We have a vision problem in Alabama.
We’ve always had a vision problem in this state. We are perpetually satisfied with how things are, with keeping things how they are, with resisting any change whatsoever.
“Nah, we’re good,” should be our state motto.
Even when making a change would benefit us, we resist. Even when following the lead of other, more progressive states would clearly pay huge dividends or just help us close a widening gap, we hold back.
But even worse, when we finally do decide to make a change, too often it’s a reactionary change. One made out of current necessity and not out of a desire to make the future better.
Case in point: A lottery.
All around Alabama, states like Georgia, Florida and Tennessee are using state-run lotteries to provide a brighter future for their states’ citizens. To keep talented young people in their state schools. To provide a means to a brighter future to impoverished students who work hard. To provide relocating companies with a trained and ready workforce.
They use lotteries to dump millions into these programs, with the goal of watching it all pay off years down the road. And it has. In all three states.
Because the one thing we know for certain about a lottery is that it’s a horrible way to fund normal government function, but it’s a fantastic revenue source for specialty programs, such as pre-K, college scholarships and free two-year college tuition.
As Tennessee, Georgia and Florida have sent a generation of kids off to college now, Alabama lawmakers have resisted the calls from voters — since 1999’s failed lottery vote — to attempt another lottery proposal.
As most people in the state know, a lottery bill is quickly making its way through the Legislature. It has the backing of some powerful lawmakers, and it appears likely to pass.
It is also awful. For many reasons.
But here’s the most important reason it’s awful: It does the one thing a lottery should never attempt to do.
In particular, lawmakers want this lottery bill to offset the costs of new prisons.
They’ve been so terrible at their job of ensuring state-run prisons didn’t devolve into third-world horror stories that the Department of Justice is on the verge of taking control of our prisons. A federal court has already found that we’ve been almost criminally negligent in failing to staff the prisons or provide medical care to prisoners or provide basic protections to prisoners who are being assaulted or provide mental health care to prisoners who clearly need it.
So, we have to fix our prisons. And it’s going to cost millions.
Lawmakers want the lottery in place to cover those costs, or at least a portion of them.
Think about that.
No. Really. Take a moment and think about the backward absurdity of such a plan.
As the states around us are using lottery money to provide young people with hope (that’s the actual title of their scholarship program), Alabama wants to use those funds for taking away hope. To lock up young people who — let’s be honest here — we mostly never gave a chance in life.
The overwhelming majority of Alabama prisoners grew up in poverty, attended schools that were underfunded and employed a minimum number of teachers. Their classrooms lacked basic supplies and usually had a shortage of books. Their were few, if any, tech options and even fewer teachers for those tech programs. Their cities limited public transportation so they couldn’t get to the best recreational facilities and after-school programs. There were few, if any, tutoring programs available. And many, if not most, left high school reading at a sub-eighth grade level.
And for those who miraculously avoided the never-ending pitfalls and traps of such a life and escaped with a decent GPA and a high school diploma, their futures were mired in college loan debt and working two jobs to get a 4-year degree in six years so they could pay off those loans in 25 years.
We could use a lottery — a real one that generated a half-billion annually instead of this Poarch Creek-written nonsense that’s being pushed — to provide those impoverished kids with an actual chance in life. We could use it to empty our prisons through the success of those kids, instead of having to rewrite drug laws every other year.
We could use this lottery to create a brighter future for all of Alabama.
If only we had the vision.
ADECA names Elaine J. Fincannon as new deputy director
Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell announced on Thursday that Elaine J. Fincannon has been appointed as the agency’s deputy director.
Fincannon most recently served as Senior Vice President for Investor Relations for the Business Council of Alabama. She worked with BCA for over 25 years as part of its senior team, working with a diverse range of business leaders and CEOs of Alabama’s largest employers. During that time, she also served as BCA’s liaison to Alabama’s trade associations and to the more than 100 chambers of commerce throughout the state. She also served on the President’s Committee and Corporate Partners Committee for the Alabama Automotive Manufacturer’s Association and was a part of the Alabama Aerospace Industry Association’s membership committee.
“Elaine Fincannon’s extensive knowledge and experience with the public and private sector in our state made her an ideal choice to be ADECA’s new deputy director, and I am pleased that she has decided to bring those talents to the agency,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “Elaine is mission-focused, forward-thinking and detailed-oriented, which are the exact skills needed to serve as deputy director of ADECA. She and I will work closely together to continue supporting Gov. Ivey’s mission of improving the lives of all Alabamians.”
Fincannon is an active member of the community, serving as a member of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, the Junior League of Montgomery, the Montgomery Humane Society, Auburn University Montgomery Alumni Association and other volunteer efforts. She also served as a member of the American Society of Association Executives and was an officer of the Association of State Chamber Professionals. She has a bachelor’s degree of science from AUM and was honored with a Distinguished Chamber Professional Award in 2019 by the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama.
Fincannon joins ADECA with a focus on working with Boswell to meet the agency’s mission to strengthen and support local communities.
“It is an honor to join ADECA during this time, and I am grateful to Director Boswell and Gov. Ivey for this appointment,” Fincannon said. “I plan to work diligently to serve the people of Alabama to the absolute best of my ability.”
Alabama Workforce Council delivers annual report touting improved career pathways
The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) recently delivered its Annual Report to Gov. Kay Ivey and members of the legislature. The report highlights the many and varied workforce successes from 2019. It also outlines policy recommendations to further solidify Alabama as a leader in workforce development and push the state closer to Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the state’s workforce by 2025.
Gov. Ivey acknowledged the recent progress stating, “the continued efforts of the AWC and the various state agency partners in transforming our workforce are substantial. Significant work has been accomplished to ensure all Alabamians have a strong start and strong finish. We will continue to bolster our state’s economy through dynamic workforce development solutions to help us reach our ambitious goal.”
The AWC, formed in 2015, was created as an employer-led, statewide effort to understand the structure, function, organization and perception of the Alabama workforce system. The goal of the AWC is to facilitate collaboration between government and industry to help Alabama develop a sustainable workforce that is competitive on a global scale.
“This report details the tremendous efforts of the dedicated AWC members and their partners who have greatly contributed to the progress of building a highly-skilled workforce.” noted Tim McCartney, Chairman of the AWC. “To meet ever-growing job needs of an expanding economy, we have put forth recommendations to bring working-age Alabamians sitting on the sidelines back into the workforce to address our low workforce participation rate.”
Included among the many highlights from the report are:
- Created the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to support apprenticeships and work-based learning statewide.
- Established the Alabama Committee on Credentialing & Career Pathways (ACCCP) to identify credentials of value that align with in-demand career pathways across Alabama.
- Furthered foundational work toward cross-agency outcome sharing through the Alabama Terminal on Linking and Analyzing Statistics (ATLAS).
- Commissioned statewide surveys to better understand the characteristics, and potential barriers, of the priority population groups (during record-low unemployment) identified as likely to enter or re-enter the state’s workforce.
- Provided technical assistance, support staff and grant writing services to a cohort of over 30 nonprofits from across the state enabling them to expand services and directly connect more Alabamians to training and economic opportunity. Services helped cohort members secure over $6.4 million in grant money through various out-of-state grant programs.
- Identified and evaluated 17 population segments of potential workers and determined the likelihood of adding members of those respective population segments into the workforce. Within this process, issues affecting the state’s labor participation rate were also detailed.
Vice-Chair of the AWC Sandra Koblas of Austal USA commented, “the energy around workforce development in Alabama right now is incredibly exciting. We are working together with businesses, nonprofits and agency partners to reduce barriers, increase opportunities and grow the state’s overall economy.”
The full report can be viewed here.
To learn more about the Alabama Workforce Council please visit: www.alabamaworks.com/alabama-workforce-council
Shelby announces $733,150 ARC POWER Grant for Opportunity Alabama
U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Wednesday announced that Opportunity Alabama, Inc., a nonprofit initiative in Birmingham, Alabama, is the recipient of a $733,150 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) POWER grant. This grant will fund the Creating Opportunity for Alabama (COAL) Initiative.
“ARC’s decision to award this funding to Opportunity Alabama will help significantly boost private investment and business development throughout our state’s coal-impacted communities,” said Senator Shelby. “I am proud this nonprofit initiative is working to help our local communities understand and capitalize on Opportunity Zones. These federal funds will facilitate an improved quality of life in Appalachian Alabama, creating hundreds of jobs and dozens of new businesses.”
“Opportunity Zones, and the private investment they incentivize, are helping uplift communities throughout the Appalachian Region,” said ARC Federal Co-Chairman Tim Thomas. “Opportunity Alabama is working to ensure communities understand and are able to capitalize on this program to improve Appalachian Alabama, and this POWER investment will have a big impact on that mission.”
The project will create an investment funding and business development ecosystem targeted to the federally designated Opportunity Zones in 36 coal-impacted counties in Alabama. As a result of the ARC grant, Opportunity Alabama will work with a team of local, state, and national partners in a three-phased approach. The first phase will work on building a local capacity to effectively prepare for and attract Opportunity Zone investments, focusing particularly on rural communities. The second phase will create a pipeline of investment opportunities to attract substantial private investment by facilitating demand studies, environmental assessments, and construction cost estimates. The third and final phase will focus on developing and implementing an impact-investment data collection and analysis process to make it easier for investors to deploy their capital.
This project will yield 250 new jobs, create 25 new businesses, and leverage $100 million in private investment. In addition to the federal grant provided for the project, Alabama Power and the Alabama Power Foundation are expected to provide private financial support.
Opportunity Alabama is a nonprofit initiative dedicated to connecting investors with investable assets in Alabama’s Opportunity Zones.
State Sen. Andrew Jones files bill to eliminate grocery tax
State Sen. Andrew Jones, R-Centre, has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate the state sales tax on groceries.
Jones’ bill, Senate Bill 144, is different from other recent efforts to eliminate the grocery tax in that his proposal would be revenue neutral and also neutral to the State Education Trust Fund. In other words, the State of Alabama and the Education Trust Fund would neither gain money nor lose money if SB144 passes.
“The grocery tax is a regressive tax which penalizes hardworking families in Alabama,” Jones said. “At least 38 states and the District of Columbia have full or partial sales tax exemptions for groceries. It is important to me that we eliminate this out-dated tax which disproportionately affects lower income Alabamians.”
Jones’ bill pays for the loss of sales tax revenue by capping the federal income tax deduction on Alabama state income taxes. Alabama is one of only 6 states that allow such a deduction.
“It was important to me to have a revenue-neutral proposal that did not result in a loss to our education budget,” Jones continued. “Grocery sales taxes fund our education budget, as does state income tax. By implementing an FIT deduction cap, funding for our education budget remains unchanged.”
Under Jones’ proposal, individuals would still be able to take a FIT deduction of up to $6000 and Married Couples filing jointly would still be able to deduct up to $12,000.
“In layman’s terms,” Jones continued, “a family of 4 making under $134,800 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction. An individual filing as head of family making less that $70,700 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction. Finally, a person filing as single or married filing separately making less than $58,300 would still be able to take their full FIT deduction.”
While everyone would benefit from no grocery tax, Jones noted that working families would benefit two-fold.
“Our blue-collar Alabamians will not only get to avoid paying taxes on groceries,” said Jones, “they will also not pay a dime more in income taxes. SB144 will result in more money staying in their pocketbooks. I encourage everyone who supports this effort to contact your local legislator and ask them to support SB144.”
Constitutional amendments require a 3/5ths vote of both the House and Senate and must then be approved by a majority of Alabama voters.
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