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Opinion | Counteroffer: A gaming plan the dog track owners would likely accept

Josh Moon

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Last week, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians laid out its starting point for any negotiations concerning a lottery and gambling legislation.

Arthur Mothershed, who’s in charge of the tribe’s business development for gaming operations, spelled out PCI’s base plan, which included hefty licensing fees for other casino locations, new casinos in Birmingham and northeast Alabama, a 25-percent tax rate and class III gaming at Poarch Creek facilities.  

But there’s another side in this debate, as we’ve all just learned in the ongoing lottery fiasco. The owners of three of the state’s four dog tracks — where pari-mutuel wagering is legal — have a lot of influence when it comes to gaming legislation.

Almost any gaming deal, barring a slick political maneuver that neither side seems capable of pulling off, would have to receive the blessing of both sides.

With that being the case, it’s important to lay out the track owners’ initial offer, too. So we can put the two side by side and see where things stand.

The problem, though, is that there isn’t really a unified proposal from the owners of GreeneTrack, CEO Nat Winn, and VictoryLand, the family of Milton McGregor, who also own the Birmingham Race Course. That’s primarily because the two sides have, for so long, dealt with most gaming issues individually.

There is some communication, and the two owners are friendly, but Alabama’s unique laws have left each fighting for survival on their own.

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Take this legislative session, for example. After the death of a bill sponsored by Jim McClendon, the tracks were left to fend for themselves through the introduction of local constitutional amendments. Both of them failed, but they did so independently of each other.

In the meantime, an amendment to protect gambling in Birmingham was successfully attached to the lottery bill that survived until this past week.

With all of that said, after listening to the track owners for years now, taking in their wishes that they’ve put on paper, and the wishes that they’ve shared with lawmakers, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the perfect proposal for them — as it was for the Poarch Creeks — is contained mostly in an old bill. A lottery bill pushed by Del Marsh in 2015.

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That bill would have created a state lottery, with all the bells and whistles, that would have created a lottery commission to operate it and would have allowed the state’s four dog tracks to operate full casinos.  

That’s not what the tracks want now, however.

Instead, they likely would back a proposal that implemented a lottery and allowed the four tracks to operate video lottery terminals — not full casino gaming. There would be no license fees or fourth location in northeast Alabama for the Poarch Creeks in the deal, and the tax rate would be 14 percent — 13 for the state and 1 percent for the local counties.

PCI would, by default, gain a fourth casino, since it currently owns a majority stake in Mobile Greyhound Park. However, PCI has generally viewed an expansion of gaming in Mobile as a negative, since it would likely drive business away from its largest casino in Atmore.

The Marsh bill also authorized the governor to begin negotiations with the Poarch Creeks for a compact, and that would certainly happen if this proposal passed. PCI would be forced to seek a compact to implement VLTs.  

Judging by the outcomes in other states, PCI would clearly be able to operate VLTs, and to do so at a significantly lower “tax rate,” likely around 5 percent. It is also possible that it could push for full class III gaming, and it could use its acquired lands in North Alabama to build a new casino without the state’s approval. But those moves would have to be accomplished in a sort-of hostile fashion, with the tribe using the protection of the federal government to get things done. In other words, a less-than-ideal approach that would be costly and somewhat precarious.

Like with the PCI proposal last week, this one is obviously weighted in favor of the tracks. There are significant differences in the two plans. Most notably, the lack of license fees and the Birmingham casino arrangement look to be the biggest issues. The tax rates are a close third.

But those issues can be resolved, if the two sides are willing to compromise. And they should be. Because there is a mountain of money on the table for both. A lot more than what PCI is currently making in the state — for both sides. And somewhere between $500 million and $700 million annually for Alabama.

 

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Economy

ADECA names Elaine J. Fincannon as new deputy director

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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.”

 

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Alabama Workforce Council delivers annual report touting improved career pathways

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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.

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To learn more about the Alabama Workforce Council please visit: www.alabamaworks.com/alabama-workforce-council

 

 

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Shelby announces $733,150 ARC POWER Grant for Opportunity Alabama

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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.

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State Sen. Andrew Jones files bill to eliminate grocery tax

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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.” 

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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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