VictoryLand shuts up shop: Milton McGregor’s VictoryLand “bingo” casino in Macon County closed Monday, ostensibly to avoid a raid by Gov. Bob Riley’s anti-gambling task force, the Birmingham News reported. The closing came after the Alabama Supreme Court ordered a Macon County judge to lift an injunction preventing the casino from being raided. McGregor’s move prompted a statement by Riley Communications Director Jeff Emerson that was more worthy of a political campaign than the office of the governor: “One-Percent McGregor talks a big game about how his slot machines aren’t really slot machines, but when it’s time to lay his cards down on the table, he folds and runs away like a scalded dog,” Emerson stated. The “One-Percent” dig was aimed to remind readers of reports that VictoryLand had donated less than one percent of its revenues to charity. McGregor said that closing the casino will put 600 folks out of work.
Alabama taxes second lowest: In fiscal year 2008, South Carolina collected taxes of $2,923 per person, just beating out Alabama’s $3,002 per person revenues to be the lowest-taxed state in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau reports compiled by the Birmingham News and cited in an Associated Press report. That Alabama’s taxes are low is not a surprise—“The reality is, that’s where we’ve been for quite a long time,” Alabama acting Finance Director Bill Newton told the AP. But should this report be classified as a Hotseat rather than a Limelight? Some, such as powerful Alabama state Sen. Lowell Barron, say that Alabama’s low tax rate helps the state recruit industries, like the several auto plants built in the state in the past two decades. Others, like Alabama Education Association head Paul Hubbert, say the low tax rate means that basic public services like education cannot secure stable funding.
We’re fat, not phat: Like the last Limelight, you might file the following Hotseat under “Obvious, But Worthy of Frequent Mention.” Alabamians, like many Americans, are obese, according to a new report in the Center for Disease Control’s August 3 CDC Vital Signs Report. The report, cited in a press release from the Alabama Department of Public Health, said that 31 percent of Alabamians reported that they were obese. To clarify, this does not mean that Alabamians were asked “Hey, are you fat?” and 31 percent said “Yep!” Alabamians were asked their height and weight, and the respondents’ Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated later to determine if they were considered obese. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by the square of his or her height. For example, if a six-foottall person weighs 220 pounds, his BMI comes out to 29.8—just below the “obese” BMI of 30.
City to cut investment bankers out of bond deals: In the last decade, Jefferson County issued bonds to pay for a sewer system upgrade. Investment bankers negotiated those deals, earning fees that amounted to millions. While the bonds and associated refinancing efforts like interest rate swaps went bad, costing the county and its taxpayers millions, the bankers kept their fees (at least until they were prosecuted). This week, Birmingham Mayor William Bell has proposed a plan to negotiate $39 million in bonds and $50 million in debt refinancing that may avoid such corruption— the Birmingham News reported that Bell plans to handle the deals in-house, with the help of new city Finance Director Tom Barnett. Outside attorneys will help finalize the deals, but investment bankers will be cut out, hopefully saving the city $250,000 or more. Some councilors are worried about the plan, based on its lack of precedence, but we think it’s worthy of a Limelight.