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The sketchiness of “economic development”

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Let’s be honest, governing well is hard.

So hard, in fact, that sometime in the past, most Alabama politicians quit trying. And so, our people found an easier way to make taxpayers at least believe that they’re doing some good.

Economic development.

Essentially, the idea is this: We pay companies to locate here through a complex series of straight cash, training programs, land gifts, tax abatements and tax deferments. These companies accept these ludicrous gifts and in exchange dole out … jobs to people so the company can continue (hopefully) turning a profit.

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It’s a bit one-sided.

The process of economic development, as you might know, is often filled with ethical sketchiness. There’s just so much money, so many people eager to make deals and offer “incentives” that it’s hard for most politicians not to reach a hand in the cookie jar from time to time.

After all, if you’re helping to deliver a few thousand jobs does it really kill anyone if you make a buck or two? Or if your cousin gets the excavation contraction? Or if your in-laws’ land gets purchased? Or if your brother’s tractor company supplied the equipment for the project?

Over the years, our lawmakers have been slowly forced to make most of that illegal. They’ve also made it illegal for a public official to accept a thing of value from a business in exchange for using their position to lobby for that business.

But that could be about to change.

If HB317 passes, as written, it would allow an exception to that law — if such lobbying is done in the name of “economic development,” well, it wouldn’t be considered lobbying.

Van Davis, the former special AG who convicted former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, called the bill disastrous in an interview with al.com. And he said it would make legal two crimes for which Hubbard was found guilty.

But don’t sweat it. It’s all in the name of economic development. And that always works out just fine for the people of this state.

Remember that time we gave more than a billion dollars in incentives to ThyssenKrupp? How’d that go?

Well, we didn’t really know it at the time, but it stunk. And the reason we didn’t know it at the time is because we’ve so revered “economic development” in this state that we’ve carved out special laws — laws that allow the government that works for us to keep very important details in these multi-million-dollar incentives packages secret.

But that’s not the worst of it.

The lying is.

A few weeks back, a lot of people in suits and pantsuits stood on a stage in Montgomery and proclaimed that Toyota-Mazda’s decision to build a plant in north Alabama was a great day. And maybe it will prove to be.

But here’s what’s already been proven: When Alabama’s elected officials proclaimed that the plant was lured here for $370 million in incentives and said it would employ 4,000 people earning an average salary of $50,000, none of that was technically true.

Two days later, when news of local incentives broke, the total incentive package price went up to over $700 million.

Two weeks later, the costs were estimated at over $800 million.

Last week, the Decatur Daily finally got its hands on a heavily-redacted copy of the actual incentives agreement. Total cost now: More than $871 million.

The Commerce Department also hid certain information when it turned over the documents, as it is bound to do by law under Alabama’s Open Records Act.

Among the items redacted: the salary information for employees, the dates of when construction will begin and end, when Toyota-Mazda will invest its $1.4 billion (which was $200 million less than reported at the press conference) and when production will actually start.

But don’t fret, it was quite clear when Alabama taxpayers’ $20 million in straight cash was due.

But maybe fret a little since the company isn’t bound to employ any specific minimum percentage of Alabama residents.

So, let’s tally this all up, shall we?

At the end of the day, Alabama is forking over $871 million in some form — even if it’s just from lost taxes — to get a plant that may or may not employ 4,000 people at an average salary that might be $50,000, or it might not be anywhere close to that, and we have no idea when this plant will start construction or production. In exchange, two companies that, combined, earned more than $60 billion in PROFITS last year alone will get a free building on free land and pay almost zilch in taxes.

And for this astonishing work, our public officials now want to be able to legally take money under the table.

That is economic development.

 

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Elections

Opinion | Collier’s allegations are not about Ivey’s health — they’re about retaliation

Josh Moon

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It’s not the (alleged) stroke, it’s the coverup.

That was the message from Walt Maddox and his campaign on Thursday, as they took shots at Gov. Kay Ivey for allegedly directing her security detail to cover up a health scare in 2015. She’s also alleged to have demoted a state trooper from her security team after he refused to conceal from his superiors a trip to the hospital Ivey was forced to take while attending a conference in Colorado.

And the story could use a little refocusing.

After APR’s Bill Britt wrote a story Monday that quoted former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier confirming the hospital trip for “stroke-like symptoms” and providing details of his conversations with Ivey about demoting the trooper, the story from state media outlets veered off course.

Instead of the focus landing on Ivey’s mistreatment of a law enforcement officer who was simply doing his job correctly, it became all about her health.

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Was she sick? Did she have a stroke? How’s her health these days?

Those are all fair questions.

They’re just not THE question that should have come from Collier’s revelations.

Because if Ivey did what Collier alleges, she possibly broke the law. And maybe, more importantly, she took money out of the pocket of a trooper who was trying to support a family simply because he refused to conceal her trip to the hospital.

That sort of behavior … well, we’ve seen that before in this state.

Mike Hubbard and Robert Bentley both went after law enforcement when they were initially caught in lies and illegalities.

Hubbard tried to defund the entire Alabama Attorney General’s Office and squeeze the prosecutors on his trail. He later launched public attacks against the lead prosecutor, Matt Hart, in a failed attempt to get out from under his misdeeds.

Bentley asked Collier, who was then head of ALEA, to lie to AG’s office investigators. And when Collier, after being terminated by Bentley for refusing to lie, told the world of the then-governor’s affair, Bentley set out to ruin the man.

Both Bentley and Hubbard wound up in jail for brief periods. And Alabamians wound up with more black eyes from the nation’s most corrupt state government.

That’s why this deal with the trooper matters so much.

Because it speaks to the character of Kay Ivey.

I mean, would she really demote this poor guy — the same trooper who sat by her hospital bed for three days — force him to uproot his family and go from the Montgomery area to Houston County, cut his pay and stifle his career because he followed trooper regulations instead of her improper/illegal directives?

Would she?

Because I think that’s something we should know.

Ivey, in response to Maddox’s comments on Thursday, told reporters that they should “check” the facts on the trooper, Drew Brooks.

I’ve done that.

I have copies from his personnel file showing where he lost pay and was sent from the governor’s security detail — a sought-after position — to giving out drivers licenses in Dothan — a very much not-sought-after position.



If Ivey has records indicating these things didn’t happen, I’d love to see them. And I’d also love to see records of her trip to Colorado in 2015.

Because right now, this is looking like a very familiar road.

A candidate who won’t debate. A politician who plays a little loose with the rules and law. A career politician who would do anything to stay in the game. A desperate politician who will stoop to any level to conceal their flaws and errors.

It all rings a bell, doesn’t it?

Mike Hubbard.

Robert Bentley.

Kay Ivey?

 

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Elections

Opinion | Kay Ivey’s official calendar is surprisingly empty

Josh Moon

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In late-August and early-September, there was one question dominating Alabama’s governor’s race.

Where is Kay Ivey?

The governor at that point had scarcely been seen in a few days. In one 10-day stretch, she held no public events and somehow managed to avoid even local ribbon cuttings and bridge openings. And her opponent’s campaign was raising questions about her lack of activity.

Walt Maddox, at that point, had already challenged Ivey to a series of debates. She declined, offering a number of excuses, including that she was “busy governing the state.” She had also told her Republican primary challengers that she was “too busy” to debate them.

So, I wanted to know: Who was telling the truth? Was it a big deal? Was Ivey too busy?

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There was only one way to find out: I filed an Alabama Open Records Act request for Ivey’s official calendar for a three-week span (Aug. 24 through Sept. 14).

That span, I figured, would provide a solid look into Ivey’s days and would cover all of the days that the Maddox campaign had questioned her whereabouts.

On Wednesday, after paying $17 and some change to a public entity to produce public records that the public had already paid to be produced once, APR was provided with copies of Ivey’s official calendar.

Counting every entry on the calendar for 21 days — including travel time to and from the governor’s mansion (which apparently takes 30 minutes) and air travel to a variety of meetings and ribbon cuttings — there are less than 60 hours accounted for.

That’s less than three hours per day.

But it’s actually worse than that, because most of that time is compacted into a handful of days, leaving large chunks of time — whole calendar pages — simply blank.

In total, seven days were blank. Three other days had just one entry.

In one calendar week — Sunday, Sept. 2, thru Saturday, Sept. 8 — Ivey’s calendar shows just three and a half hours of scheduled time.

That week, her days were completely blank on Sunday, Labor Day Monday and Tuesday. She had a single phone call on Wednesday and a single meeting on Thursday. She hosted the Alabama Association of Regional Councils on Friday morning and wrapped up the grueling week with a proclamation signing at 10:30 a.m. that Friday.

I’ll remind you that this is the governor — a governor in the midst of a campaign.

You would think her calendar would be crammed with events and meetings and staff scrums and trips all over the place.

But … there’s just nothing.

And that’s not normal. I know that for a fact.

I’ve been to the Alabama Archives and sorted through the official calendars for the last three governors of this state. None of their calendars look like Ivey’s. Not even close.

I shared photos on Facebook Wednesday night of entries from random days on Robert Bentley’s calendar. In some instances, his days spilled over onto a second page.

The same was true with Bob Riley. His days, like Bentley’s, seemed to be planned from morning until night. Every day. Even on the weekends.

What’s happening with Kay Ivey should raise eyebrows and a ton of questions. Mainly: Can she actually do this job?

I think that’s a fair question at this point, after the public freeze-ups, the long disappearances, the managed time by her staff, the refusal to debate, and now these nearly blank calendar days.

And then there are two other questions:

Who is running this state?

And who are you voting for?

 

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Opinion | Can’t write too much about voting until it’s too late

Joey Kennedy

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Yes, I’ve been writing about voting a lot over the past few weeks. I’ll likely continue until the Tuesday, Nov. 6, midterm elections where, in Alabama, we also elect a governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, justices to the state Supreme Court, and other constitutional offices.

There also are a limited number of local elections. Some constitutional amendments are on the ballot, so voters need to know about those.

And Alabama elects the seven members of the Alabama delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives. There could be some competitive races between Republican incumbents and Democrats in some of those races.

Most important for potential voters: Monday, Oct. 22, is the last day people qualified to vote can register to vote. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of young voters who just turned 18 who aren’t registered. They need to so they can have a voice in the Nov. 6 elections.

And others, who have just felt they had no reason to vote are potential voters as well. But they have to be registered.

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Alabama is one of many states where Republicans, led by Secretary of State John Merrill, is trying to keep non-Republican voters away from the ballot box.

Republican efforts to suppress the vote have been successful over the past several elections. Republicans claim that it’s important to control the ballot to keep at-the-polls voter fraud at bay. That, despite studies that repeatedly have shown that there is very little voter fraud at the polls. It’s a guise Republicans use to keep voters they don’t like at home.

In Alabama, voters need to get to the polls. We have an unelected governor, Republican Kay Ivey, who refuses to debate her opponent, Tuscaloosa mayor and Democrat Walt Maddox.

Clearly, Maddox is much more qualified than Ivey, but Ivey, like most Republicans, are refusing to debate their Democratic Party opponents. That’s because they know if they go head-to-head with their more qualified Democratic rivals, they’ll be unmasked.

Just ask yourself: What have Republicans truly done to make Alabama a better state to live in? Sure, they tout a strong economy and new industries coming to Alabama. The truth is, those jobs were coming here anyway. And as far as the economy, this resurgence started under President Barack Obama, not Donald Trump. That’s the fact. That’s the truth. Low-information voters who would rather support Russia than a Democrat will never admit it, but facts don’t lie. Republicans do.

Point to one real effort Republican members of the Alabama congressional delegation have made to improve Alabama. What they are doing is folding under the Crazy Town politics of Donald Trump. The result, of course is that these “fiscal conservatives” have allowed the national deficit and debt to explode.

Year after year, the deficit is what Republicans pounded Democrats for, even as Democrats helped bring the deficit under control. Now, it’s expected with those Republican tax cuts for billionaires passed this year, the debt will go up at least $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future. That’s not being fiscally responsible, but too many voters don’t seem to care if their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to be in debt for the rest of their lives.

And on a whole range of issues, from climate change to protecting the environment to health care, Republicans are on the wrong side of history and the issues.

Important for older voters, many of whom vote overwhelmingly for Republicans, the GOP is targeting Medicare and Social Security to bring down the deficit they created with their tax cuts. The rich get their big tax breaks, while Social Security recipients and Medicare users face cuts that will hit them hard in their pocketbooks.

People will die because of their decisions.

Republicans stoke hate for the very diversity that helps make our country great. They are the party of white nationalists. They claim they care for children, yet allow the government to remove children from refugee families seeking asylum in the United States and throw them into cages. They revictimize women who have been sexually assaulted and raped.

What should we expect when a sexual assaulter occupies the White House and a sexual predator runs for the U.S. Senate on the Republican ticket?

This we’re-better-than-anyone nationalism Republicans love so much is not making America greater. It’s making America uglier than it’s ever been since slavery and the Indian wars of the 19th century and before.

So, yeah, I’m likely to write about voting for a few more weeks. Smart voters must make it to the polls this time. What we might become permanently isn’t very pretty if they don’t.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | The Shorty Price story

Steve Flowers

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Since this is Alabama vs. Tennessee week and we have a Governor’s Race in three weeks, allow me to share the Story of Shorty Price.

Alabama has had its share of what I call “run for the fun of it” candidates. The most colorful of all these perennial “also ran” candidates was Ralph “Shorty” Price. He ran for Governor every time. His slogan was “Smoke Tampa Nugget cigars, drink Budweiser beer and vote for Shorty Price.”

In one of Shorty’s campaigns for governor his campaign speech contained this line, “If elected governor I will reduce the governor’s tenure from four to two years. If you can’t steal enough to last you the rest of your life in two years, you ain’t got enough sense to have the office in the first place.” He would use recycled campaign signs to save money but he rarely garnered two percent of the votes in any campaign.

Shorty loved Alabama football. Following the Crimson Tide was Shorty’s prime passion in life. You could spot Shorty, even though he was only 5 ft tall, at every Crimson tide football game always sporting a black suit, a black hat with a round top, his Alabama tie and flag.

I do not know if Shorty actually had a seat because he would parade around Denny Stadium or Legion Field posing as Alabama’s head cheerleader. In fact he would intersperse himself among the real Alabama cheerleaders and help them with their cheers. There was no question that Shorty was totally inebriated in fact, I never saw Shorty when he was not drunk.

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Shorty worshiped Paul “Bear” Bryant. Indeed Bryant, Wallace and Shorty were of the same era. Like Bryant, Shorty hated Tennessee.

Speaking of the Tennessee rivalry, I will share with you a personal Shorty story. I had become acquainted with Shorty early on in life. Therefore, on a clear, beautiful, third Saturday, fall afternoon in October Alabama was playing Tennessee in Legion Field. As always, Shorty was prancing up and down the field. I was a freshman at the University on that fall Saturday. Shorty even in his drunken daze recognized me. I had a beautiful date that I was trying to impress and meeting Shorty did not impress her. Shorty pranced up the isle and proceeded to sit by me. His daily black suit had not been changed in probably over a year. He reeked of alcohol and body odor and my date had to hold her nose.

After about 20 minutes of offending my date, Shorty then proceeded to try to impress the crowd by doing somersaults off the six-foot walls of Legion field. He did at least three, mashing his head straight down on the pavement on each dive, I though Shorty had killed himself with his somersaults. His face and his head were bleeding profusely and he was developing a black eye. Fortunately, Shorty left my domain and proceeded to dance with Alabama cheerleaders that day as bloody as he may have been.

Shorty was beloved by the fans and I guess that is why the police in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa seem to ignore Shorty’s antics. However, that was not the case in a classic Alabama game four years later. By this time I was a senior at the University and we were facing Notre Dame in an epic championship battle in the old New Orleans Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve. It was for the 1973 national championship. Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian were pitted against each other. We were ranked #1 and 2.

One of the largest television audiences in history was focused on the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. It was electrifying. Those of us in the stands were awaiting the entrance of the football team, as were the ABC cameras. Somehow or other, Shorty had journeyed to New Orleans, had gotten on the field and was posed to lead the Alabama team out on the field.

As was customary, Shorty was drunk as Cooter Brown. He started off by beating an Irish puppet with a club and the next thing I knew two burly New Orleans policemen, two of the biggest I had ever seen, picked up Shorty by his arms and escorted him off the field. They did not know who Shorty was and did not appreciate him. Sadly, Shorty, one of Alabama’s greatest fans, missed one of Alabama’s classic games sitting in a New Orleans jail.

I have always believed that Shorty’s removal from the field was a bad omen for us that night. We lost 24-23 and Notre Dame won the National Championship.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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The sketchiness of “economic development”

by Josh Moon Read Time: 4 min
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