ALABAMA
The state of Alabama licenses 151 different occupations and over 20% of Alabama workers need a license to work. If elected, how would address these regulations—regulations that both the Obama and Trump administrations have regarded as problematic?
Over regulation by the government is largely created by special interests protecting themselves. Occupations that affect the life, safety and general welfare of our citizens should be regulated, and where necessary, licensed to perform their work. I support less regulation for business as long as it is not at the expense of the citizen’s safety.
According to the CDC, Alabama is the state highest-prescribed with opioids, with more prescriptions than people. Opioids are the main driver of overdose deaths and, in 2016, 756 Alabamians died from drug overdoses. As governor, how would you tackle Alabama’s share of this national crisis?
This crisis is plaguing every community across this state and country. We must use existing and new technology to regulate dosages and to assist in stopping deaths due to over-dosing. We must regulate the doctors prescribing these drugs, and prosecute those medical professionals who over prescribe for personal gain. Illegal drug dealers must be dealt with harshly, and we must reform users through mental health and medical treatments.
Alabama has the third highest murder rate in the country. As governor, how would you address crime and what policies, specifically, would you propose?
I will facilitate conversations between state and local law enforcement officers. Together, we will develop policies and procedures for responding to serious threats to our communities. I will work to provide law enforcement with the resources they need to protect our communities. In addition, I will make sure violent criminals serve out their sentence and stop the revolving door for repeat offenders. I am proud of my record in Huntsville where we have created the safest major city in the state of Alabama. With my leadership, we will reduce crime in Alabama!
Alabama has received national attention for the state of its prisons and a federal judge recently called inmate care “horrendously inadequate”. How would you address this issue, and do you support the use of private prisons?
Prison reform is a priority in our 90-Day Battle Plan. Here is how you address prison reform: (1) Review federal report with mandates for improvement, and determine course of action to include a review of all contracts executed by prior administration. (2) Work with Judiciary and law enforcement on evaluation of sentencing guidelines; (3) Partner with local training programs to establish skills training for inmates that will equip them with the skills needed to obtain a job when they re-enter the workforce. (4) Partner with Sheriff’s & Counties across the state to collaborate for additional bed space & workforce training.
CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE
Some states are eliminating provisions that allow police to seize property without securing a criminal conviction. Do you support the use of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement and the provision that allows agencies to keep the proceeds of seized property? Why or why not?
People who commit crimes should not benefit from ill-gotten gains; those funds should go to the use of public safety. However, the abuse of this system must stop. We can find middle ground by freezing the assets of those accused of a crime and if they are found ‘not guilty’ their assets should be returned. However, if those accused are convicted then their assets should be forfeited to law enforcement.