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Mayor Woodfin proposes $451M FY 2020 budget with focus in neighborhoods

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday unveiled a $451 million fiscal 2020 budget that includes a focus on neighborhood revitalization and an increase in the pension fund for city employees. The budget is a 2.4 percent increase over the $440 million fiscal 2019 budget approved last year by the City Council. The fiscal year begins July 1.

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By Erica Wright

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday unveiled a $451 million fiscal 2020 budget that includes a focus on neighborhood revitalization and an increase in the pension fund for city employees.

The budget is a 2.4 percent increase over the $440 million fiscal 2019 budget approved last year by the City Council. The fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget projects tax and license revenue increase of $6.5 million over 2019 which will be combined with $3 million of commercial construction fees and revenue from the state’s recently approved gas tax.

Up to $14 million in this year’s budget will go to neighborhood revitalization in the form of demolition, street paving, weed abatement and the Birmingham Land Bank Authority, which returns vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties back to the tax rolls, the mayor said.

“These things are important as it relates to the issues I still hear when I’m addressing residents, whether it’s at a neighborhood meeting or church or at their door, [they’re saying] ‘mayor, please pave these streets and please tear these houses down,’” said Woodfin, who delivered his budget message to the council on Tuesday and residents at the Birmingham CrossPlex later in the evening.

Woodfin said his administration is not just talking about the concerns but the money that is in the budget reflects solutions.

The city is not proposing a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) this year because of the money put toward areas such as merit pay ($3 million), health insurance ($3 million), longevity pay ($2 million) and the pension ($5.8 million) which totaled $13.8 million, the mayor said.

“We did not do a COLA this year, but it doesn’t mean we won’t do one next year, it means this year with the tough decisions we had to make including the number one priority of filling the pension, we couldn’t do all five at the level we wanted to,” he said.

Merit pay is performance-related pay that provides bonuses for workers who perform their jobs effectively according to certain criteria.

As for the pension, he said, “our greatest asset is our city employees and they deserve to have a fully-funded pension and I’m happy to say the city’s portion of meeting our obligation, we will actually meet in this budget. I would say tied for first place in this budget’s priorities were paving streets and our pension funding and we met both.”

Highlights of the mayor’s proposed budget include:

  • $8 million, street paving and pothole repair (an increase of $5.5 million over last year)
  • $5.8 million, pension contribution increase
  • $4.7 million, demolition and weed abatement (an increase of $1.5 million over last year)
  • $1.5 million real time crime center
  • $1 million, land bank (an increase of $650,000 over last year)

The spending plan has no funding for non-profit organizations, although the mayor said the city continues to support non-profits, but the focus has to be on public safety, he said.

“I have a moral obligation to public safety and public infrastructure as it relates to how to allocate the city’s tax dollars,” said Woodfin. “When you talk about public safety, that’s the main employee groups including police, fire and public works . . . you have to make those investments because no one else is responsible for [public safety and public infrastructure] . . .which means by moral obligation and by fiscal obligation, they’re the priority.”

The planned $1.5 million for a “real time” crime center will help the Birmingham Police Department modernize a digital-based records keeping program.

The mayor also announced The Birmingham Promise, which represents a $2 million commitment to secondary and post-secondary workforce development, creating apprenticeships and real opportunities for the city’s youth as they enter the job market.

“It is past the time as a city we commit to workforce development and the best place is to focus on our young people,” he said.

The mayor also is proposing to increase the discretionary fund for each council district to $100,000 from $50,000.

Neighborhoods

The investment in the land bank reflects an investment in the neighborhoods, Woodfin said.

The budget reflects a $700,000 increase in the Land Bank which has been in existence for about five years and the same amount of money has been in it every year, Woodfin said.

“We wanted to show neighborhood revitalization isn’t just about tearing down houses, you have to remove the blight but you don’t want a city that’s snaggletooth,” he said. “At some point you have to go back vertical on these empty lots which includes affordable and single family homes and when you add an additional $700,000 that sends a signal to this community that we’re serious about this land bank and it also puts me in a position to be able to go out here and talk to certain stakeholder groups and say the city has shown its commitment for its land bank.

“We’re showing our commitment to neighborhood revitalization by increasing the rate of moving these properties off the tax delinquency and moving them towards going back vertical on this empty lots,” he said.

The proposed operating budget and capital budget for the 2020 fiscal year can be found at www.birminghamal.gov/budget2020.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times

Activism

OPINION: Are We About to See the Permanent Exclusion of Most Black People from Construction Jobs in Oakland?

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

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The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.
The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

By Kitty Epstein

For decades Black people in Oakland have obtained 9% or less of the work hours on publicly funded construction projects. So…for jobs that are paid for by all of our tax dollars, Black residents, who make up 23% of Oakland’s population, get only 9% of the relatively well-paid work doing construction.

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

Nationally, only 7.2% of the carpenters’ union members are Black; 8.3% of the electricians’ union members and so on. The City of Oakland has done two very thorough reports of these racial equity issues. You can find this important information at the end of this story.

But the leadership of the construction trades now insist that that they should obtain an even larger portion of the construction hours and that this practice should be set in stone by something called a Project Labor Agreement. It is now being inaccurately called a “Community Workforce Agreement,” which is nonsense because it doesn’t help the community.

Why would progressive Oakland consider giving exclusive benefits to organizations that practice well-documented racial discrimination? At least one part of the reason is that the construction unions spend enormous amounts of money on Oakland elections. They were instrumental in former City Councilmember Desley Brooks’ defeat in District 6, for example, because they did not consider her sufficiently compliant with their demands.

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

The community members proposed that the entire task force work collectively throughout the process of making proposals and negotiating solutions. The City rejected this proposal and began meeting with the building trades alone, saying that they would return with a proposed Project Labor Agreement, although there has been no demonstrated change in the racial exclusivity practiced by the construction trades.

This is outrageous on three levels:

  1. These are the tax dollars of Black residents, as well as others.
  2. The community’s interests in racial justice have not been resolved in any policy venue.
  3. The community belongs at the table throughout whatever process takes place.

The usual arguments for labor/employer negotiations do not apply. The construction unions are NOT city workers. If they were city employees, they would have both the rights (negotiations) and the responsibilities (non-discriminatory hiring) of the city. Since they are not held responsible to Include Black people in their organizations, they should not have the right to exclusive negotiations about anything

I am hopeful, of course, that the City will reject the continuation and expansion of racial discrimination policies practiced by the leadership of the trades unions and will insist on the drastic changes necessary for Black people to obtain 23% of the work hours they are due by virtue of their proportion of the population and tax dollars contributed.

These two documents below provide information that is both illuminating and horrifying.

Oakland Equity Indicators: https://www.oaklandca.gov/projects/oakland-equity-indicators

Disparity Study – https://www.postnewsgroup.com/disparity-study-examines-patterns-of-discrimination-seeks-remedies-for-city-practices-of-selecting-contractors-in-construction-goods-and-services/

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California Black Media

Seven Initiatives Qualify for California November Ballot

Special interest groups have raised more than $370 million to convince voters to either pass or reject the initiatives. Over 88% of the money raised is for settling whether two sports betting proposals should be legalized.

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The office of California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Webber has qualified seven ballot initiatives for the November 8 statewide General Election.
The office of California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Webber has qualified seven ballot initiatives for the November 8 statewide General Election.

By Edward Henderson, California Black Media

The office of California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Webber has qualified seven ballot initiatives for the November 8 statewide General Election. Seven is the lowest number of measures to appear on a statewide general election ballot since 2014.

One initiative is Senate Constitutional Amendment 10 (SCA 10). It is asking voters to safeguard a person’s right to reproductive freedom. To qualify for the November ballot, SCA 10 received the required 2/3 supermajority vote in each chamber of the Legislature.

The other six measures initiated by citizen groups are asking voters to decide on sports betting, funding K-12 art and music education, kidney dialysis clinic requirements, income tax to fund zero-emission vehicle projects, and a flavored-tobacco products ban. To be on the ballot, the initiative proponents were required to gather a minimum of 623,212 signatures verified by county elections officials. June 30 was the deadline for the measures to qualify for the November ballot.

Two other measures could have qualified for the ballot but were withdrawn by their sponsors. An initiative to increase the cap on medical malpractice lawsuits was withdrawn when the sponsors reached agreement with the Legislature and Assembly Bill 35 by Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes and State Senator Tom Umberg, was passed and signed by Gov. Newsom.

An initiative to reduce plastic waste reduction was withdrawn after it was clear that Senate Bill 54 by State Sen. Ben Allen would pass. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law in June.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3 (ACA 3), the California Abolition Act, which would have removed a clause in California’s Constitution that allows the practice of involuntary servitude as a means of punishing crime is not on the ballot because, while it passed the Assembly with the required 2/3 vote, it failed to get enough votes in the Senate.

Special interest groups have raised more than $370 million to convince voters to either pass or reject the initiatives. Over 88% of the money raised is for settling whether two sports betting proposals should be legalized.

The following are details on the fall ballot measures.

Proposition 1California Constitutional amendment to prohibit the state from denying an individual’s reproductive freedom

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn federal protections for women seeking abortions, California lawmakers proposed a California Constitutional amendment to protect the reproductive freedom of women. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Gov. Newsom stated “Abortion is legal in California. It will remain that way. We will not cooperate with any states that attempt to prosecute women or doctors for receiving or providing reproductive care.”

Proposition 26Authorizes new types of gambling

This proposition would allow federally recognized Native American tribes to operate dice games, roulette and sports wagering on tribal lands. On-site wagering at privately operated horse-racing tracks in four specified counties for betters 21 years or older would become legal. Prop 26 also imposes a 10% tax on sports-wagering profits at horse-racing tracks and directs portion of revenues to enforcement and problem-gambling programs.

Proposition 27Allows online and mobile sports wagering

Currently, sports’ betting online is illegal in California. This proposition would allow Californians 21 and older to place bets online through federally recognized Indian tribes and eligible businesses like Draft Kings and FanDuel. Prop. 27 is estimated to increase state revenues by tens of millions of dollars yearly and potentially direct hundreds of millions of dollars in fee revenue to housing services for homeless Californians.

Proposition 28Provides additional funding for arts and music education in public schools

This proposition sponsored by former Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Butner would require the state to set aside $800 million to $1 billion annually beginning in 2023-24 for arts education in school. A greater proportion of the funds would be allocated to schools serving more economically disadvantaged students.

Proposition 29Requires on-site licensed medical professional at kidney dialysis clinics and other state requirements

This measure requires a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant with six months’ relevant experience to be on site during treatment at outpatient kidney dialysis clinics. It authorizes an exemption for staffing shortages if a qualified medical professional is available through telehealth. Prop 29 prohibits clinics from closing or substantially reducing services without state approval and prohibits clinics from refusing to treat patients based on source of payment. This is the third attempt by SEIU United Health Workers West, a union representing over 100,000 health care workers and patients across the state, to pass the measure. Opponents of Prop 29 cite it would cost tens of millions of dollars annually for clinics to implement.

Proposition 30Provides funding for programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Individuals with a personal income of over $2 million would receive a tax increase of 1.75% to raise between $3 billion to $4.5 billion a year to fund greenhouse gas initiatives. A majority of the funds would go toward incentives for Californians to buy zero-emission vehicles and build new electric charging or hydrogen fueling stations. Twenty-five percent of the funds would go toward wildfire fighting and prevention initiatives.

Proposition 31Referendum challenging a 2020 law prohibiting retail sale of certain flavored tobacco products

This proposition sponsored by the tobacco industry aims to overturn Senate Bill 793 signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products. A “yes” vote keeps the law and a “no” vote overturns the law.

California ballot measures require only a simple majority of the votes cast to be approved.

As new initiatives enter circulation, fail, become eligible for, or qualify for an election ballot, the Secretary of State’s office will issue status updates. The updates can be found athttps://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/ballot-measures/initiative-and-referendum-status or here.

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Activism

California Commits $100 Million to Producing Its Own Insulin

Black Americans are slightly overrepresented in the statistics. They are 15.5% of those diagnosed with diabetes while being roughly 13% of the nation’s population, according to the United Health Foundation. Black people are also 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, are 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized for amputations associated with the disease and are twice as likely as whites to die from it, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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“There is a shortage of insulin just in general so having more providers obviously reduces cost,” said Dr. Karen Hansberger, the former chief medical officer of the Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP). “Producing it is one thing but producing it at a very high quality is the second piece of it.”
“There is a shortage of insulin just in general so having more providers obviously reduces cost,” said Dr. Karen Hansberger, the former chief medical officer of the Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP). “Producing it is one thing but producing it at a very high quality is the second piece of it.”

By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

On July 7, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that California will be the first state to produce its own insulin in an effort to drive down costs for diabetics statewide.

“On my first day in office, I signed an executive order to put California on the path towards creating our own prescription drugs. And now it’s happening. California is going to make its own insulin,” Newsom stated.

Diabetes is recognized as the most expensive chronic condition in the U.S. According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 10 U.S. citizens live with diabetes, which is 8.8% of the planet’s known diabetes diagnoses, despite the U.S. only accounting for 4.25% of the world’s total population.

Black Americans are slightly overrepresented in the statistics. They are 15.5% of those diagnosed with diabetes while being roughly 13% of the nation’s population, according to the United Health Foundation. Black people are also 60% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, are 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized for amputations associated with the disease and are twice as likely as whites to die from it, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Karen Hansberger, the former chief medical officer of the Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP), explained that one of the reasons for the higher death rate for Black people with diabetes is they sometimes receive the diagnosis later in the disease progression, so by the time they see a doctor, some organs might already be damaged.

“Oftentimes, people of color don’t go to the doctor until their symptoms are really bad,” said Hansberger. “It’s harder for them to take off work and they face more difficulties when they do take off work.”

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) reports that 10.5% of California’s adult population has been diagnosed with diabetes with 16.9% of that number comprising Black adults. Black people represent about 6.5% of the state’s total population.

Californians with diabetes have been vocal about the high cost of insulin and state officials claim that monthly out-of-pocket costs for the life-saving drug can range from $300 to $500.

In 2018, insulin in the U.S. cost over 10 times more than in 32 other similarly developed countries, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Nothing epitomizes market failures more than the cost of insulin,” Newsom said. “California is now taking matters into our own hands. The budget I just signed sets aside $100 million, so we can contract and make our own insulin at a cheaper price close to at cost and to make it available to all.”

The budget is split in half with $50 million going toward developing insulin products and the other $50 million dedicated to creating an insulin manufacturing facility based in California, according to the governor.

Newsom claims that this initiative aims to cut the costs of insulin and insulin products by at least half. “It’s simple. People should not go into debt to get life-saving medication,” he said.

Dr. Hansberger agreed that this could bring costs down but has reservations about the state’s ability to produce insulin well.

“There is a shortage of insulin just in general so having more providers obviously reduces cost,” said Hansberger. “Producing it is one thing but producing it at a very high quality is the second piece of it.”

Hansberger believes that the government should invest more energy in diabetes prevention for people of color, as it can be difficult getting access to fresh food in some communities of color.

“When I was the chief medical officer in East Los Angeles, we had one area – a housing project – that had been cut off by all of these freeways,” said Hansberger. “And for them to get fresh food, they had to take a 2½ hour journey. It was ridiculous.”

Hansberger stressed the significance of success for California’s insulin production plan.

“If the state of California is going to get into that business, they have to do that business well because people’s lives depend on it.”

However, she believes, in her experience, that governments “don’t necessarily do business well.”

Two other states, Washington and Maine, have joined California in establishing state-based efforts to disrupt the U.S. pharmaceutical market and assure affordable and equitable access to essential medicines through public production. Each has passed legislation related to addressing insulin costs and access within their borders by having the state participate in manufacturing and distributing it.

On the national level, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) have introduced bipartisan legislation by way of the Improving Needed Safeguards for Users of Lifesaving Insulin Now (INSULIN) Act which would impose mandates on insulin providers and individual health insurance companies in the private sector to cap prices for products.

“The American Diabetes Association is proud to endorse the INSULIN Act introduced by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Susan Collins, legislation that stands to have a historic impact on the diabetes community by dramatically reducing the cost of insulin,” said ADA Chief Advocacy Officer Lisa Murdock during a press conference last month. “More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and 1-in-4 insulin-dependent people with diabetes report rationing their insulin for economic reasons. We urge Congress to address the prohibitive and rising cost of insulin by passing the INSULIN Act.”

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
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