On Tuesday (Jan. 21), Democrats in the Alabama House of Representatives announced their legislative agenda for the 2014 legislative session. The agenda focuses on job creation and education, as well as addressing the recent wave of elected officials resigning their offices before their term expires.
“It’s about schools and it’s about jobs,” said House Minority leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden). “Today, Democrats are offering real solutions that will help create jobs, protect your tax dollars and give our public schools the support they need to be successful.”
The jobs package proposed by House Democrats includes funding for vocational and workforce development training and instituting clawback provisions on corporate tax incentives.
Sponsored by Rep. Greg Burdine (D-Florence), the Job Creation and Taxpayer Protection Act would require businesses to commit to creating a number of jobs before receiving a tax incentive or subsidy from the state. Businesses would be required to honor those job commitments within five years of receiving the subsidy or be required to pay back all or part of the incentive received.
The business would also be required to stay in the state and maintain the committed employment level for a minimum of five years.
“When done the right way, corporate tax incentives are an incredibly successful tool we have to recruit business,” said Burdine. “But we have a responsibility to protect the taxpayers and make sure that the incentives the state offers actually create jobs that last and pay a livable wage.”
Sponsored by Rep. Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston), the Workforce Development and Training Act would allow the Alabama Public School and College Authority to sell and assume $20 million in bonds to help fund the Department of Post-Secondary Education’s workforce development training program. The program conducts surveys of local businesses and the regional workforce development councils to determine specific training needs. They then develop a training program tailored to meet the needs of local businesses.
“There are thousands of skilled labor jobs becoming available in Alabama, but we have to give our people the training to do these jobs,” said Boyd. “This bill will directly help existing businesses expand and create thousands of jobs, while also making Alabama more attractive to other businesses and industries looking to locate here.”
Democrats are also sponsoring legislation to provide additional funding to expand scholarships for dual enrollment.
The bill would eliminate an unnecessary, state-funded liability insurance program for educators and reallocate the money set aside for that program into the dual enrollment program.
Most educators already receive liability coverage through their local school boards and professional associations like the Alabama Education Association.
“Last year, we had $4 million in requests for scholarships for dual enrollment, but we could only give out about $2 million,” said Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville), the bill’s sponsor.
“Dual enrollment increases the graduation rate and college enrollment rate. It gives kids a chance to get a head start on their career or their college degree, and creates opportunities for kids who otherwise would not have had those opportunities.”
Democrats are also proposing legislation that would require the state to give preference to Alabama-based businesses when awarding state and public works contracts.
“Our state government needs to do business with Alabama employers as much as possible,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Hubbard (D-Montgomery).
Democrats are also introducing a package of education bills that would repeal the Accountability Act and Rolling Reserve Act, create a state lottery, provide educators, state employees and retirees with a six percent pay increase and provide funding to close the $100 million hole in Medicaid.
“Increasing the state’s tobacco tax by $1 will generate up to $230 million dollars each year for the state,” said Rep. Hubbard. “That money can fill the hole in Medicaid and provide enough funding for the pay raises for state employees and retirees.”
Democrats expect the Education Trust Fund to be able to afford a six percent increase for educators and retirees without needing to raise additional revenue.
The lottery, proposed by Rep. Ford, is estimated to generate $250 million each year for education. The funding would be used to provide a resource officer in every public school, which is estimated to cost $50 million. The rest of the revenue would be used to provide scholarships for students who maintain an A/B average.
Ford is also introducing legislation that would repeal the Alabama Accountability Act and reallocate the remaining funding back into the Education Trust Fund for the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative.
In addition to repealing the Accountability Act, Democrats are seeking to repeal the Rolling Reserve Act, citing the governor’s proposed budget as evidence that the act needed to be repealed.
“The leadership in Montgomery has never lived by the Rolling Reserve Act,” said Ford. “Every year they have used accounting tricks to get around it. It needs to be repealed, plain and simple.”
In addition to the jobs and education packages, Democrats are also proposing legislation that would require elected officials who resign in the middle of their terms to pay for the special elections to fill their seats. The bill makes exceptions for elected officials who resign due to health reasons and for those who are appointed or elected to state or federal office.
“When you are elected to office, you take an oath to serve the people you represent for your entire term,” said Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans (D-Birmingham), who is sponsoring the bill. “ That ought to mean something. Public office is meant to be a service, not a stepping stone to a high-paying lobbying or ‘consulting’ job.”