By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) addressed the 70th Alabama Cattlemen’s Association (ACA) Convention in Birmingham on Saturday. ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ was present to cover the speech as it happened.
Bentley said, “This is the third time I have had the pleasure of coming to speak to you.” Bentley said that he was giving, “A state of the state in a very abbreviated style.”
Bentley said one of the things he did as he first came into office was to get some organizational structure to Alabama’s efforts to recruit new industries. Bentley said that Accelerate Alabama is our strategic plan for recruiting new jobs to the state.
Bentley told the Cattlemen that Agriculture and forestry is one of the eleven areas identified in the Accelerate Alabama plan where he is trying to recruit more jobs. Bentley said 580,000 people in Alabama somehow work in agriculture or forestry. Bentley said that we have made some good progress. Alabama has the right environment to recruit new industries. “Alabama is a right to work state. Asian industries won’t even look at a state that is not a right to work” and European companies would prefer to deal only right to work states. The state has low energy costs and a low cost of doing business. Bentley also said, “We have the best workers in the world.”
Bentley said that when he was at the Stutgart Germany he asked Mercedes executive about what percentage of European workers are absent from plants there. They told him 7% don’t show up to work every day, then he asked them what percentage of Alabama workers are absent. They looked it up and only .6% are absent on the average day in Tuscaloosa. “That is a difference.” Bentley said that when he visited the Airbus plant in Europe, the plant was idle and everybody was outside smoking and eating. He asked executives what is going on and they said that the workers are on break. Bentley he told them that At the Airbus A320 plant we are going to produce in Mobile, “You won’t have any of this in Mobile.” Alabama workers may take breaks but you will have a continuous operation. “They (Alabama workers) will smile at you but they will keep on working. The people of Alabama have the right attitude.”
Bentley said, “When I came in as Governor I recognized early on that we had nothing in the state of Alabama. The money I was supposed to have for incentive packages was all gone.” Bentley said that he went to work with the legislature and began cutting government. Bentley said that we have saved $750 million annually already. By the end of 2014 we will have saved a $billion annually using simple common sense methods. “We got rid of something called the DROP program which cost $58 million a year.” Bentley said he refinanced 5% state bonds at 2.5%. When he was elected the state had 37,000 employees. Under his leadership we have gone to just 31,000 employees today. Bentley has also changed the way that people contribute toward their retirement saving taxpayers even more money. Bentley also said that he had just signed legislation to consolidate state law enforcement functions and state information technology efforts which will save more money. He also signed an executive order to guarantee that the state gets the lowest cost per mile out of the state’s fleet of 8,500 state vehicles.
Gov. Bentley said, “Government will always expand to meet the amount of money that you give it.” The Governor said that he has worked to find ways to consolidate make state government to make it more efficient. Bentley warned however that “At some point we will have to stop cutting.” “We don’t want to cut state government to the point that we can not carry out state government.”
Bentley said, “Many of you in local area have probably heard about is our ATRIP Program. Our ATRIP program is the largest program for repairing roads and bridges in the history of Alabama. We have already issued $614 million in permits.” Bentley said that ATRIP utilizes federal money through GARVEE bonds. By moving when he did the state was able to finance that work at 2.5%. Bentley said, if we waited it could have cost 6%. Bentley said, “ATRIP has been very important to you in rural Alabama. Everybody in Alabama wants a four lane highway but that isn’t going to happen.” Instead Bentley said that his administration has focused on repairing the roads and bridges the state already has.
Bentley said that some counties can’t come up with the 20% match to apply for ATRIP dollars so he came up with the Rural Assistance Matching program which will give the poorest of the poor Alabama counties up to $5 million. Bentley said that they would get millions more through ATRIP if they can come up with the 20% match in their budgets.
Bentley said that on Thursday he signed legislation which would consolidate Alabama law enforcement functions. “John McMillan has done a great job as Commissioner of Agriculture.” Bentley said that as part of his law enforcement consolidation plan, “We are going to create some agents that are specially trained to deal with agriculture and forestry crimes.” They need to stay and be continually trained in this field of fighting cattle rustling, the theft of farm machinery, and cutting people’s timber without paying for it.
Bentley said that he is committed to having specially trained agents to take care of our farmers and forestry people in this state. On the future of Garret Coliseum, Bentley said he hasn’t made any promises yet but if we are going to keep that facility he would see if we can come up with some money to do what we have to renovate the aging facility which is used for agriculture shows and events like SLE Rodeo.
Bentley credited Emily Schultz for her role as education advisor. Bentley said that the flexibility is the best part is of the Alabama Accountability Act. “Our goal is to have no failing schools in this state.” The flexibility provisions of the bill give school administrators no excuse. “They can come up with a plan,” to turn around poor performing schools. Bentley said, “We are going to tighten that (the Alabama Accountability Act) so that it does not hurt education.” But said it is not fair for children to be trapped in a failing school and not be able to anything about it.
Bentley said, “I am one of 30 governors who have stood up and said you need to make changes,” in the Affordable Care Act. Bentley said that Alabama already has 938,000 people on Medicaid. “I am concerned about the poor in this state.” Bentley said that the Medicaid program is a broken system and that legislation he supports will divide the state into 8 different regions and will let the local doctors and hospitals determine how to administer care in their regions. Bentley said Alabama is changing the way we do Medicaid. “We are not going to expand it under its current structure.” Bentley acknowledged that, “Only ten governors did what I did (refused to expand Medicaid),” but because of that stance the federal government has been forced to negotiate the terms of the Medicaid expansion and it is likely that the federal government will give those states Medicaid in the form of a block grant. “The federal government won’t admit it, but they have already backed down.” Bentley said that Alabama needed to stand strong and give Bentley time to negotiate. “I don’t make decisions on a spur of the moment.” He said that is trying to make the Affordable Care Act a workable piece of legislation.
Bentley said, “I work for y’all.” “I get to work with the greatest people in the world and this is the people of Alabama. There is no greater job than being governor.” Guys that were governors that go on to be Senators hate it. “Governors have power. They can get things done. Senators can’t.”
The Executive Vice President of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Dr. Billy Powell said that Gov. Bentley did not mention his reelection, but said that the Cattlemen need to raise some money for the Alabama Beef PAC in order to help Bentley be reelected.
The outgoing President of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association Donna Jo Curtis said that so far Bentley has created 38,000 new jobs for the state of Alabama and has made real strides in consolidating state agencies saving taxpayers money.