By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—High-powered business people and sports figures join forces to solve the State’s Budget crisis.
In an effort to answer the State’s need for long-term financial stability, former Auburn University Head Football Coach and Athletic Director Pat Dye, retired CEO of Alabama Power, Charles McCrary, and Raymond Harbert, Chairman and CEO of Harbert Management Company, have come together to form the Alabama Jobs Foundation, to promote passage of a Constitutional Amendment that would create jobs, and increase revenue for the State, by bringing a lottery and casino gaming to Alabama.
The trio is committed to the passage of a Constitutional Amendment based on an omnibus gambling plan proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). The plan would allow Class III gaming at the four existing dog tracks: the Birmingham Race Course, Victoryland, Greene Track, and the Mobile Greyhound Track. It would also include a statewide lottery and would urge Gov. Robert Bentley to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Creek Band of Indians (PCI) to allow the Indians to have Class III gaming. A study conducted by AUM says the plan would create 11,000 new jobs for Alabama families, have an economic impact of $1.28 billion on the economy and generate more than $400 million annually in new State revenue.
At Thursday’s press conference Dye explained, “I have lived over 40 years in the State of Alabama and I have travelled it from one end unto the other. I love the State of Alabama and I love the people in it. Five years ago, we borrowed money from the Trust Fund and have no way to pay it back. Now we are talking about borrowing more money,” which he said was an unacceptable idea. “Sen. Marsh has come up with a plan—I have talked to all of the people involved in the bill. I can’t see anything out there that would keep me from wanting it to pass and go before the people and let the people of the State of Alabama vote for it.”
McCrary, who retired from Alabama Power after serving as CEO for 13 years, said the bottom line in the Marsh proposal is jobs. “I am here today because I see an opportunity. I see an opportunity in the Marsh plan. I see an opportunity to create 11,000 jobs,” said McCrary. “I spent the majority of my career as a business person working on economic development around the state, recruiting other industries and if years ago someone had told me we could create 11,000 jobs this room would be packed with people saying, ‘Yes, we need those 11,000 jobs.’”
The Foundation’s activities will include recruiting additional business leaders to the group, staffing and operating the Foundation, lobbying members of the Alabama Legislature, and funding advertising and public relations campaigns to educate voters.
McCrary says the Marsh plan would not only spur economic growth, but make Alabama a “Destination State” for more people. “Yes, it is a destination for the beaches and all of that, but this could make Alabama a Destination State where they come here instead of just drive through to go buy a lottery ticket in our surrounding states, or go to a casino in the surrounding states. We want to keep our money here.”
According to a report in the Mississippi Sun Herald, a third of those traveling to casinos in Mississippi come from Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
McCrary also points out that the State has already approved gambling in the location identified in Marsh’s plan, but the State is not seeing the potential benefits.
Both Dye and McCrary agree, that the upside of the gaming issue far outweighs the negatives.
“If you look at it realistically, the pluses outweigh the minuses,” said Dye. “The first thing that you hear from somebody that doesn’t agree with gambling is that it preys on the poor. That may be true to a certain extent, but the guy that it preys on that is going to gamble, anyway…People that gamble are going to gamble. They will find a place to do it, or go across the line to Mississippi, or go buy lottery tickets in Georgia, Tennessee, or Florida. They are going to gamble. But, you know if we’ve got gambling in the State of Alabama, and are getting revenue from it, his children will get to benefit from that and so will the children of his community.”
McCrary echoes Dye’s sentiment, “I want to keep Alabama’s money here. There are a lot of people here, that drive to our border states [for gaming] and our money goes outside the State.”
He also points to the fact that Marsh’s plan lets the people decide, rather having politicians make the choice. “The Marsh Plan doesn’t establish anything. It simply says, ‘Let’s let the people vote.’ Don’t we have confidence in the people of the State of Alabama to let them vote and let them decide whether they see the same opportunity as I do, and Coach Dye does, and a host of other people do. If they don’t see it so be it.”
A passionate Dye said, “I have travelled this state from one end to the other as an assistant coach recruiting for Alabama in every kind of home, every kind of projects, every kind of community and small towns in the Black Belt and the big cities and to all kinds of families. The one thing that I have learned is that you can find good people everywhere.”
Dye has discussed his opinion with Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), “I went to Mike [Hubbard] first and told him where I stood. I called Del and talked to him extensively and said that everything I can do Del, I will do. If you want to have Town Hall meetings I will travel all over this state.”
He says it is time to let the people decide, and for the politicians to let the people’s voice be heard.
Dye says he understands that Gov. Bentley has resisted letting the vote come before the people, but with a smile, said, “people can change there minds.”
To this end, the Foundation plans to raise awareness of the issue with the goal of seeing a Constitutional Amendment passed in a Special Session, and bringing it to a vote of the people as soon as possible.
Dye says, he is indebted to the people of the State for making his dreams come true, and that he wants to see all of the State’s children have an opportunity to live out their dreams, as well.