By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That also happens to be a pretty good description of our state leadership for the last six years.
For six years, Alabama’s leaders have talked about “jobs, jobs, jobs” and bragged about how they’ve made us one of the most pro-business states in the country, but the facts don’t back that claim up.
Chief Executive magazine recently printed their “Best and Worst State’s for Business” issue. CEOs from all over the country weighed in to rank each state. Alabama ranked in the middle, at 20th.
While Alabama rated 17th on taxes and regulation, we came in 33rd in workforce quality and 33rd in living environment. Those numbers show the impact of our leaders’ philosophy that values corporate tax breaks over investments in education, healthcare and infrastructure.
And those are the good numbers. When it comes to the economic measures, such as unemployment rate and economic growth, things look much worse.
At 5.9 percent, Alabama currently has one of the five highest unemployment rates in the country. While the national economy has grown at a rate of about 2.2 percent, Alabama’s economy has only grown at a rate of 0.7 percent – less than one percent!
Alabama has the fourth lowest median household income in the country, at $42,830 compared to the national average of $53,657. And nearly one-in-five people in Alabama currently lives in poverty.
But what about all the jobs state leaders have taken credit for creating? If you look at our statewide employment numbers, you will find that we have a deficit of about 55,000 jobs compared to where we were just before the recession began in 2008. If you take population growth into consideration (about 6.8 percent), the jobs deficit is closer to 192,000.
This ugly reality is the reason why our state was recently rated by 24/7 Wall St. as one of the worst run states in the country, coming in at 46th and only beating Rhode Island, Mississippi, Illinois, and New Mexico.
Given these ugly numbers and consistently low national rankings, you would think our leadership would change the way they do things. But instead, they continue to cling to failed policies or to try to blame everything on President Obama rather than admit they might be wrong on some things or that Democrats may have been right on some things.
The party of personal responsibility has become the party that doesn’t want to take responsibility; they don’t want to own their poor performance when it comes to jobs and the economy.
Our leaders have hemorrhaged jobs as quickly as they create them. For every Remington and GE expansion they take credit for, there’s another International Paper mill, CVG plant or a textile factory that closes or leaves. Our state leaders put all their eggs into the industry recruitment basket, and do little, if anything, to retain the jobs we still have.
That’s what happens when your whole strategy for industry recruitment is to give away everything but the kitchen sink and pray they don’t leave. When our leaders finally decided to invest in something in our state, they chose trying to build four new superprisons.
I’ve never heard of a company choosing to come to a state because of the quality of their prisons. No, companies look at infrastructure, healthcare and education. They want to know that they are coming to a place where the workers have the educational training necessary to do the job, quality healthcare to keep them healthy and working, and quality infrastructure to meet their needs.
These are the very categories Alabama continues to fall behind in.
But instead of making the investments we need to make in order to protect and grow our economy, state leaders continue to ignore what’s going on and fall back on their same, old talking points about how “business friendly” they have made the state – no matter how many CEOs say otherwise!
Six years after the governor campaigned on a promise to not take a salary until the state reached a 5 percent unemployment rate, the governor still isn’t collecting a paycheck. Six years after campaigning on “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and there’s still no jobs.
There’s no reason for Alabama to be in the shape we are in. Our condition is the direct result of failed leadership clinging to a failed philosophy.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.