Alabama Republican Party Chairman, Bill Armistead recently took to al.com to discuss his thoughts on the state budget. It left me scratching my head, as he kept putting words like “budget crisis” and “shortfall” in quotes like he doesn’t believe we have a budget crisis. Gov. Robert Bentley himself has predicted a minimum $265 million shortfall in the general fund, and potentially up to $700 million. So is a $265 to $700 million hole not a budget crisis?
Chairman Armistead went on to say that I am simply trying to “create and exploit the appearance of a crisis.” This is as ridiculous as it is untrue. If Chairman Armistead doesn’t believe we have a crisis, then he is out of touch with what is going on in Alabama. Everyone else in Alabama understands the crisis we are in.
In fact, just two weeks ago Speaker Mike Hubbard told the press that we can’t keep “kicking the can down the road” on the budget. Chairman Armistead is not only out of touch with fiscal reality; he is out of touch with the party he leads.
But what Chairman Armistead considers reality isn’t my main issue with his opinion. My issue is that he’s gotten his facts wrong about what I have proposed.
Chairman Armistead first mistakenly claims that I have proposed a specific compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. In reality, the governor is the only person who can negotiate a compact; it is not something that can be created by legislators. As a legislator, I can and will introduce a resolution encouraging the governor to enter negotiations for a compact. If the governor does negotiate a compact, the details will be left up to him, not the legislature.
In fact, if my resolution were to pass, it would not require the governor to do anything. It would just encourage the governor and show the legislature’s support for pursuing a compact. As a former state senator, Chairman Armistead knows that’s how this works, and yet he misled readers by stating the legislature could negotiate a compact.
Chairman Armistead next questions if Alabamians are really spending money at casinos and playing the lottery in neighboring states, claiming that the idea Alabama is losing revenue to neighboring states is “snake oil.”
Alabamians spending their money on gaming and lotteries in nearby states isn’t a theory; it’s a fact.
North Alabama news outlet WAFF-48 reports neighboring states are making hundreds of millions of dollars off Alabamians playing their lotteries and gambling at their facilities. One of the top-selling lottery outlets in Tennessee estimates 60 to 65 percent of its lottery sales are from Alabama. If that isn’t enough, all you really have to do is drive to Tennessee or Georgia and count the number of cars with Alabama tags in the parking lot.
Armistead also argued that having gaming would hurt local economies. He justifies this argument by citing an article from David Frum. First, Mr. Frum is not an economist or a researcher. He is a political commentator and former speechwriter. Secondly, Mr. Frum’s and Chairman Armistead’s opinions do not hold up to the reality in Alabama.
The Poarch Creek Indians have been operating their facilities in Alabama for many years. If Chairman Armistead’s predictions were correct, these counties and cities should be crumbling. But the reality is that most of these places are doing better than the state as a whole. The Poarch Creeks operate three facilities in Alabama – one in Montgomery, one in Wetumpka and their flagship facility in Atmore. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate in Montgomery and Wetumpka is lower than the statewide average, with Montgomery County being 5.9 percent and Elmore County at 5.1 percent. And though the state does not collect data for cities the size of Atmore, the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority lists the Poarch Creek Indians as No. 1 on their list of largest employers in the county.
Lastly, Chairman Armistead says considering a lottery and a compact, “takes up time that could be spent on coming up with ‘real’ solutions to the budget issues.” But he offers no solutions.
Chairman Armistead has every right to debate the merits of a lottery and compact. But he should at least offer an alternative. Instead, he offers no solutions, ignores his own party’s elected leaders by mocking the idea that there even is a crisis, and then argues his case using faulty logic that ignores economic reality.
Chairman Armistead is entitled to his own opinions. He is not entitled to his own facts.
Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He also serves as the Alabama House Minority Leader.