State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said he can "smell a rat" on why new tourism incentives were attached to legislation re-authorizing the Alabama Jobs Act.

House Bill 241 State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) passed the Senate by a vote of 29-6, with most of the opposition focusing on a new portion of the bill that would give tax rebates to tourism projects.

The bill would extend the sunset dates to 2028 and increase the incentives cap on the Alabama Jobs Act and the Growing Alabama Act. The legislation would also allow for new tourism incentives for qualifying projects with a minimum investment of $35 million.

An amendment increasing the required minimum investment by Orr for tourism projects failed in a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Orr told Huntsville radio WVNN host Dale Jackson on his Friday broadcast some of the incentives would end up going to "companies that had already made their investment, they'd already put up a hotel, they'd already put up a theme park or whatever could now get paid on the backside if this bill passed and that's what really galled me that we were going to spend $50 million over five years to 'incentivize' these tourism ventures and presumably some of them have already been built."

"I've been down in that town long enough to smell a rat. Now, I can't prove it. I've got my suspicions and I'll keep those to myself," Orr said. "Where does that money come from? We're not like Washington. We can't just print more money and run the deficit up some more and make everybody happy. That money comes from somewhere, and it didn't come from tourism receipts that we have at the state level. That money comes from education. I may be accused of being a bit hyperbolic, but what child maybe did not get the attention they need to learn how to read or some kind of mental health counseling or whatever because the legislature decided to blow $50 million on hotels."

Orr said "there were lobbyists working that particular aspect of the bill and it was very cryptically worded as far as the retroactivity component." 

"When I pressed the staffers on it that read all the bills and know the tax laws, etc. I said, 'Decipher this for me.' At the end of the day, it was there's retroactivity," Orr said. "You can already have the project be in the ground. That makes me think…been down there long enough, somebody that already has a project in the ground (said) 'Hey, why not do this? Let's get a bill passed and then have a retroactivity component in it and we may get a little help from the state on the backside from the state for our investment.' It's disgusting, it's disgusting if that's true."

Under the new law, qualifying tourism-related companies would be limited to $1 million in tax rebates per calendar year. Tourism destination attractions that qualify for the program include theme parks, water parks, entertainment parks, museums, motor speedways, professional sports facilities, natural or scenic landscape attractions, waterfront marine facilities, and aquariums. The tourism aspect of the bill would have a $10 million annual cap on tax rebates.

Gulf United Metro Business Organization (GUMBO) called the new program in a statement to Yellowhammer News on Friday "a substantial new provision of the Jobs Act" that "allows for tourism incentives for large destination projects."

"It is exciting to see our state and leaders take steps to recognize and further grow our tourism industry," GUMBO Chair Penny Groux told the outlet. "At GUMBO, we believe that tourism is economic development and whenever we bring out-of-state visitors to Alabama, the whole state benefits."

GUMBO is a "coalition of local business leaders who are committed to the intellectual growth and development of south Baldwin County, Alabama," according to their website. 

The new provision "replaces current language in the Jobs Act that incentivizes tourism to make the program more attractive to potential tourism destination developers," according to GUMBO's statement to Yellowhammer News.

"This process was a great example of GUMBO's successful influence in Montgomery throughout the entirety of this bill's life span," Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) told the outlet. "I am proud of the efforts shown by all parties involved and look forward to seeing what results these new incentives will garner for our state and the tourism industry."

Elliott said during an interview with FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show" on Friday, "I do think the tourism incentives are an important thing." 

"Tourism is a huge part of Alabama's economy," Elliott said. "It generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year and it is proper to incentivize it in a conservative manner. That's exactly what we're doing with very strict limits on how much impact the incentives can have on the Education Trust Fund budget."

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