Population Change in Alabama Cities 2018

Huntsville continues its trajectory towards becoming Alabama’s largest city, while Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile continue to drift lower, according to the most recent city population estimates released by The Census Bureau. The two major college towns Auburn and Tuscaloosa continue to grow, as do several cities in Baldwin County.

The new estimates cover the time period between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, and also look back to 2010, the year of the last official Census. Data from the same time period has already been released for state level, metro areas, and counties, and PARCA has published analyses and interactive tools exploring that data. The new cities data is below. Use zoom and drag tools to explore a particular area. Use the button in the bottom right corner if you want a full-screen display.

Huntsville and North Alabama

The city of Huntsville added more residents than any other Alabama city with an estimated 2,262 gain in 2018. If current trends continue, Huntsville (197,318) will surpass Birmingham (209,880) as Alabama’s largest city within the next several years. However, Birmingham’s metropolitan area population (1,151,801) is more than twice as large as Huntsville’s MSA (462, 693).

The Huntsville suburb of Madison ranked third in numeric gain adding 1,289. Huntsville has avoided the dilemma faced by many center cities: becoming hemmed in by and losing population to newer suburbs. In fact, Huntsville, through strategic annexation, has now completely surrounded Madison. While Madison can continue to add residents in its current footprint, it will not be able to spread out by annexing contiguous territory.

Though Madison County cities are capturing most of the North Alabama growth, nearby Athens in Limestone County appears to be receiving some of that inflow. In the farther reaches of the Huntsville orbit, Florence and Muscle Shoals had bigger gains in population in 2018 than in any year other in the decade.

Birmingham Area

In the Birmingham metro area, the core city of Birmingham was estimated to have lost over 1,000 residents between 2017 and 2018. Birmingham has bobbed up and down through the decade, but this most recent year saw the steepest decline.

However, there is population growth south and east of the core city, and the most recent estimates indicate that growth is shifting to suburbs farther south. In the most recent year, the suburbs immediately south of core city, Homewood and Mountain Brook show slight population losses, and Vestavia a slight gain. Hoover, while it did add 246 residents, is growing more slowly now than smaller cities to the south like Chelsea (+503), Helena (+457), and Calera (+393). Meanwhile, to the east of Birmingham, Trussville added 446 residents, according to the estimates.

Montgomery Area

The estimates show Montgomery losing 1,674 residents in 2018, while its emerging suburb of Pike Road gained 445. Suburbs to the north, like Prattville (+202), Millbrook (+133), and Wetumpka (+37) saw gains, but the Montgomery metro area as a whole has seen a population outflow.

Some of the population loss in the Montgomery area may be due to the strong growth being seen in Lee County, home to Auburn University. A separate Census survey tracks residential migration across county lines. A look at that data reveals that Elmore County had a net loss of 352 residents to Lee County. Nearby Tallapoosa and Macon County, which are not officially part of the Montgomery metro area, are also losing residents to Lee County.

Meanwhile, Lee County’s two larger cities have been among the state’s biggest gainers in population according to the estimates. Auburn is second to Huntsville in numerical gain, having added an estimated 12,000 residents since 2010. Over the same period, Opelika ranks No. 10 in the state with an estimated gain of 4,000.

Mobile Area

The 2018 estimates have the City of Mobile declining in population by 953 residents. Census estimates the city has lost about 5,000 people since 2010. Some nearby communities in Mobile County like Semmes and Saraland have gained population over the past decade, but the growth in those communities isn’t enough to offset Mobile’s population loss. One might assume that the rapid growth just across the bridge in Baldwin County is being fed by residents moving out of Mobile. However, other Census data sets indicate that isn’t necessarily the case. While there is some movement from Mobile to Baldwin County, there is also a considerable residential movement back and forth between Baldwin County to Mobile. When moves to and from the county in question are accounted for, Jefferson County had a net gain of about 500 people from Mobile County, compared to a gain for Baldwin of about 250.

Other Urban Centers and the Rest of the State

Like Auburn and Opelika, Tuscaloosa and Northport both continue to grow, though at a slower pace than the rival towns to the east. Tuscaloosa remains substantially larger than Auburn, about 100,000 vs 65,000. Opelika is larger than Northport: about 30,000 vs. 25,000.

As mentioned, Florence and Muscle Shoals showed slight growth in 2018, according to the estimates, as did Phenix City. Dothan was flat, and Anniston and Gadsden both experienced net out-migration.

A scattering of smaller towns in northeast Alabama and southeast Alabama showed population growth. However, most smaller cities in rural counties lost population. Selma was particularly hard hit, with a net loss of almost 500 people in 2018. Since 2018, Census estimates Selma’s population has declined by 2,898 dropping from around 20,000 down to 17,000, a 14 percent population decline. Small towns in Black Belt counties, cities like Tuskegee, Eufaula, and Demopolis, continue to experience population declines, but so do towns in east central and northwest Alabama like Jasper, Alexander City, and Sylacauga.


Alabama County and MSA Population Trends

The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show continued strong growth in the Huntsville metropolitan statistical area (MSA), slightly positive growth in the Birmingham MSA, and slight declines in Mobile and Montgomery metro areas. For 2018, Huntsville’s growth rate ranks No. 64 out of the nation’s 383 metro area. But Alabama’s other large metros lag behind peers in terms of percentage change in population, with Birmingham ranked No. 251 out of 283, Mobile, 324, and Montgomery, 327.

Meanwhile, only 22 out of Alabama’s 67 counties added population in 2018. Most rural counties lost population, while most counties connected to a metro area gained. However, three of the four most populous counties home to the urban cores of the major metros areas — Jefferson, Montgomery, and Mobile — experienced net losses in 2018 as outmigration to surrounding suburban counties continued. Madison County, home to Huntsville continued to gain.

PARCA has updated its interactive maps and charts that allow users to explore local population changes and trends. PARCA tools for state-level population estimates were updated earlier this year. Estimates for cities will be released this summer.

Huntsville MSA

The Huntsville’s 462,693 person MSA includes Madison County, home to Huntsville (Pop. 366,519) and Limestone County (Pop. 96,174). Madison County is second only to Baldwin county in numeric population growth since 2010, and according to the estimates it added more people than ever in 2018, an estimated 4,854 in 2018. Limestone County is now the state’s second fastest growing county in percentage terms, adding 2,098 people in 2018.

Huntsville’s growth seems to be aiding population growth in other neighboring counties outside the Huntsville MSA. Marshall County has been steadily gaining population for most of the decade and now Morgan County, home to Decatur, has turned positive according to the estimates. That has caused the Decatur MSA to break a streak of population losses stretching back several years.

Birmingham-Hoover MSA

At 1.1 million and including seven counties, Birmingham’s MSA is more than double the population of second place Huntsville’s two-county MSA. In fact, Jefferson County, the central county of the Birmingham-Hoover MSA with 659,300 residents is significantly more populous

The estimates show Jefferson County with a slight loss in 2018, down 246 people. Since 2010, the estimates show Jefferson County with a net gain of 794 residents. Population change is driven by natural increase (births vs. deaths) and migration (net domestic migration plus net international migration). Jefferson County’s birth rate exceeds its death rate so the county adds people, 14,120 since 2010. But the county has a net outflow of residents moving elsewhere in the state or the country: 18,215 more people moved out than moved in. That would set the county up for net loss in population if it weren’t for a net inflow of international migrants. Jefferson County has added 5,335 of those since 2010, according to the estimates. While international in-migration has offset population loss in Jefferson County, and in other core counties as well, levels of international migration have dropped in the last two years.

Where are the leavers going? Adjacent Shelby and St. Clair Counties experienced net positive domestic migration adding 10,368 and 3,820 respectively since 2010. Walker, Blount, Bibb and Chilton County had more people moving out to other parts of the state or country than moving in according to the estimates. Blount and Chilton offset those losses with mild gains through natural increase and international migration. Walker and Bibb did not.

Mobile

With 413,757, residents Mobile is the state’s third largest MSA and it consists of a single county, Mobile, the state’s second most populous county. The federal government determines which counties are joined together in metro areas. Mobile County lies adjacent to the state’s fastest growing county, Baldwin. Despite the obvious connections between the two counties, the level of commuting between the two counties isn’t high enough for the federal government to consider them a single metro.

Mobile county’s population dynamics mirror Jefferson, with a net outflow of domestic migrants offset by a positive natural increase and international in migration.

Baldwin, on the other hand, is growing, like no other county in Alabama. It has added an estimated 35,758 residents since 2010. The county is also a metro area of its own, known as the Daphne-Fairhope metropolitan statistical area. What is driving growth: heavy domestic in-migration, particularly from individuals over the age of 60.

Samford University sociology professor Don Bradley has analyzed late-in-life migration for unpublished white paper commissioned by Where to Retire Magazine. In his review of Census data, Bradley found that Baldwin County was receiving 1,798 new residents over the age of 60 each year. That ranked Baldwin among the top 30 areas in the country for receiving persons 60 and over. That same elevated growth pattern can be seen in many coastal counties from North and South Carolina, and Florida, as well as retirement hotspots in Arizona and Nevada.

Montgomery MSA

Of the major metro areas, only Montgomery has seen a net population loss since 2010. Within the metro area, Montgomery County has lost an estimated 3,615 since 2010, and the slight gains in Elmore (2,594) and Autauga (1,027) have not been enough to offset the loss.


Smaller Metros

Perhaps influencing Montgomery’s population stagnation is the draw of Lee County, also known as the Auburn-Opelika MSA. It has the second fastest rate of growth and ranks third among Alabama MSAs in numeric growth, having added 23,641 residents since 2010.

In addition to the being home to Auburn University, Lee County lies between the two Korean automakers, Hyundai in Montgomery and Kia in West Point, GA. In terms of county growth, Lee’s neighboring county, Russell, is also adding residents at a healthy pace. Russell, home to Phenix City, is considered to be part of the Columbus, GA metro area, which has seen growth over the decade. The army base, Fort Benning, on the Alabama Georgia border is a major driver of population dynamics there.

Across the state, Tuscaloosa as a county and as a metro area continues to see growth, almost all of it concentrated in Tuscaloosa County, which has added 14,243 residents since 2010 according to the estimates. Pickens County has seen a slight gain in population since 2010 but Hale County also included in the Tuscaloosa MSA, has lost about 1,000 residents since 2010.

While the Dothan MSA is off the major interstate corridors, it has continued to post modest population growth. Houston County, home to Dothan, has added 3,168 since 2010, according to the estimates, while Henry and Geneva Counties have shown slight declines over the period. Houston’s population growth stemmed from positive natural increase and positive migration.

In the northwest corner of the state, the Florence-Muscle Shoals metro area saw about the same level of domestic in-migration as Dothan. But the two counties Lauderdale and Colbert both have negative rates of natural increase, meaning that more deaths are occurring in those counties than births. Negative rates of natural increase tend to show up in places where the population is disproportionately elderly.


The two remaining MSAs Anniston-Oxford, comprised of Calhoun County, and the Gadsden MSA (Etowah County), also have negative rates of natural increase. And both those counties have negative migration rates, more people move elsewhere than relocate to those counties. Both of the counties have lost population throughout the decade.

Among Alabama counties, Dallas County, home to Selma has had the steepest losses with an estimated 5,508 loss in population since 2010, a decline of 12.6 percent. Two other Black Belt counties, Perry and Macon are declining faster than Dallas in percentage terms. Perry County lost 13.6 percent of its population since 2010 according to the estimates, while Macon County lost 14 percent.


Revisiting How Alabama Taxes Compare, 2018

With just a few hours remaining to file state and federal taxes, revisit our 2018 analysis of state and local taxes, originally published in December 2018.


Alabama’s state and local governments collect less per capita in taxes than state and local governments in any other state in the union, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Annually, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys state and local governments across the country about their revenues and expenditures. This survey makes it possible to compare the finances of state and local government across the 50 states. In PARCA’s analysis of the data, How Alabama Taxes Compare, state and local revenues are considered together because states vary greatly in how they divide up the responsibilities between state and local governments for financing the operation of services like schools, roads, courts, health care, and public safety. In the end, the combined revenue from state and local taxes is used to provide government services. The data for 2016 is the most recent year available.[1] An interactive version of the data is also available through PARCA’s data dashboard.

Rank in Per Capita Tax Collections, 2016

State and Local Tax SourcesAlabama's Rank Among U.S. States
All Taxes50
Property50
Individual Income36
Corporate Income40
Sales and Gross Receipts29
General Sales30
Selective Sales17
- Alcoholic Beverage3
- Public Utilities5
- Motor Fuel34
- Tobacco Products35
- Other Selective Sales32
Motor Vehicle License45
Other Taxes25

The most glaring difference between Alabama and other states is our low reliance on property taxes.

  • Alabama ranks 50th in the U.S. in state and local property tax collections per capita.

If Alabama’s per capita property tax collections matched the average of other Southeastern states:

  • State and local governments would have an additional $2 billion to spend providing services.
  • Alabama’s overall tax revenue per capita would rank in the middle of Southeastern states, roughly equaling Mississippi’s tax revenue per capita and putting Alabama above Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee in per capita collections. Alabama would still trail Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Georgia.

As it stands, Alabama’s traditional preference for low property taxes leaves state and local governments more reliant on other taxes for revenue. Alabama has among the highest sales tax rates in the U.S. Alabama also has some of the highest taxes per capita on alcohol and public utilities. Despite those higher rates, Alabama doesn’t make up the difference created by its low property tax collections.

Other unusual features of Alabama’s tax system include:

Sales Taxes:

  • Alabama is one of three states that continue to apply sales tax fully to food purchased for home consumption without providing any offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families.
  • Alabama’s sales tax is not as broad as other states and doesn’t apply to most services. Consequently, despite high rates, Alabama’s sales tax isn’t as productive as some other states.

Income Taxes:

  • Alabama threshold for taxing income is the lowest in the nation. Most states set a higher income threshold than Alabama in order to allow poor households to keep more of the money they earn.
  • Alabama is one of three states that allows taxpayers to deduct from state income the full amount they pay in federal income taxes. Since federal income tax rates are higher the more you earn, the higher your earnings the larger the deduction for state tax purposes.

As a bottom line, Alabama governments operate with less revenue on a per capita basis than governments in all the other states.

This is not a new finding. This has been true since the early the 1990s. And it underlies the difficulties we face when trying to provide to our citizens the level of government services enjoyed by citizens in other states.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau State & Local Government Finance. (2016 data released on Sept. 7, 2018). Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/gov-finances.html

To read the full report, How Alabama Taxes Compare, click here.


Prisons, education, taxes, trust in government. What do Alabamians think?

See the Full Survey

A slight majority of Alabamians oppose building new prisons, but an overwhelming majority support expanding rehabilitation and re-entry programs for people leaving prison, returning nonviolent offenders to the community, and spending more on education.

These are among the key findings of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama’s Public Opinion Survey: 2019 Edition, released today.

The survey, conducted in partnership with Samford University and led by Dr. Randolph Horn, again found high levels of agreement on critical issues facing the state.

Alabamians value education, rating it a top priority among major state services. State residents say education investment should be increased, as too little is now spent on education. While not agreeing on the source of revenue, a majority of residents are willing to pay more in taxes to increase funding for education.

There is some evidence that the current tax system is seen as regressive: majorities of residents say low-income residents pay too much, and those with higher incomes pay too little.

Consistently high percentages of Alabamians feel that they have no say in Montgomery or that state officials do not care what they think suggests that Alabamians do not believe state government is responsive to their concerns.

 Corrections

  • 86% support expanded rehabilitation and re-entry programs for people in prison.
  • 83% support moving people with nonviolent convictions back to the community.
  • 58% oppose building new prisons to address overcrowding.  
  • 54% believe only violent offenders should go to prison.  

Education

  • 74% believe the state spends too little on education.  
  • 69% support increasing taxes to support education, but no single option garners majority support.  

Taxes

  • 45% say they pay the right amount of taxes.  
  • 45% say lower-income earners pay too much.  
  • 52% say upper-income earners pay too little.  

Trust in Government

  • 82% support keeping the General Fund and Education Trust Fund separate.
  • 69% believe state government officials do not care about their opinions.
  • 57% believe they have no say in state government.

The survey of 410 randomly selected Alabamians was conducted between January 28 and March 3, 2019 and yields a margin of error of +/-4.8 percent.

See the Full Survey


Jefferson County Mayors Cooperate on Pact to Prevent Intercity Business Poaching

Jefferson County mayors and county commissioners announce a cooperative economic development pact Wednesday at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Mayors from 22 cities in Jefferson County signed a “Good Neighbor Pledge” Wednesday, committing their cities to a set of economic development ground rules designed to prevent incentive bidding wars and counterproductive poaching between the patchwork of municipalities that comprise the county.

With the Good Neighbor Pledge, the mayors hope to end divisive competition and encourage cooperation in recruiting new business from outside the region. Recruiting businesses from one Jefferson County city to another with incentives costs both cities and results in no net gain for the region.

The Pledge is an outgrowth of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham’s efforts to encourage regional cooperation and job growth in Jefferson County, an effort that began by commissioning PARCA to research and report on models of cooperation from across the country. The resulting report, Together We Can, provided information that the Jefferson County Mayors Association built upon to craft the Pledge.

“In the past, our cities tended to compete rather than cooperate,” said Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato. “Today, economic development favors metro areas that work together better as a region.”

The 22 cities represent over 75 percent of the county’s population, including the City of Birmingham, Bessemer, Hoover, Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Trussville, Argo, Brighton, Center Point, Clay, Fairfield, Graysville, Lipscomb, Midfield, Mulga, Pleasant Grove, Sylvan Springs, Tarrant, Trafford, Trussville, Vestavia Hills, Warrior, and West Jefferson.
The signing of the pledge took place in the Jefferson County Commission chambers and featured Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons, and Jefferson County Mayors Association president, Center Point Mayor Tom Henderson. They were joined by other commissioners and mayors from cities big and small.

The agreement grew out of conversations within the Jefferson County Mayors Association, which were facilitated by the Community Foundation. Of the various cooperative approaches described in Together We Can, the mayors found Denver’s model for encouraging cooperation as the most promising and achievable first step.

In Metro Denver’s effort to unite its sprawling and fragmented region around a unified approach to economic development, one of its first steps was creating a Code of Ethics that spelled out what is acceptable and what isn’t when cities are working to recruit businesses. Denver’s agreement aimed to stop cities from fighting over local business relocation and focus instead on a collective approach to attracting new business from outside the region.

In addition to the Code of Ethics, Denver developed a Metro Mayors Caucus, an issue-oriented regular meeting of area mayors which facilitates communication and cooperation among the region’s cities.

Both ideas helped launch the effort that bore fruit Wednesday. The conversations at the Jefferson County Mayors Association spawned a committee chaired by Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch, which examined Denver’s Code and gathered other examples from across the country including local government agreements in place in Milwaukee, San Diego, Dayton and Cuyahoga County, Ohio; and the Fort Wayne region of Northwest Indiana. The committee then drafted a version for Jefferson County.

Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch prepares to sign the Good Neighbor Pledge.

The Pledge is not a legal document but an agreed upon set of principles and protocols. It establishes an Advisory Consulting Committee to serve as a forum for interpreting the pledge in real-world situations and resolving disputes that might arise.

The mayors pledged not to initiate contact with a business located in another Jefferson County city with the intention of enticing that business to relocate. And if a business is seeking to move from one Jefferson County municipality to another, the mayors pledged not to offer financial incentives to encourage the move.

On the other hand, the Pledge encourages mutual aid in efforts to recruit businesses that are new to Jefferson County.

The Pledge does not apply if a local business is expanding and establishing new operations that will not result in job loss in the original municipality.

Along with the Pledge itself, more comments from the various mayors are available in the news release distributed Wednesday.


Leaders in the Shoals Seek Greater Collaboration

A new report by PARCA, commissioned by the Committee for a Greater Shoals

Energized by a climate of opportunity and a burst of positive attention for the region, civic leaders in the Shoals have launched a new effort to improve the economy and quality of life through cross-community collaboration.

More than 150 people attended the launch of the effort, which is organized by the Committee for a Greater Shoals, a group of Shoals business leaders. The event featured the release of A Greater Shoals: a Pathway, a report authored by PARCA on the current state of the region and avenues of opportunity.

Shortly after the event, 110 people had signed up for one or more of six committees:

  • Broadening the Definition of Economic Development
  • Developing High-Tech Infrastructure/Recruiting
  • Quality of Life
  • Workforce Development and Education
  • Unified Tourism
  • Government Cooperation and Structure.

Off the Interstate corridor and tucked away in the Northwest corner of the state, the Shoals is often described by residents as a well-kept secret. That is part of the region’s charm, but it’s also a frustration.

Taken together, the four cities at the heart of the Shoals — Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia — have a population of over 70,000. A combination of the four adjacent cities would rank as Alabama’s 7th largest city. Leaders in the Shoals have long wondered if the region was held back by the fragmented nature of the Shoals, with four principal cities, and six school systems spread across two counties.

Building off research PARCA performed on the Birmingham metro area, PARCA found evidence that fragmentation did have discernable negative effects in the Shoals but also identified cooperative structures the Shoals has developed to pull the region together.

The report recommended building on those existing cooperative structures to capitalize on immediate opportunities, while embarking on a longer-term process to decrease governmental duplication and work toward greater unity.

The report found success to build on in the area of education. According to PARCA’s analysis, when the K-12 school systems in the Shoals metropolitan area were considered together, they produce a higher college and career readiness rate among high school seniors than any other Alabama area.

The Shoals also has the second highest college-going rate among Alabama MSAs, thanks in part to a local civic initiative, Shoals Scholar Dollars, that provides scholarships for residents of Colbert and Lauderdale counties. The Shoals is home to a community college, Northwest-Shoals Community College, and a four-year university, the University of North Alabama, both of which are poised for growth.

The Shoals has developed vehicles for bringing its counties and cities together in pursuit of economic development, including a unified economic development authority, a unified economic development fund, and a united two-county Chamber of Commerce.

Those cooperative structures create a strong competitive position for the Shoals in pursuing industrial projects, like suppliers for the Toyota-Mazda Manufacturing plant under construction in Huntsville. But they also provide a framework for cooperation on further developing the Shoals natural and cultural assets.

With the Tennessee River running through its heart, the Shoals has unrivaled natural assets, ripe for further recreational development. On the cultural front, the Shoals has enjoyed a surge of national and international attention to the Shoals’ historic and contemporary contributions to American music. That’s drawn a stream of tourists to the FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Florence has emerged unexpectedly as a fashion hub, serving as home base for designers Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin. That new interest builds on top of tourist attractions like Helen Keller’s home in Tuscumbia and W.C. Handy’s in Florence. Traditional down towns in Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia have been revitalized with local investment.

A coordinated cooperative effort to build on these strengths would bring more resources and reach, the report observes. Though traditional economic development has focused on developing sites and luring employers with incentives, contemporary economic development includes a focus on developing an ample and high-quality workforce and providing a high quality of life that benefits locals and attracts new residents and businesses.


Alabama’s Prison System: A Crisis in Corrections

How we view, value, and fund the justice system generally, and prisons, in particular, is complex and value-laden, particularly in Alabama. Our prisons have been marked by violence, overcrowding, poor healthcare, and federal court intervention for more than a century. Our current crisis is again brought into focus through a series of recent and current federal lawsuits.

The status and conditions of Alabama’s prisons will be a major focus in the 2019 legislative session. Governor Ivey has proposed building three new prisons at a cost of $950 million, only the most recent in a series of construction proposals.

At the same time, others are calling for robust reform of the entire criminal justice system.

To help frame this conversation, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama is providing a series of briefs which:

  • explore the general state of Alabama’s prison system;
  • summarize recent sentencing reforms;
  • analyze sentencing in Alabama compared to neighboring states;
  • explore alternative sentencing and community-based responses, and
  • pose questions that advocates of sentencing reform and construction should address.

These forthcoming briefs provide a high-level analysis for state and local policymakers and concerned citizens. They do not provide the solution to Alabama’s prison crisis. Indeed, it may be that no single solution exists. Rather, the goal of the reports is to inform and spur policymakers to action—while there is still time.

Read Brief #1: Introduction


How Alabama Taxes Compare, 2018 Report

Alabama’s state and local governments collect less per capita in taxes than state and local governments in any other state in the union, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Annually, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys state and local governments across the country about their revenues and expenditures. This survey makes it possible to compare the finances of state and local government across the 50 states. In PARCA’s analysis of the data, How Alabama Taxes Compare, state and local revenues are considered together, because states vary greatly in how they divide up the responsibilities between state and local governments for financing the operation of services like schools, roads, courts, health care, and public safety. In the end, the combined revenue from state and local taxes is used to provide government services. The data for 2016 is the most recent year available.[1] An interactive version of the data is also available through PARCA’s data dashboard.

Rank in Per Capita Tax Collections, 2016

State and Local Tax SourcesAlabama's Rank Among U.S. States
All Taxes50
Property50
Individual Income36
Corporate Income40
Sales and Gross Receipts29
General Sales30
Selective Sales17
- Alcoholic Beverage3
- Public Utilities5
- Motor Fuel34
- Tobacco Products35
- Other Selective Sales32
Motor Vehicle License45
Other Taxes25

The most glaring difference between Alabama and other states is our low reliance on property taxes.

  • Alabama ranks 50th in the U.S. in state and local property tax collections per capita.

If Alabama’s per capita property tax collections matched the average of other Southeastern states:

  • State and local governments would have an additional $2 billion to spend providing services.
  • Alabama’s overall tax revenue per capita would rank in the middle of Southeastern states, roughly equaling Mississippi’s tax revenue per capita and putting Alabama above Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee in per capita collections. Alabama would still trail Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Georgia.

As it stands, Alabama’s traditional preference for low property taxes leaves state and local governments more reliant on other taxes for revenue. Alabama has among the highest sales tax rates in the U.S. Alabama also has some of the highest taxes per capita on alcohol and public utilities. Despite those higher rates, Alabama doesn’t make up the difference created by its low property tax collections.

Other unusual features of Alabama’s tax system include:

Sales Taxes:

  • Alabama is one of three states that continue to apply sales tax fully to food purchased for home consumption without providing any offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families.
  • Alabama’s sales tax is not as broad as other states and doesn’t apply to most services. Consequently, despite high rates, Alabama’s sales tax isn’t as productive as some other states.

Income Taxes:

  • Alabama threshold for taxing income is the lowest in the nation. Most states set a higher income threshold than Alabama in order to allow poor households to keep more of the money they earn.
  • Alabama is one of three states that allows taxpayers to deduct from state income the full amount they pay in federal income taxes. Since federal income tax rates are higher the more you earn, the higher your earnings the larger the deduction for state tax purposes.

As a bottom line, Alabama governments operate with less revenue on a per capita basis than governments in all the other states.

This is not a new finding. This has been true since the early the 1990s. And it underlies the difficulties we face when trying to provide to our citizens the level of government services enjoyed by citizens in other states.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau State & Local Government Finance. (2016 data released on Sept. 7, 2018). Retrieved November 1, 2018 from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/gov-finances.html

To read the full report, How Alabama Taxes Compare, click here.

 


Surging economy boosts Alabama 2018 General Fund and ETF Revenues

Thanks to a booming economy, Alabama saw significantly increased revenue to both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund (ETF) in 2018, with collections far exceeding expectations.

By the September 30 end of the 2018 fiscal year, collections for the state General Fund were up 4 percent or $76 million over FY2017, bringing in just under $2 billion. Revenue to the ETF grew by 6.7 percent, up $426 million over 2017, for a total of $6.7 billion in 2018.

Both funds ended the year with a balance, with revenues exceeding expenditures by $80 million in the General Fund and $336 million in the ETF. The balance in the General Fund will be available to fund either supplemental appropriations or to pad to the 2020 budget. A portion of the ETF balance, $64 million, will be shifted into what’s called the budget stabilization fund, which was set up as an auxiliary savings account which can be tapped if the economy contracts. The remaining $272 million of surplus will be shifted into the advancement and technology fund. The Legislature can spend that fund for certain purposes including the purchase of education technology and equipment.

Strong growth in the General Fund can be credited to the growing economy, but also to decisions by the Legislature in recent years. The General Fund traditionally saw little growth even when the economy was expanding because growth taxes, principally income and sales taxes, were all deposited in the ETF. However, the Legislature shifted some sales taxes, particularly a portion of the sales taxes on goods sold over the internet, to the General Fund. Strong growth in those taxes padded the General Fund’s bottom line.

The effects of the federal tax cut also had something to do with the increased revenue. When federal taxes go down, Alabama collections go up since federal income taxes are deductible from state income taxes. When individuals and corporations pay less in federal taxes, a greater share of earnings is subject to the Alabama income tax. Budget officials in Montgomery have estimated that the difference in the federal tax law will mean an annual boost to Alabama receipts in the $30 to $40 million range.

The rosy revenue picture is not clouded by huge impending financial needs as it has been in the past. Cost growth in Medicaid has slowed, and Congress has extended federal support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was an uncertainty earlier this year. The one area of persisting uncertainty is the amount that will be needed to comply with a federal court order to improve conditions in prisons.

The General Fund

The General Fund grew robustly even though it didn’t receive the $50 million per year deposit it had been receiving from a settlement resulting from the BP Oil Spill. The fund also paid out $11 million in a settlement to AT&T. AT&T had collected and paid to Alabama taxes on wireless data plans. Under federal law, internet access is exempt from taxation. Cellular voice service is subject to taxation, and the mobile telecommunications tax used to be a major revenue source. However, wireless companies have lowered their charges to customers for voice calling and shifted much of the cost of service to data plans, which aren’t supposed to be taxed. Proceeds from the tax are now about half what they were in 2013.

Another declining tax source for the General Fund is the tobacco tax. The tax brought in $155 million in 2018, almost $9 million less than the year before.

But those and other declines were more than offset by growing revenue from other sources. Insurance company taxes and corporate taxes were up by $30 million and $21 million respectively. Bringing in $349 million in 2018, the tax on insurance policies is the largest individual source of revenue to the General Fund.

Thanks to rising interest rates, the revenue from interest on state deposits increased by $18 million. Revenues from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board were up by $15 million. The portion of the Use tax that goes to the General Fund increased $14 million. The Simplified Seller’s Use Tax, a sales tax on online purchases, was up $10 million. Revenue disbursed from the state’s abandoned property fund was up by $9 million.

 

The Education Trust Fund

The biggest boost to the state bottom line came through collections of the income tax, which were up 8.2 percent, as more people were working and earning more money.

Sales taxes increased 5.34 percent as consumers spent more. These are the highest growth rates since before the great recession, and the overall 6.7 percent growth in the fund during 2018 is the highest growth rate seen since prior to the Great Recession.

The strong performance in 2018 indicates the state should not have a problem meeting the spending levels set in the 2019 budgets. The Legislature budgeted spending $2 billion from the General Fund and $6.6 billion from the Education Trust Fund in 2019.

 


PARCA Statewide Constitutional Amendment Analysis

When voters go to the polls on November 6, they’ll not only be electing a governor, legislators, and other state and local officials, they’ll also be asked to vote on 19 new amendments to the Alabama Constitution of 1901. Voters statewide will decide whether to add four proposed amendments that will apply throughout the state. In addition, 15 local amendments will be voted on only in the counties in which they would apply.

The Alabama Constitution is unusual. It is the longest and most amended constitution in the world.  There are currently 928 amendments to the Alabama Constitution.


Most state and national constitutions lay out broad principles, set the basic structure of the government, and impose limitations on governmental power. Such broad provisions are included in the Alabama Constitution. However, Alabama’s constitution delves into the details of government, requiring constitutional amendments for basic changes that would be made by the Legislature or by local governments in most states. Instead of broad provisions applicable to the whole state, about three-quarters of the amendments to the Alabama Constitution pertain to particular local governments. Amendments establish pay rates of public officials and spell out local property tax rates. A recent amendment, Amendment 921, grants municipal governments in Baldwin County the power to regulate golf carts on public streets.

Until serious reforms are made, this practice will continue, and the Alabama Constitution will continue to swell.

Statewide Amendment 1

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, providing for certain religious rights and liberties; authorizing the display of the Ten Commandments on state property and property owned or administrated by a public school or public body; and prohibiting the expenditure of public funds in defense of the constitutionality of this amendment.”

Amendment 1 and Amendment 2 are proposed amendments to the Alabama Constitution, but they both concern rights and protections that are governed by the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of federal law and the Constitution.

Since the U.S. Constitution supersedes state law and the state Constitution, both these proposed amendments would not have any immediate legal effect. They are more like statements of opinion. However, considering the recently altered composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, those Alabama amendments could become operative as the new court addresses cases that may alter established precedent.

Amendment 1, proposed by Act 2018-389, restates principles of the separation of church and state that currently exist in Section 3 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 which reads:

That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes, or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.

The new proposed amendment adds to that by specifically authorizing the display of the Ten Commandments on public buildings, public property, and public schools, as long as that display is made in conformity with Constitutional principles.

As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, a display of the Ten Commandments on public property is allowed, but only if it is not a specific endorsement of a religion. Displays of the Commandments are permitted when they are contained in a secular context, surrounded by other educational and historical displays. For example, the display might include other historical documents, like the Code of Hammurabi, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution or historical documents or personalities associated with the development of law.

The proposed amendment also specifies that no public funds may be expended in defense of the constitutionality of the amendment. That prohibition of public funding for the defense of the amendment would not prevent public funds being expended to defend a challenge to the constitutionality of a specific display of the Ten Commandments created by any agency or local jurisdiction.

Statewide Amendment 2

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, as amended; to declare and otherwise affirm that it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life in all manners and measures appropriate and lawful; and to provide that the constitution of this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.”

Amendment 2, proposed by Act 2017-188, concerns the state’s position on abortion rights and the rights of “unborn children.”

It would add an amendment to the Alabama Constitution that would specify that it is the “public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” The proposed amendment does not define at what point a fertilized embryo or developing fetus would be considered an unborn child. The amendment also specifies that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”

The right to an abortion is currently protected by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. In Roe, the Court ruled that governments, federal, state, and local, could not prohibit a woman from having an abortion during the first trimester and placed limitations on state regulation of abortion in subsequent trimesters. The Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy (recognized in Griswold v. Connecticut) protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. As summarized by Oyez, a compendium of information on the Supreme Court compiled by Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, Justia, and Chicago-Kent College of Law, the Roe decision gave a woman total autonomy over the pregnancy during the first trimester and defined different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters.[1]

In subsequent Supreme Court cases, the Court preserved the right to an abortion but allowed states to regulate abortion and to ban it after the fetus had reached viability, the point at which the fetus could survive outside of the womb. Other restrictions on abortion throughout pregnancy were permissible, the Court ruled, if those restrictions did not put an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

In Alabama, abortion is prohibited when the pregnancy has reached 20 weeks, except in cases of life or health endangerment to the mother. Alabama has also passed numerous regulations pertaining to all abortions. In Alabama, abortions must be performed by a licensed physician. Abortion providing facilities must meet multiple requirements. If the fetus is deemed viable, the abortion must be necessary to preserve the life and health of the mother, a second physician must participate, and it must be performed at a hospital.

Public funding can only be used for an abortion in the case of life endangerment or rape or incest. Alabama requires pre-abortion counseling and a 48-hour waiting period after counseling. If a minor is involved, a parent must give his or her written consent before the procedure can occur.

A 2016 Alabama law would have criminalized dilation and evacuation (D&E) procedure, a procedure used throughout pregnancy and the most common method of second-trimester abortions. In August of 2018, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta upheld a lower court ruling blocking the law, finding that the ban would create and undue burden on the right to end a pregnancy before the fetus is viable.[2] Alabama also has not repealed its law that was in place before Roe v. Wade.[3] That law makes it a crime to perform an abortion and contains no exceptions for the life or health of the mother.

Passage of the proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution would not have any practical effect under current law. However, if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade and turn abortion regulation back to the states, the language in the Alabama Constitution would potentially have an effect. Any attempt to alter restrictions on abortions could be challenged on the grounds that it would harm the right to life of unborn children. If states were granted the full authority to regulate abortion, the rights to life and liberty guaranteed to individuals (the mother, in this case) in Section 1 of the Alabama Constitution would have to be weighed against the right to life of an unborn child contained in this amendment, if it is adopted.

Abortion rights groups, like Planned Parenthood, and anti-abortion groups, like the Eagle Forum of Alabama, agree that Amendment 2 would lay the groundwork for an abortion ban in Alabama if Roe v Wade is overturned.

Statewide Amendment 3

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, relating to the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama, to specify that the congressional districts from which members are appointed continue to reflect those as constituted on January 1, 2018, to remove the State Superintendent of Education from membership, and to delete the requirement that members vacate office at the annual meeting of the board following their seventieth birthday.”

Under current law, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees is composed of 16 people: three members from the congressional district in which the Tuscaloosa campus is located, two members from each of the other six congressional districts in the state, the Governor, and the State Superintendent of Education. If the number of congressional districts in Alabama increased or decreased in the future, the number of trustees would also increase or decrease. Additionally, other than the Governor and the State Superintendent of Education, current law requires a trustee to retire from the board following his or her seventieth birthday.

Amendment 3, proposed by Act 2018-132, does three things:

First, it provides that the board will be composed of members from congressional districts as those districts existed on January 1, 2018.  This eliminates the need to make changes based on the number of congressional districts in Alabama. It does not impact the number of board members. Based on population trends, Alabama is at risk of losing a congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.[4] Second, it removes the State Superintendent of Education from automatically having a seat on the board. The Superintendent currently serves on the Auburn University Board of Trustees.[5] The State Superintendent was removed by statute from the board of the University of North Alabama in 2018 but remains on the board of the University of West Alabama.[6] Third, it allows a trustee to serve after his or her seventieth birthday.

Composition of the governing boards for SEC universities varies. Currently, in addition to the University of Alabama System, the Universities of Arkansas, Missouri, and South Carolina also have a state superintendent on the boards.[7]  The Universities of Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee include seats for faculty members on the governing boards, with the University of Florida having two such positions and the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees rotates the position by each of its four instructional institutions.

Along with the Universities of Arkansas and Georgia, both Auburn University and the University of Alabama System rely on congressional districts for apportioning seats on their boards, while the Mississippi State Institutions of Higher Learning apportions seats by each of its supreme court districts, and the University of South Carolina recruits board members from each of its 16 judicial districts through a College and University Trustee Screening Commission.[8]

Tennessee requires that the governor appoint at least two residents from each of the state’s three grand divisions, with at least five of the members being alumni of the University of Tennessee, and at least seven must be residents of Tennessee.[9] Missouri requires that board members be U.S. citizens and residents of the state for at least two years. Missouri also prohibits more than five members being from one party.

If a majority of voters vote “Yes” on Amendment 3, future changes to the number of congressional districts in Alabama will not change the number of board members. The State Superintendent of Education will no longer be an ex-officio member of the board, and trustees will be allowed to serve on the board after their seventieth birthday.

If a majority of voters vote “No” on Amendment 3, future changes to the number of congressional districts in Alabama will have an impact the number of board members, the State Superintendent of Education will continue to have an ex-officio seat on the board, and trustees will not be allowed to serve on the board after their seventieth birthday. 

Statewide Amendment 4

 “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that, if a vacancy in either the House of Representatives or the Senate occurs on or after October 1 of the third year of a quadrennium, the seat would remain vacant until a successor is elected at the next succeeding general election.”

Every four years, all members of the Alabama State Senate and House of Representatives stand for election. The subsequent four-year term for which those Senators and Representatives are elected is called a quadrennium.

Currently, if a seat in either house of the Legislature becomes vacant during the quadrennium, a special election must be conducted in order to fill the vacant seat. The Governor must call for a special election if the vacancy happens before the next scheduled general election. The governor has discretion in setting the date of the election along with the nominating deadlines. This special election to fill vacancies can be held at any time during the four-year cycle, and the winner fills the term until the next general election.

When a special election is held, all costs and expenses incurred are paid from funds in the State Treasury not otherwise appropriated. Each legislative special election costs the state roughly $120,000.[10]

Alabama is one of twenty-five states in the U.S. that fill vacancies in the state legislature through special elections. Twenty-two states fill vacancies through appointments and three states fill vacancies through a hybrid system that uses both appointments and special elections.[11]

Amendment 4, proposed by Act 2018-276, would keep the current procedures for calling a special election in place but would change the current law so that when a vacancy occurs in the Senate or House of Representatives on or after October 1 of the third year of the quadrennium, the seat will remain vacant until the next general election – approximately 14 months or less.

The Governor would no longer have the power to schedule a special election to fill a vacancy in these circumstances, and public funds that would have been spent on the special election would be saved.

This amendment would not apply to U.S. Congressional or Senate seats.

If a majority vote “Yes” on Amendment 4, state legislative seats that become vacant within the final 14 months of the four-year term of office will remain vacant until the general election.

If a majority vote “No” on Amendment 4, the Governor will continue to be required to schedule a special election whenever a vacancy occurs in the state legislature.

For more information, see the analysis provided by the Alabama Fair Ballot Commission at https://sos.alabama.gov/alabama-votes/voter/ballot-measures/statewide.

[1] “Roe v. Wade.” Oyez, 3 Oct. 2018, www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18.
[2] Stempl, Jonathan. U.S. appeals court finds Alabama abortion law unconstitutional. Reuters. August 22, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-alabama-abortion/us-appeals-court-finds-alabama-abortion-law-unconstitutional-idUSKCN1L71ZP
[3] Ala. Code § 13A-13-7
[4] Cason, Mike. “Amid Census Controversy, Alabama Launches ‘Maximum Participation’ Effort,” Tribune News Services, http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/tns-alabama-ivey-census.html
[5] A member of the State Board of Education sits, ex officio, on the Alabama College System Board of Trustees for the two-year college system. See https://www.accs.cc/index.cfm/board-of-trustees/
[6] See https://www.billtrack50.com/BillDetail/914457; University of West Alabama Board of Trustees, https://www.uwa.edu/about/boardoftrustees
[7] In Arkansas, the Superintendent of Public Instruction is the board president and votes as a tie breaker, like U.S. Vice President does in the Senate.
[8] College and University Trustee Screening Commission https://www.scstatehouse.gov/CommitteeInfo/Universities&CollegesScreeningCommittee/Univ&CollScreening.php
[9] HB 2115 http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2115
[10] Gattis, Paul. “’No logic’ to Alabama’s special elections, which may be outlawed anyway.” AL.com March 2, 2018. https://www.al.com/news/huntsville/index.ssf/2018/03/no_logic_to_alabamas_special_e.html
[11] How vacancies are filled in state legislatures, Ballotpedia.com https://ballotpedia.org/How_vacancies_are_filled_in_state_legislatures