By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
In the final part of our interview with Governor Bentley he talks about his commitment to rebuilding Alabama’s infrastructure and his vision for the future.
APR: For the upcoming session, any thoughts on your mind about what you are hoping to see come next?
BENTLEY: We have an agenda that that we are working on that we think is very important. There are four things that we want to do. Number one is we are going to create jobs in this state and what we got passed [Thursday] is just a part of it. So, we will have to work through those things. We are going to try to get our job creation bills out first.
Then there is an education component to our agenda. We would really like to see some targeted, limited charter schools to see how they work. But that is all, we are not trying to hurt public schools and we don’t believe this will hurt public schools. I am a strong public school supporter. My children we to public schools, I went to public schools. I want them to be better, I want all schools to be better. So we are pushing that.
We have some other agendas, we want a lot of flexibility for all of our education systems. Not just charters but if people are doing well give them a little more flexibility. Let them come up with ideas. So we are for that.
We are for supporting our teachers, we really are. I want to give a tax credit to our teachers. If they spend money in their classroom, then let them get dollar for dollar back up to $300. All teachers do that so they need to get that money back.
So that was number two. Number three is the roads and bridges in the state, especially in the rural areas.
APR: There are some bad roads and bridges out there.
BENTLEY: There are. There are. We need to preserve what we have. And that is the first thing we need to concentrate on.
I met just this morning with my Department of Transportation director. We are devising the way we are going to do that with GARVEE Bonds.
I do want some input from the counties, I want them to have a little skin in the game. I don’t think you ought to just give. Some can afford a little bit more than others.
These GARVEE bonds are really just future federal dollars that part of that will be used to pay off the bonds.
APR: Explaining that to the people is very important because it is a different type of bond.
BENTLEY: It is totally different. It is not going to cost any tax dollars except we are using the taxes that we already collect–we will be using some of the gasoline tax that we are already collecting to make some of the payment on the bonds. But if we go ahead and do it now and preserve those bridges and roads, we are actually saving because the inflation rate is going to be about six percent if we delay it and we can get the bonds at four percent.
Now, we are not talking about borrowing more money than we need. What we are going to do is work with the counties and we are going to get them to give us input on what they need in their county and the projects that they already have on the books that they would like to see done in their county. So, we are going to work closely with the counties and the county commissioners. Let them present those things to us and anything that they can do.
Now, we are going to make sure its right. That is why the Department of Transportation is involved, to make sure that the projects are done right. But anything that the county can do we are going to let them do it. If they can do it we want local people to do it.
APR: Well that does fit right in with making more jobs and economic development.
APR: Because if we don’t have the infrastructure, you can not continue to build businesses without having the proper roads and bridges.
BENTLEY: We have what is called “posted bridges” in this state. In other words you can’t drive heavy equipment or trucks or school buses across them. What we are doing with those, we are going to fix those first.
Now, we need to make sure that they are done correctly. That is why they need some oversight from our Department of Transportation. But, if they can do it themselves, obviously we are going to let them do it.
The fourth thing that we are really interested in, as far as our priorities, is we want to improve the healthcare of the people of this state, without invading into anybody’s privacy.
We are the most obese state in this country, or close to it. We need to everything that we can to help improve people’s lives.
It’s like infant mortality, a lot of it comes from babies having babies and how we can change culture.
I think that we need to work a lot through our churches and try to help with unwed mothers and things like this that really causes a lot of the infant mortality rates that we have.
Trying to keep mothers from smoking. Eleven point two percent of the babies that are born in this state, their mothers smoked. The infant mortality rate on those is 13.1 per 1,000 compared to 8.1 per 1,000, if you don’t smoke. So trying to get people to quit smoking, but just trying to make Alabama healthier.
What I am going to do is create a health alliance, not make government bigger, we are not trying to make a government entity. We are trying to streamline government and bring all of these entities together like the health department, medical schools, nursing schools.
We want to use tele-medicine to put specialty clinics out in the rural areas. I have these ideas on how to do that, that I think will really help do that in rural areas of the state–using nurse-practitioners.
Those are the four things that we are going to do.
Now, we have a problem right now with our budgets and we are working on that. I did present budget to the legislature. What was funny, I said, “I made the Republican Chairman mad, I mad the Democrats mad and I made AEA mad, so I must have done something right.”
We actually presented a good budget and we did it without hurting the classroom. We took a small amount of money from higher ed, but not very much, 4 percent, then 2 percent from the two-year colleges. But the foundation program, which is K–12, was not changed at all.
So it was a good budget but it also allowed us to put some money over into the General Fund. It keeps us from letting prisoners out. If we cut it as much as they say we are going to cut, without using both budgets, without trying to combine them a little bit, we would let out 12,000 prisoners.
APR: When I was on the show with Dana, he brought up the fact that they had made disparaging comments about your budget, and that is wasn’t going anywhere, and I said, “Don’t dare count the governor out yet.” I think you will get 90 percent of what you want.
BENTLEY: They are starting to soften a little bit. The legislators have not even looked at it. It is just the budget chairman. The education guys, they don’t want anything done with education money. The General Fund people, they would all be happy with my budget. One of them said some disparaging things also, but he ought to have been one that was happy about it.
APR: Well, Texas combined their budgets some years ago and it worked.
BENTLEY: There are 47 states that have one budget. I know that it probably won’t happen this year.
Without raising taxes, which I have vowed that we are not going to do, we are going to live within the money that the people send to Montgomery. I can tell you that people everyday out there in Alabama, they have to live within their means, and we are going to do the same thing in state government.
I am going to go this afternoon to meet with the editorial board at the ‘Press-Register,’ and I know one of the questions that they are going to ask me, “Well, Governor, why don’t you raise the cigarette tax or why don’t you raise the tax?” Well, I am not doing that. First of all, I promised the people that I wasn’t going to do that and I am going to live up to my promise.
APR: Most conservative don’t realize that is still raising taxes, do they?
BENTLEY: That’s right. That’s right. The other thing is, if you prop up that General Fund, you will never get anything done.
We wish the Governor every success and pray Godspeed, in all his efforts.