Republican House hopefuls discuss top issues

Published 8:33 pm Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Whoever is elected to represent District 89 in the Alabama House of Representatives will immediately have some tough issues to face.

The two Republican candidates for the seat, Wes Allen and Marcus Paramore, have different approaches toward tackling some of those problems.

One of the issues both candidates see as a looming and important topic is the state’s education system.

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Paramore said the amount of revenue in the education budget isn’t necessarily the problem that the state is facing.

“The last education budget was $6.8 billion; that’s a lot of money,” Paramore said. “The way some of that money is allocated needs to be addressed first. I don’t think the state is looking at drastic revenue changes.”

Paramore said the formula that determines how much money each school system gets is outdated and needs to be reworked to meet the needs of today’s schools.

The Foundation system allocates money based on the average enrollment

“When you look at the amount of revenue raised locally for schools from Hoover to Wilcox County, you see major discrepancies among school systems,” Paramore said. “ … the formulas need to be addressed for today’s world instead of 1970.”

Currently employed by Troy University as the school’s director of governmental relations, Paramore said the formulas for higher education need just as much fixing.

“The higher ed formula is extremely outdated and just way off the chart,” Paramore said. “The Legislature comes in with a pot of money and everybody gets a 5 percent increase and yet enrollments at Troy were increasing 18 to 20 percent. Now, the funding per student has gone from $7,000 a student to $3,000 a student. Our rate of enrollment is growing at far higher rate than state funding is growing … It’s not right to fund institutions that are not growing at a much higher rate. Let’s start funding the institutions that are growing.”

Allen said more power needs to be given to the schools at a local level.

“I don’t know that a top-down approach works,” Allen said. “We need to ensure that Dr. (Mark) Bazzell (superintendent of Pike County Schools) and Dr. (Lee) Hicks (superintendent of Troy City Schools) have the resources they need and the autonomy to tailor educational programs to meet the needs of our students and prepare them for jobs outside of school. Not everyone goes to college. There are plenty of opportunities; workforce development is part of that puzzle. They need all the resources they can get. Local boards and parents need to decide what’s best for them.”

Allen said the formula should only be changed if the taxpayers are asking for it to be changed and that there is a lot to discuss at the Statehouse to fix the issues the state is having.

“Everything needs to be taken into account in regards to how the state legislature disperses money,” Allen said. “This is our largest education trust fund budget we’ve had in a long time. How that’s dispersed is a discussion we can have at the Statehouse. There are a lot of different interests and hands in that pot; that’s the tough thing about navigating those legislative waters.”

Another issue both candidates tackled is infrastructure – specifically the recent proposals of a gas tax increase to fund road repairs in the state.

“There have been several different proposals for a gas tax over the last couple of sessions,” Allen said. “I understand the need in the county for good farm-to-market roads and that the 1992 law has not been changed despite better gas mileage for vehicles. But we need to be very careful; that was one of the deadest bills of the session at one point. I’m not going to sign on to supporting a gas tax until I know how it affects Pike and Dale counties; we have different needs then Mobile or Madison counties. I’m keeping an open mind about it.”

Allen said there are other proposals that have been made in recent years that could potentially be better solutions than raising the gas tax.

“One of the things that the state does now is it takes $60m out and redirects it to other agencies,” Allen said. “That’s $600million over the last 10 years that could be dispersed to the counties. That’s one thing we need to look at. Another proposal did not make it out to the floor that would give commissions the opportunity to hold a referendum on whether to raise their own individual gas tax. I think that’s one valid proposal that’s been on the table.”

Paramore said he would want to ensure the tax would be beneficial to Pike and Dale counties, but generally supports the idea that a raise is needed on the gas tax.

“It’s hard without infrastructure to have economic development or good schools,” Paramore said. “We want (our kids) to be able to travel roads and bridges that are not in dire need of repair. We’ve got to do something. A critical decision might have to be made about passing the tax. I think it’s paramount. You’ve got to find a way to fund the things that you’ve got to fund … The tax has been the same since the ‘90s; nothing has changed since on the state or federal level.”

Paramore called the plan put on the table during the last session a “very good plan” as long as the money goes back to where it was raised.

“The gas tax is more of a use tax,” Paramore said. “Everybody above the age of 16 is buying gas. I think (raising a tax) is the necessary thing sometimes that you’ve got to do … In the plan last session, 80 percent went to the county and 20 percent to the city. That’s where the need is. The counties need money right now more than the municipalities. I would go with that 80/20 split.”

Paramore said he also wouldn’t want the money to be supporting “interstate changes” or other road projects that don’t directly affect Pike and Dale County residents and would want a sunset provision on the tax so that it expired after some length of time.

Each candidate also put an emphasis on economic development.

“The state is really blowing it out of the water on economic development right now,” Paramore said. “We need to continue that.”

“I don’t have any policy-making authority right now, but I understand the importance of development,” Allen said. “We need to concentrate on economic development but not losing the fabric of our community – a small town that’s a great place to raise your children.”

Both candidates said the other big problems such as Alabama’s failing prison systems and ever-expanding Medicaid expenditures are more long-term issues that are going to take getting into the Legislature to begin to understand how to fix them.

Allen and Paramore will square off in the Republican primaries on Tuesday, June 5. The winner will face local attorney Joel Lee Williams, the Democratic nominee, in the general election.