By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
In the Economic Development and Tourism Committee meeting last week, Henry Mabry’s attempt to bully angered many committee member to the point that not only did they express their feelings in the meeting but it also carried over to the floor the next day as the bill was being introduced.
Mabry, Director of the Alabama Education Association, is opposing HB 159 and 160. The bills propose using withholdings of state payroll taxes as an incentive plan to attract new business and retain existing jobs in Alabama.
Companies wishing to participate in the program must apply to the ADO Director and the Department of Finance Director. After they make the initial determination they will then present it to the Governor.
During Mabry’s speech, he questioned whether leaving to application of this bill should be left to the sole discretion of the Governor. He said that the retention part of this legislation “allows the Governor to pick any company he wants.” He went on to question the whether it was a good idea to leave these decisions up to the ADO, Finance Department and the Governor.
Mabry said that the AEA could support legislation like the incentives for Mercedes, Hundayai, Navistar and Toyota but they could not support these bills. He said that AEA “will give you support if you [the committee] provide us a reason.”
When asked how to get new money in the state of Alabama, Mabrey replied, “We need new jobs. This is not jobs legislation this is tax money giveaway legislation.”
“I have one final comment Mr. Mabry,” said Chairman Barry Mask (R-Wetumpka). “You know we had some legislation last year and I think that a pro-growth agenda last year proved to be very effective with our unemployment rate dropping in the state at a faster rate than anyone else in the country, anyone else in the Southeast and faster than the national average.
Mask continued, “We are continuing our pro-job growth agenda this year. We have a lot of legislation that we will be looking at throughout the year to create jobs, that is our number one issue in the state of Alabama and as we discussed earlier. You are always welcome here, we appreciate you coming to give your opinion.
He finished by saying, “But my question wa,s will we be looking forward to your opposition to all of our pro-growth jobs agenda throughout the regular legislative session?”
“Mr. Chairman, I think the answer to that is no,” Mabry replied. He turned to the remaining committee members and said, “There is one bill I talked to the chairman about already and I said I thought we could work together on that bill.
“There are a couple that I have not seen the particulars of that legislation and it comes down to me, to the Alabama Education Association, it comes down to what are the costs to education, what are the benefits to education.
“If the benefits exceed the costs then there won’t be any problem, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much.”
After his last remark, Mabry left the conference room. Upon his exit Chairman Mask expressed concerns about Mabry’s assertions saying, “I am very troubled as an economic developer that someone would suggest that the state of Alabama would come to them on a project-by-project basis and try to get them to sign off on it. That’s absurd.
“I am also very troubled about folks saying that some folks that had worked so hard [writing this bill] had taken the exact Mercedes bill right off the shelf and water it down and repealed it and that is absurd.
Mask went on to say, “It is very troubling to hear somebody say they don’t trust ADO, the Finance Director, or the Governor or the Department of Industrial Relations to do their job. Because I think the track record is outstanding on what this state has done. I just don’t agree with some of the things being said.”
“To say there are no jobs here,” Mask pointed at a copy of the bill, “I guess somebody didn’t read the bill. If you don’t have a jobs [to offer you do not qualify]. It goes to something Mr. Scott said that I think is key, this is a key part of our arsenal and what we are trying to do is stay competitive with everybody else.
“…I am very trouble by someone saying that they will work with us on a project-by-project basis,” Mask finished.
John Merrill, (R-Tuscaloosa), in support of Mask, said, “Mr. Chairman, at some point I think we have to show a level of confidence in the people that we have elected and people that have been appointed. People that have a commitment to our state. And I think that we have to honor their judgement and if they are not performing at the level that we expect them to then they need to be replaced.
“I think it is important for us to show the confidence that has been demonstrated on this Governor’s staff and the people that have been the previous governor’s–from Governor Riley to Governor Seigleman–the same way that we are talking about adding them to the toolbox that Mr. Scott spoke about in a positive way,” said Merrill.
AEA members, including Mabry, filled the halls of the 5th floor in the State Building all day on Thursday. But it seemed as though the Republican anger had grown overnight. When Mask took the floor on Thursday to introduce the bill, he paused to make public the sentiments expressed in the Wednesday’s meeting. He said, “We first have a duty to retain the jobs that are already here [in Alabama]. There is a lot of misinformation about this bill.
“There is a trust factor [with this bill] because it gives wide discretion to the Governor, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Finance.
“[This bill is the] same thing that we have done to get Honda, Hundyia, and Toyota.”
“Some people [representing a particular organization] are saying, ‘We will get to you on a project-by-project basis and let you know if we approve.’ Let us go out there and get these jobs.”
Committee Member Mickie Hammond asked Mask to yield the floor, Mask agreed. He responded in support of Mask, “I think it would make us look very, very weak. If we are not prepared when we sit down to the table with [companies interested in moving to Alabama] and say, ‘Well, let us go talk to this group and let us see if the will let us help you.’ That doesn’t make any sense to me.
“I thought it was very arrogant. I kind of let it go there in committee but the more I got to thinking about it the more it bothered me. That we see this glorification of this group that in my opinion has been holding this state back not only in education but also in industrial recruitment through years and years and years.
“It is time for them to cut us loose. Let us do our jobs, let us recruit industry in this state. People need jobs, they want jobs and I am tired of fighting this same battle every single time we try to help the people of the state of Alabama in education and in industrial relations.”
Every House member that stood in opposition to the bill echoed Mabry’s words from the day before with words like, “sole discretion” and “$300 million” [ Mabry’s estimate as to how much the bill would cost education]. After an afternoon of discussion regarding the bill, a recess was called immediately followed by an adjournment. The House will pick up the discussion of bills HB 159 and 160 beginning Tuesday at 1:00 p.m.