By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
In 1992, the economy was the top issue on every voter’s mind. Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign captured that sentiment when they coined the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Twenty years later, it’s still the economy.
Last week, it was reported that Alabama’s unemployment rate has risen for the fourth consecutive month. From April through August, the state’s unemployment rate rose from 7.2 percent to 8.5 percent.
There are now 183,000 Alabamians who are unemployed. And that doesn’t include the people who want to work but have given up hope and ended their job search or moved to a different state.
Alabama’s working families are taking it on the chin, and they want to know why things aren’t getting better.
States and cities across this country are creating jobs by investing in their infrastructure (which creates jobs immediately for the short-term) and investing in education (which helps recruit jobs and prepares the workforce for long-term economic growth).
But not Alabama.
In Alabama, the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery passed the Rolling Reserve Act that unnecessarily cut $150 million from our children’s education. The Republicans also cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative and the Reading Initiative, and cut almost 90 percent of teacher recruitment incentives.
Then last week, the voters of Alabama passed a constitutional amendment to allow the government to borrow $437 million from the state’s savings account. We were told that this money was necessary to save public employee jobs (such as teachers, law enforcement, etc.) and to avoid cuts to Medicaid.
The very next day after the amendment was passed, the governor announced that his plan to make the budget solvent was to push as many as 5,000 public employees (again, we’re talking about teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and others) into an early retirement. And the state health officer, Dr. Don Williamson, announced that even with the amendment passing, he will still have to cut between $20 million and $40 million from Medicaid just to live within next year’s budget.
So if we aren’t investing in our people, then what are we doing to create jobs?
There were two primary job creation plans proposed in the last legislative session. Democrats proposed a bill that would have created a small business loans program. This program would have given loans to small, start-up companies that promised to pay the money back and create at least five new jobs (we included an enforcement mechanism to make sure that the jobs were created). But the Democrats’ bill was never brought up for a vote or even allowed to come out of committee.
The Republicans’ major job creation legislation was a plan to allow certain corporations to keep their employees’ state income taxes in the hope that these companies would then use that money to create more jobs. This plan had some serious flaws. It would have deprived our schools of even more revenue. It also did not require a single job be created in exchange for the benefit. In the end, the bill failed in the Senate.
Our state is headed on the wrong path. The unemployment numbers prove that. The Republicans in Montgomery seem more interested in investing in the “job creators” than they are in investing in the workers who do the jobs. If we do not start investing in our people, we will not be able to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and get our economy back on track.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.