By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 10, the Alabama Jobs Act sponsored by Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) was passed by the Alabama House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. This bill is reportedly designed to improve the state’s economic development efforts by revamping the incentives offered to companies that create jobs here.
Representative Baker said it is great to be the leadoff hitter of this sessions. There are two concepts I want to mention at the outset. The two primary components of the Jobs Act involve a job credit and an incentive credit. This change will transform how the state does economic incentives.
Rep. Baker said the old way was three pronged: a capital credit, AIDT training, and a sales or property tax abatement. “This is a pay as you go performance based incentive.” This transforms from the old way into a new and improved version that allows our economic developers to better compete with other states.
Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) asked if the new incentive package includes a tax credit for businesses already in Alabama? “We have changed things every time a major company has come in. We have given them a different incentive program.”
Rep. Baker said the old way of doing things was to give the incentives on the front end. This will be a pay as you go system and is a dramatic change from the old way.
Rep. Hall asked if they say they are going to create a 1000 jobs how will you hold them to that?
Baker said that there will be a project agreement between that the company will make with the governor and the Commerce Department. The company has to meet the terms of that agreement before they get any money.
Rep. Hall said that some companies have come in and guaranteed a certain number of jobs; but once here we find they are part time or jobs with no benefits. Is there a limit to the number of employees that come in with individual company.
Baker responded that each agreement is individual. There is not any universal model such as same type of pension plan benefits provided. There will be a six member committee that will meet and give recommendations and if a company is not performing as promised they can recommend that the company not be paid the incentives. That company must be a net positive gain for the state for any credits to be rewarded. If they drop below the threshold they will not receive the credit or the cash promised.
Rep. David Sessions (R-Mobile) said this is a newer way of doing economic incentives from the things we used to do.
The provisions and requirements in House Bill 58 include: eligible companies receive a Jobs Credit of 3 percent of the previous year’s wages paid to new employees for a period of 10 years. This incentive could be claimed as either a cash rebate or a tax credit. HB 58 also provides an Investment Credit of 1.5 percent of a company’s investment into the construction, equipment or development of an eligible project that creates new jobs. This credit, paid when a project is placed in service, would be used to offset certain taxes for a period of 10 years. The project must create at least 50 new jobs to be eligible for these incentives, with a no limit exception for high-wage jobs in chemical manufacturing, data centers, engineering, design, and research projects. The economic benefit of the incentives offered must be more than the cost of the incentives to the State.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) expressed her concerns that not all of the legislature was included in the negotiations between the Alabama Commerce Department and the Governor’s office. This concern was repeated by several members of the Alabama Black Legislative Caucus including Representatives: John Knight (D-Montgomery), John Rogers (D-Birmingham) and Mary Moore (D-Birmingham).
To make sure that Black Alabamians receive some representation on the Board the House approved an amendment by Rep. Knight. Knight said on Facebook afterwards, “I am proud to have sponsored and passed an amendment to House Bill 58 sponsored by Representative Alan Baker that will create more diversity on the committee that advises on economic development in our state. African-Americans and minorities are an essential part of our workforce and business community. It is essential that black voices be heard and be present on this committee.”
The House also added an amendment that allows for projects to make the state a tourist destination to be included in this. Rep. Baker mentioned the blue collar project underway in Baldwin County.
HB 58 includes strong clawback provisions. If an incentivized company fails to meet all of its obligations under its project agreement with the state it would be required to repay the state for all the unearned portions of the Jobs Credit and/or Investment Credit.
Rep. Randy Davis said, “I like that clawback provision. After Katrina we gave some incentives to companies and then they went bankrupt so there was no way to claw back.” Davis said he was also impressed with that legislative advisory committee. Thank you for the bill.
Rep. Baker said in a statement, “This legislation will keep Alabama competitive with our sister southeastern states in economic development efforts while ensuring taxpayers receive the highest return on investment by providing incentives only after jobs have actually been created,” Baker said. “The new system will continue to offer fair and generous incentives to companies that come here while protecting tax dollars from being spent on promised jobs that never materialize.”
The bill is part of the House Republican Caucus’s “Alabama First” legislative agenda and is a priority for Governor Bentley and the Alabama Department of Commerce.
The House also passed the Alabama Reinvestment and Abatements Act by Rep. Paul Lee (R-Dothan) which incentivizes existing businesses and industries to grow, expand, and create jobs. HB 57, HB 58, and HB 59 were all part of an effort to update and improve how the state handles economic incentives.
Rep. Christopher John England (D from Tuscaloosa) wrote on Facebook, “House has adjourned until 3:30 tomorrow afternoon. Today the House passed HB58, HB57, HB59, HB72 and HB73. When we return tomorrow afternoon we will pick up where we left off with HB40. By the way, if you are looking for some free quality entertainment tomorrow, then you should go to the Alabama Legislature’s website and listen to the debate. We could potentially be debating everything from religious freedom in schools to mandating use of the electric chair if for some reason we can’t use lethal injection. I can’t promise you that it will be informational, but I can guarantee you that it will be entertaining. As always, I am looking forward to hearing you.”
Jefferson County health officer, UAB head say COVID-19 numbers are improving but flu season is near
Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson said Friday that the county’s COVID-19 numbers are improving, but with schools reopening and flu season approaching, it’s critical for the public to continue wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
Wilson and Will Ferniany, the CEO of the UAB Health System, held a press briefing on Friday to discuss the state of coronavirus and what’s being done to mitigate the disease that has killed 1,825 people in Alabama and infected 102,196.
In the last few weeks, the number of new daily COVID-19 cases and the percent of tests that are positive in Jefferson County has begun to decline, Wilson told reporters, but he put that decline into perspective.
“Keep in mind though that this is a slight improvement from being at a pretty bad place with really high numbers, so we still have a long way to go,” Wilson said.
There have been 13,682 confirmed coronavirus cases and 262 deaths in Jefferson County as of Friday, and 939 cases were added within the last week. The county’s seven-day average of new daily cases fell from its peak of 295 on July 18 to 156 on Thursday.
Wilson said there is good evidence that the county’s face covering order is making a difference in the spread of the disease, and that he thanks the public for making that difference, and asked that they keep doing so.
“We have four levels of surge,” Ferniany said, referring to UAB Hospital’s process of temporarily adding hospital bed capacity for COVID-19 patients by removing beds from other areas. “We’re on level two capacity.”
Ferniany said the hospital is running at 90 percent capacity, which he said is a “very full hospital” and that between March and around July 20, the hospital was caring for between 60 and 70 coronavirus patients daily, and reached a peak of 130 patients a little more than a week ago.
“Today we’re at 97 patients in-house, and roughly 40 percent are in the ICU,” Ferniany said.
Ferniany said the hospital’s ability to care for COVID-19 patients is now limited by the numbers of nurses and other staff, and that UAB is “down several hundred nurses” and burnout from long periods of caring for coronavirus patients is common.
Both Ferniany and Wilson said they’re very concerned about the upcoming flu season and the impact it could have on hospital capacity, as physicians continue to care for COVID-19 patients.
“The 2018-2019 flu season was the worst flu season we have seen in 40 years, and we actually asked the governor back then to declare a state of emergency because our hospitals were full then with influenza,” Wilson said.
Wilson urged the public to get their annual flu shots once available on Sept. 1 to help prevent additional strain on hospitals statewide. Public health officials worry that the combination of flu and COVID-19 could be difficult to handle — both on a system-wide level and the level of an individual person.
“We have no reason to think that somebody can’t get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which could be a deadly combination,” Wilson said.
Wilson said while he isn’t certain what Gov. Kay Ivey may decide about the statewide mask order, but “in Jefferson County, it’s very likely I’m going to be pushing to continue face coverings through the flu season,” Wilson said.
Wilson in July advised school superintendents in Jefferson County that middle and high school students should attend school virtually only for the first nine weeks, a stronger recommendation than most superintendents elsewhere have received.
Wilson told reporters Friday that his recommendation for virtual-only classes to start was done to keep kids, teachers, staff and families safe.
“We’re probably going to have some cases. It’s inevitable, but what we want to do is everything we can as kids go back to school to reduce the spread within school so that schools can stay open.”
There are also preliminary plans for a new testing site for children as schools reopen, Wilson said, but those plans continue to be developed.
Ferniany said UAB Hospital on Thursday got initial approval from the hospital’s board to expand COVID-19 testing capacity.
“Our goal is to try to expand it significantly by the end of December. We probably can’t get it up faster than that, but this pandemic is not going away by the end of December so I think we will have a significant increase in our ability to have rapid tests in place by the end of this year,” Ferniany said.
Seventeenth Alabama inmate dies after testing positive for COVID-19
William Edward King, 65, is the 17th Alabama inmate to die after testing positive for COVID-19.
King tested positive for COVID-19 on June 1 at a local hospital, where he was being treated for an end-stage preexisting medical condition, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced on Thursday.
King’s condition improved, and he was released, but his health worsened, and he was returned to the hospital on July 26. He was discharged from the hospital on Aug. 11 and was taken to a hospice care area inside the Kilby Correctional Facility, where he died later that day.
Six more inmates and another staff member have also tested positive for COVID-19, ADOC said Thursday.
There have been 296 confirmed coronavirus cases among inmates and 340 self-reported cases among prison staff. Two prison workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
Ivey urges Alabamians to complete census or risk losing federal funding, seat in Congress
Gov. Kay Ivey urged all Alabama residents to complete the 2020 census before the Sept. 30 deadline in a 30-second video released on Friday.
In the video, Ivey said, “Complete your 2020 Census today. We only have until Sept. 30th. Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities.
“It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail. Be counted – if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”
Jones says Mitch McConnell failed country by adjourning without COVID-19 aid
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday expressed his concern over the Senate majority leader adjourning the Senate without passing another round of COVID-19 relief aid.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, adjourned the Senate until Sept. 8 without passage of relief aid that Jones said is critical for struggling citizens and businesses.
“Mitch McConnell’s decision to adjourn the Senate without any further efforts to fulfill the Senate’s obligation to the American public during a healthcare and economic crisis demonstrates an unconscionable failure of leadership. Congress acted swiftly in March as the pandemic took hold and every American who put their lives on hold and stayed home for weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 did so out of a patriotic duty and a belief that it would give our government leaders time to implement a plan to get this virus under control.
“Now, it’s been five months and not only do we still have no national strategy, our nation is facing some of the highest rates of coronavirus spread in the world, over 167,000 Americans dead, unprecedented housing and eviction crises on the horizon, and we are slowly coming out of the worst economy since the Great Depression and the highest level of unemployment ever recorded.
“The House of Representatives passed a relief bill on May 15th – three months ago – because it was clear even then that this virus would be with us longer than we had hoped and that more support to American businesses and American citizens would be needed to save lives and save livelihoods. Sadly, however, instead of using this legislation as a framework for a bipartisan relief package, Mitch McConnell buried it in his office and sat on his hands, letting vital programs expire without even participating in efforts to reach agreement.
“His decision to send the Senate home for the next three weeks is an insult to every sacrifice made, every job lost, every small business that has had to close its doors, every person who had to say their final goodbye to a loved one over Facetime, and every graduation or wedding or birth celebrated over Zoom instead of in person. The American people have done their duty, and today Mitch McConnell has thrown in the towel and given up on doing his.”