By Minority Leader, Representative Craig Ford
This week, we celebrated Labor Day in honor of the working families throughout this country. And it is a fitting time to celebrate working families, since jobs are by far the number one issue on most peoples’ minds these days.
As we get closer to Election Day, you will see more and more political ads talking about “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” But job creation should be more than just a campaign slogan. These candidates should offer real solutions to our jobs shortage, and not just more talk.
I agree with Gov. Bentley that we need to look at tax incentives where we can to help bring in new jobs and protect existing ones. That’s why I was proud to support the Gadsden Goodyear bill a couple of years ago, and why Larry Means and I fought to create the Industrial Development Authority that helped save 1,400 jobs at Goodyear and create another 190.
When done right, we have seen tax incentives score huge wins for Alabama, like when we brought Mercedes to Tuscaloosa. But when we don’t do it right, we have lost heavily, as we did with ThyssenKrupp.
The state gave ThyssenKrupp over a billion dollars in tax incentives, but the company closed it’s doors and put it’s plant up for sale after only two years in operation, jeopardizing thousands of jobs.
And where I strongly disagree with the governor is on the possibility of paying for these tax incentives from money in the Education Trust Fund. When he proposed this idea, the governor said “you have to eat what you kill,” but cutting millions of dollars from our children’s education to pay for corporate tax incentives is more like “eating our young.”
And the truth is tax incentives will only get us so far. As some state leaders like to point out, Alabama is one of the most business friendly states in the country. Yet we are 49th for job creation and the only state in the country with a rising unemployment rate.
Clearly, continuing to do what we’ve been doing isn’t going to work.
But the good news is that job creation is a problem we know how to solve. Yes, we should continue to utilize tax incentives when appropriate (and when done the right way), but we need to look beyond that. We need to start investing more in our infrastructure.
Whether it’s improving roads and bridges or expanding wireless Internet access, investing in our infrastructure creates jobs today as well as in the future. In the short term, these government contracts and projects create jobs for the men and women who will do the work. In the long term, these projects make doing business more efficient, which in turn increases profits and allows businesses to hire more employees.
For example, smoother roads cause less damage to trucks. This means businesses can spend more on shipping their products and less on vehicle maintenance and medical bills for truck drivers, many of whom develop back problems driving on roads filled with potholes.
In addition to our infrastructure, we have to look at education – not just K-12, but vocational training and college opportunities, as well.
The reality is that over the next few years thousands of jobs will open up as the baby boom generation begins to retire. But the question is will today’s young people have the training to do these jobs?
And while we should work to make sure every child has the chance to pursue a college degree if that is what they want, we should also invest more in vocational training and workforce development opportunities. Because not everyone wants to go to college, but they can make a good living if they learn a trade. There are plenty of opportunities out there for our children to be successful-with or without a college degree. And we need to do everything we can to help them make those dreams become a reality.
But as the old saying goes: if you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect to get a better result. If we want to be serious about creating and protecting jobs, then we need leaders in Montgomery who understand what we have to do.
I hope your Labor Day was restful. I have always believed that nobody works harder or has a better work ethic than the people of Alabama. Now we need leaders in Montgomery who will work just as hard for our working families.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.