Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Times Daily on taxing coronavirus relief funds:
Unless the state Legislature acts, families, individuals and businesses that received federal coronavirus relief funds will be taxed on them come next tax season.
That will come as a nasty surprise to many families that are already dealing with the financial strain of the coronavirus pandemic, economic lockdowns and the worst economic downtown since the Great Depression.
Without legislative action, the state of Alabama will tax as income the stimulus checks of up to $1,200 per person, and forgiven Paycheck Protection Program loans to businesses that Congress passed earlier this year.
These payments are already tax exempt at the federal level, but without new legislation, Alabama tax law sees it as just more income.
Ideally, some of this money might be taxed. For example, people received $1,200 checks regardless of their income or whether they lost their job or lost hours and income. In short, some people got the money who didn’t need it, and retroactively means testing the checks via the tax code is not a bad idea.
But that is not what happened. Congress passed and the president signed the payments into law tax free. The idea was the checks would not be just emergency payments to those in need but economic stimulus. The data is still out as to whether or not that worked.
Regardless, there seems little appetite in the Alabama Legislature for taxing some coronavirus relief but not other coronavirus relief. It’s going to be all or nothing, and if that’s the case, poor and middle class families don’t need a tax burden levied against emergency funds meant to bail them out during a crisis.
“No one intends to tax that money,” said state Sen. Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook. “The intention of these dollars is to stimulate the economy and help people make it through this epidemic. But legislation needs to be passed, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Lawmakers are working on tax-exemption legislation now, but there is no telling when they will be able to vote on it. The Legislature’s 2020 session is over, cut short because of the pandemic. There is no guarantee Gov. Kay Ivey will call a special session later this year.
Some lawmakers said this issue should have already been resolved.
“There was the ability to fix this last session,” Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Fairhope, said. He had a standalone bill addressing the stimulus tax issue in May. “That is my frustration, something so basic that needed to happen wasn’t allowed to be considered in the last session.”
That didn’t happen because state House leaders insisted on doing no more than passing the state’s education and General Fund budgets, which they did.
Unfortunately, that left a lot of important business, which could have been conducted quickly and with little controversy, undone. Yet past experience tells us that if the session had extended to issues beyond the budgets, it would have descended into the usual wrangling that keeps things from getting done in the first place.
Whatever the case, the Legislature may not be able to take up the taxation of coronavirus relief funds until its next regular session, which starts Feb. 2, just as tax forms start going out.
That will leave little margin for error, if Alabama lawmakers are to ensure Alabamians don’t have to pay an unexpected tax on the coronavirus relief they’ve already received, and any more that might be forthcoming before the year is out.
The Dothan Eagle on a community event in Dothan, Alabama:
Saturday’s heat and humidity failed to put a damper on the city’s first makeover project in the historic Baptist Bottom neighborhood. Volunteers turned out to help area residents in cleaning up the 14-block area, and made a lot of headway.
We hope it’s the first of many such work days.
Dothan officials pulled the initiative together in an effort to clean up blighted areas of our city. We heartily endorse the plan, as well as the ingenuity of enlisting the assistance of those who live in and around the areas that need attention, as well as volunteers from throughout the city. Far more can be done when the community invests itself in any project.
The initiative goes by the name “Love Your Neighborhood,” but a more appropriate moniker would be “Love Your Neighbor,” because what drove Saturday’s efforts was concern and appreciation for one’s fellow man, a motivation that underscores the idea of community.
We applaud those who turned out to put their sweat and muscle into a much-needed clean-up operation. We hope those who participated share their experiences with others and encourage participation in the next municipal makeover project.
The Decatur Daily on federal authorities finding housing discrimination in Decatur, Alabama:
The doctrine of “separate but equal” was supposed to be a thing of the past, overturned in 1954 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Imagine, then, the shock and dismay to find separate but equal alive and well in Decatur — although not its schools, but its public housing.
In a compliance review obtained by The Decatur Daily, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that the Decatur Housing Authority was discriminating against Blacks, placing them on never-ending wait lists for housing at Jordan-Neill and Summer Manor apartments, and steering them instead to Westgate Gardens, a Northwest Decatur housing project off West Moulton Road.
The result was almost completely segregated public housing, with 100% of the tenants in Westgate Gardens being Black. “In comparison, the tenant roster for The Towers indicated that 94% of the units are occupied by white tenants.”
Jordan-Neill and Summer Manor — “The Towers” — are multi-story buildings on either side of Rhodes Ferry Park and offer views of the Tennessee River.
HUD’s investigation found exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court found when it overturned the doctrine of separate but equal: Separate is not equal.
“The Towers are located on the banks of the Tennessee River and both properties are adjacent to a city park where community and social events are held. Tenants of The Towers have access to walking trails along the river and spectacular waterfront views. Each property has at least one community/meeting room, a library with hundreds of books, community kitchen, mobile food pantry, two pianos and an outdoor patio,” HUD found.
“In comparison, Westgate Gardens is a garden-style, isolated public housing development located in a highly concentrated minority area with a poverty rate of 61%. The tenants at Westgate Gardens do not have similar or comparable amenities like those found at The Towers,” according to HUD. “Additionally, none of the social activities that are provided to tenants in The Towers are offered to tenants at Westgate Gardens.”
As a result of HUD’s findings, the Decatur Housing Authority paid claims of $200,000, which HUD was distributing to victims of the alleged discrimination last week. In addition, Decatur Housing Authority has agree to $1 million in upgrades to Westgate Gardens.
What is shocking is that the situation got this far. It is a failure of moral sensibilities, and a failure of oversight. Allen Stover, supervisor of Community Development for Decatur, said the city has no oversight authority over Decatur Housing Authority, although it does appoint it’s board.
Decatur Housing Authority Board Chairman James Ridgeway declined to comment on HUD’s findings.
“I’m not going to answer anything pertaining to the board. I don’t run the thing. I’m just a board member,” Ridgeway said Friday.
He said the board does have authority to terminate or discipline the directors, but it has not done so.
“We don’t have nothing against them. They’ve done a good job,” he said.
That conclusion is certainly debatable, to say the least. Otherwise, HUD, which was investigating claims of housing discrimination in Alabama and Mississippi, would not have concluded that “Decatur Housing Authority was the most egregious.”
The Decatur Housing Authority cannot be allowed to duck responsibility for treating some of the city’s citizens as second class.