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Huntsville
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Fort Payne

Off The Record: The latest rumors and rumblings in North Alabama

 

Mega development whispers

Local brokers see no slowing down in the commercial real estate market. Land for new restaurants and other commercial users continue to demand premium prices. As other markets cool, outside investors are coming in and sparking bidding wars. Rumors persist about two mega projects being proposed by out-of-state developers. Sources say talk has progressed beyond a concept phase and one or both projects could be announced by the end of 2023.

Budget bickers

Alabama Republicans in the House and Senate are not happy with the budget sent over by Gov. Kay Ivey this week. The governor’s proposal includes increased funding toward education, repayment of debt obligations ahead of schedule, a 2% pay increase for all state employees, and a confirmed push for $400 tax rebates to qualified individuals. The higher than expected rebate amount has drawn the ire of quite a few lawmakers. One political insider tells me, “There’s no way in hell the final budget looks anything like Ivey’s budget. We don’t have to spend every penny.”

North Alabama power players

North Alabama lawmakers are finding themselves in quite a few positions of power in the state Legislature. Huntsville Rep. Rex Reynolds, budget chair of finance and taxation, carried the $1 billion ARPA bill and was widely looked to as the point person in the Alabama House. While Decatur’s Arthur Orr is among the most vocal experts of budgets, finance and taxation in the Alabama Senate. Then there’s Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield of Guntersville who has been heading up broadband expansion already this session. And we can’t forget our increasingly front and center Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, a Guntersville native.

Cole absent

Meanwhile one new North Alabama lawmaker wasn’t present in at the state house this past week at all. Including Thursday’s House vote on the “priority” fentanyl bill. Rep. David Cole, a doctor, reportedly did not cast a vote on HB1 that would establish mandatory minimums directly linked to the amount of fentanyl an offender is caught with. Also Thursday, the House passed legislation, without Cole’s participation, to streamline the adoption process. It was the first overhaul to the adoption process in 30 years. It’s not clear why Cole didn’t show up for the first week of regular session.

Battle battling through

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in February. The very active mayor is reportedly not loving life on a scooter. Nor is the rather independent leader enjoying being carted around in a staff member’s van. However, the work must go on and Battle hasn’t stopped despite the required adjustments. Unfortunately, he still has quite a few months left of scooting around.

Update from Mayor’s Office 10:14 a.m.:  Mayor Battle is not being carted around in a staff member’s van and “doesn’t have much time left on the scooter”, but, yes, he is doing a great job.

More classrooms coming?

Along with continued growth comes a growing student population. As more and more families move to North Alabama, almost every local school district is hustling to develop capital plans to build more classrooms. Local leaders expect to see a building boom with several local school districts unveiling plans for new schools in the next few months.

Grocery tax to be bagged?

It’s been debated endlessly but could the Legislature finally do away with the grocery tax once and for all? Alabama is one of only three states that fully taxes groceries. Word is there is definitely a political will but, as most things on goat hill, it’s a matter of finding a political way. Talks of how to phase in, what will be included and how to backstop constraints are underway. I’ll believe it when I see it, but many agree the idea is now closer to becoming reality than any other time in recent history.

Have a rumor or rumbling to share? Email [email protected].

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