Local, state and national leaders are gearing up for a productive 2019, with those interviewed giving Lagniappe a preview of what they’re looking forward to, or what they will work on in the coming year.
Noting the turbulence felt by many between himself and the City Council, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said his top priority would be working toward better collaboration. Stimpson and the council are currently embroiled in a lawsuit to determine which branch of government can unilaterally hire, fire and contract with employees and professional service agreements.
Stimpson also said he would like to further improve the job market, adding there’s greater confidence in the city’s future and it should lead to better job opportunities.
Stimpson also wants to improve public safety, even though he claims there were fewer homicides and violent crimes in 2018 compared to 2017. There will be work done in 2019 to help the Mobile Police Department “move the needle” even more, Stimpson said.
“Everybody is interested in improved public safety,” he said. “We’ve made tremendous strides … .”
For example, Stimpson mentioned the upgrade to the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department’s Insurance Service Office rating. The ISO-1 rating is the best available.
Stimpson also mentioned a continued focus on improved infrastructure. He said the city’s capital improvement program along with Restore Act projects would really make a difference in 2019.
“There’s an unprecedented amount of money being spent in the city in 2019 and 2020,” he said. “Infrastructure will be a big deal.”
The city will play support roles in other aspects of government as well, Stimpson said. With its passage of an intergovernmental agreement at its December meeting, the Mobile Housing Board has accepted federal funds from the city to help with its aging housing stock.
“We’ve set a course to help them fix their challenges,” Stimpson said of the agreement.
Stimpson also said he wants to help play a supporting role for Mobile County Schools’ Superintendent Chresal Threadgill in his “quest to improve the education of youth in the city.”
Republican State Rep. Chris Pringle expects 2019 to be busy in the Alabama Legislature.
He expects three bills to garner major attention in the legislative session beginning in March. He said there will be a gambling bill, a gas tax bill and a prison reform bill. On gambling, Pringle said bills in the past have not been “clean,” setting out to legalize gambling before setting up parameters for its regulation. Before any gambling bill could pass the Legislature, it would have to find a way to regulate it.
As for the gas tax, Pringle said the cost of infrastructure continues to increase, with new requirements for curbs and gutters, as well as costly environmental studies. While a gas tax hike is not out of the question, Pringle said, it would have to come with some reform of the Alabama Department of Transportation before he’d feel comfortable signing off.
Democratic State Rep. Barbara Drummond said she has been leery of previous gas tax bills because of the formula used to allocate new revenue. Although she admitted the state’s infrastructure is “crumbling,” she doesn’t believe previous bills have given enough to cities, like Mobile, and she would want to see what happens with it in 2019.
As for prison reform, Drummond believes the state should focus on better re-entry programs to help inmates become more productive members of society once their time is served. This, she said, would cut down on recidivism.
“It would put a stop to the revolving door,” Drummond said.
On gambling, Drummond said the state has to provide a “sustainable revenue source for the general fund.” She said she would support an education lottery and would consider gaming as well.
In addition to the bills mentioned, Drummond said she would like to see more funding for Medicaid. She’s in favor of expansion, noting that health care continues to be a critical issue in the state.
Drummond said she hopes the new legislative session will bring a continued effort from the Mobile County delegation to work together.
U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-1st District) said at a national level there will be a continued effort to reverse the “disinvestment” in defense. There have been increases in the defense budget in fiscal year 2018, fiscal year 2019 and one is planned for fiscal year 2020.
Part of that investment will go toward a 350-ship fleet for the Navy, which means more Littoral Combat Ships. In fact, two of the three ships that are part of the LCS program in 2019 will be built at Austal in Mobile, Byrne said.
“It will have a direct impact on Mobile, where Austal has 4,000 employees,” he said. “I’m excited about the future of military shipbuilding along the Gulf Coast.”
Byrne is hopeful Congress can also pass a bipartisan bill on infrastructure in the coming year, nodding to funding shortfalls for the Interstate 10 Mobile River bridge.
Byrne also hopes to help secure a longer snapper fishing season in federal waters.
On another note, Byrne said he believes Congress will be able to work to pass bipartisan legislation in the next session and said there is a spirit of bipartisanship on several issues.
U.S. Sen Doug Jones (D-Alabama) also has an eye toward making sure Alabama’s “priorities are reflected” in the next defense appropriations bill, as a new member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“That committee is a very, very active committee, but Alabama is home to such incredible military establishments,” Jones said. “We’re the ninth biggest state in terms of federal money going into military defense and trying to keep the security of this nation intact.”
In addition, Jones said he would be re-introducing bills in 2019 dealing with Medicaid expansion, financial literacy and predatory lending, among others.
“We’re also looking at some other new, original bills that we can introduce in the first quarter,” he said.
Jason Johnson contributed to this report.