The end is near for the legislative session, but it’s not over yet, which means there is still time for a few more bad bills to slip through.
In fact, if you’re going to slip a bad bill through, now is the time. Attention is waning. The kids are out of school and families are planning beach trips. Budgets are on everyone’s mind.
So, no one is watching a bill, like say, HB540.
That bill, tagged as an “economic development” bill, is, on its surface, a decent idea. It gives increased incentives for businesses to open in or expand to rural areas around Alabama.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because we already have benefits for this purpose, which were laid out in the Alabama Jobs Act a few years ago. This bill would expand them, offering them to companies with as few as five employees and allow the incentives to cover operating costs, in addition to capital costs.
Now, we can quibble over whether that’s a good use of taxpayer money or whether it’s another gift to companies that don’t need it. And we could also argue over the numerous, numerous, numerous tax breaks contained within this bill that exempt rich people from paying taxes on commonly taxed transactions.
But that’s not the bad part of the bill. This is: It essentially hands over a massive tax break to a company building a agricultural center.
Let me explain.
Let’s say — just spit ballin’ here — that some entity in the state wanted to build a great big ag center in Clanton (one does). Instead of just building that ag center, like normal businesses build things, this bill would instead put taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars annually to pay for this center.
In the bill are provisions to pay for the building of the center, the marketing of the center’s events, the road construction required to get people to the center and a support program for the center.
Millions. Of. Dollars.
But wait, it actually gets worse.
Alabama already has an ag center just like the one described in HB540. It’s in Montgomery. It’s named Garrett Coliseum. It has hosted agricultural events for decades now, and it has every amenity required to continue doing so.
It’s just old.
Garrett Coliseum is badly in need of updating and sprucing up. County and city officials put the price tag for the sort of improvements needed at around $12 million.
The Clanton facility — assuming one is built — is projected to cost around $30 million. And that doesn’t include the costs of the roads that have to be built to get people to the thing.
This is government at its absolute worst.
Using taxpayer dollars to build a facility that won’t be owned by the state, while hurting the flow of business into the facility that is owned by the state.
Here’s hoping time runs out on HB540.