The hope of a new year


There’s no doubt that 2015 will be a difficult year, as our state is facing many difficult challenges. From plugging a massive hole in the budget to reforming our prisons, the legislature has its work cut out for it this spring.

Considering how daunting these challenges will be, it would be easy to be pessimistic about what will be coming. We’ve already heard talk about potential tax increases on working families and even more cuts to our already overstretched state government.

But even under these circumstances I still believe we have a lot to be hopeful for in this new year.

To begin with, our desperate budget situation has given new hope to creating a state lottery and entering into a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. State leaders have already begun floating the idea of pushing both these issues in the next legislative session, and both the lottery and the compact have been polling off the charts. Democrats have always supported a lottery and a compact, and now I believe there is enough Republican support to justify bringing a bill so we can let the people vote.

But the lottery is hardly the only thing to be hopeful about. There has also been a lot more discussion about demanding greater accountability over the tax incentives our state and local governments provide to recruit business and industry to the state.

Currently, our state does not track the incentives it gives out. So we do not have any way of knowing exactly how much we give every year. We do track the numbers of jobs created and the investments made by the companies receiving the tax breaks, but we don’t track where those jobs are created.

Last year, Democrats offered the “Alabama Job Creation and Taxpayer Protection Act”, which would have required companies receiving these incentives to commit to creating a specific number of jobs and then provided clawback provisions that would have rescinded the tax breaks if the companies didn’t keep their end of the bargain.

Our bill was never brought up for debate or a vote, but now several legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle, have begun to call for similar protections. So I have hope that this will be the year we can come together and finally pass some legislation that will create accountability, fairness and responsibility into the way we grant tax incentives as a part of our economic development.

Along these same lines, we have recently seen Governor Bentley come out in support of closing certain tax loopholes that benefit only out-of-state corporations. These out-of-state corporations have received millions of dollars in tax breaks that were not given to Alabama business owners, giving an unfair advantage to our own businesses’ competitors. If we can right this wrong and level the playing field, we can create fairness and give more hope to Alabama business owners without raising taxes on Alabamians.

I also have hope because of the economic growth our whole country is seeing.

During the last quarter, the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 5 percent. This is the strongest growth we have seen since 2003. The economy grew at a rate of 4.6 percent in the second quarter. So this growth appears to be consistent. And as the country grows, Alabama will also grow. While our statewide unemployment rate is still higher than the national unemployment rate, both are in decline. That is very good news for Alabama.

Alabama is facing some major challenges in the new year, and we may face some more difficult times ahead. But this could also be the year that we bring accountability to our corporate tax incentives and finally let the people vote on a state lottery. And now that our national economy is growing at such a strong level, that growth will also trickle down to Alabama.

So, yes, we face some difficult days ahead of us. But I also I believe that our best days are still ahead of us. I have hope for 2015.

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