By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
In two months the state legislature will reconvene for the final time before the next election cycle, and state leaders have announced that this session will move faster than normal.
That is to be expected in an election year. Legislators want to finish business before the primary elections get underway.
A faster legislative session is also good for the taxpayers. The fewer trips legislators have to make to Montgomery, the more is saves the taxpayers.
But there is also a danger when we rush through a legislative session.
Over the past three years, we have rushed through several important pieces of legislation that have led to unintended consequences and costly lawsuits at the taxpayers’ expense.
There have been many examples of this, but none has been harmful than the Accountability Act that has robbed our schools of $40 million dollars this year alone, and was passed by keeping the taxpayers in the dark until it was too late for the public to have any say on the issue.
We must be careful not to rush through legislation – especially when that legislation has such a dramatic impact on our state and our children.
But the other danger we face in the coming legislative session is that it can be a wasted session.
In election years, legislators don’t want to vote on controversial issues that could get them beat in the next election. So in these years, the legislature usually focuses on passing the budgets and little else.
Normally, that’s a good thing. The less time our state leaders have to pass more bad legislation and wreak havoc on the taxpayers the better.
But there’s also a lot of work that still needs to be done.
We need to repeal the Accountability Act and put the $40 million back into our schools. At the very least, we need to repeal the Accountability Act so that we don’t have to take more money out of our schools’ budgets in the future to fund what is clearly a failed piece of legislation.
We also need to look at passing some real economic development legislation.
Our economy is still struggling, and our unemployment rate is unacceptably high. Our state leaders don’t seem to have any ideas to get our economy going again other than more corporate welfare for out-of-state corporations. And this strategy clearly is not working.
We need to look at bringing new jobs and keeping the jobs we currently have.
More Alabamians are on Medicaid and food stamps today than there were before the Republican Supermajority took control in Montgomery. We have hemorrhaged jobs in the construction, timber, textile and manufacturing industries. And our state leaders have no ideas about how to get things back on track.
The 2014 session is an opportunity for us to pass some real economic development legislation that will create jobs now and in the future. We need to look at targeted tax breaks with clawback provisions that let us get our money back if businesses do not bring or keep the jobs they promise.
We need to look at investing in our infrastructure. This will create jobs immediately, but will also make us more attractive to businesses that are considering bringing jobs here.
And we need to invest in education. Investing in our public schools will not only give our children the best chance at achieving their dreams, it will also help our state recruit business.
I understand that nobody wants to “rock the boat” right before an election. But our job is to serve the taxpayers, not to get re-elected. We should not let political aspirations get in the way of doing our jobs, and I hope that we will keep that in mind as we prepare for the coming legislative session.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.