By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Without question, the biggest issue facing our state legislature this spring will be funding our state budgets, and specifically addressing the crisis in the General Fund budget. While the Education Trust Fund is expected to be in decent shape, Gov. Bentley has projected a potential shortfall of anywhere between $250 million and $700 million in the General Fund budget.
Several solutions to this budget shortfall have been proposed. Last week, I announced my intentions to sponsor a state lottery, as well as a resolution calling on the governor to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians. Both of these proposals have been suggested for years, mostly by Alabama Democrats. But in recent weeks, more and more Republicans have said they are considering these proposals.
Another solution that has been thrown out there is closing certain corporate tax loopholes. These loopholes have mostly only benefited out-of-state corporations, and are not given to Alabama businesses. For years, Democrats in the Alabama legislature have proposed closing these loopholes, but the legislature never brought these proposals up for consideration.
Now many Republican legislators and leaders have publicly said they are looking into the possibility of closing these loopholes.
I, for one, am glad to see our legislature take some of these issues more seriously. When Democrats first introduced these bills a couple of years ago, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that closing these loopholes could generate $60 million in new revenue. While that $60 million by itself won’t plug the hole in the budget, it would go a log way toward getting us there-especially if we successfully negotiate a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.
I also strongly agree with Sen. Del Marsh, who said last week that, “We have to make sure the [tax] incentives we provide are actually creating new jobs.”
During the last legislative session, House Democrats introduced as a part of our platform the “Job Creation and Taxpayer Protection Act.” This bill would have required any businesses receiving a tax incentive from the state to commit to creating a number of jobs and keeping those jobs in the state for at least five years. If the business failed to create these jobs or did not maintain these jobs for five years, then the business would have been required to pay back the incentives it had received. This is known as a “clawback provision.”
Unfortunately, the “Job Creation and Taxpayer Protection Act” was never brought up for consideration-not even in committee. But after reading Sen. Marsh’s statement, I’m hopeful that maybe now the legislature will be more open to this Act or a similar bill.
The bottom line is that good ideas are bigger than political parties, and I am thrilled to see Republican legislators warming up to these proposals. Politics has become so partisan these days. And while it’s important to have competing visions and proposals in government, moderation is always preferable to extremism. Partisanship should never come at the expense of statesmanship. The problems our state is facing are big. It will take big ideas, and men and women who are big enough to overcome their differences, to solve them.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.