FOLEY — State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) spoke Monday at the March 2023 South Baldwin Chamber Leadership Series luncheon. He outlined his priorities for the 2023 legislative session and discussed what he wanted to see for Baldwin County in the budget.
"I want to get Baldwin County its share of funding from the state of Alabama and, at minimum, to keep them from robbing us blind, which seems to be their objective every session," Elliott said. "And that's mainly infrastructure funding, its education funding, its economic development funding, and I will tell you, it is a challenge."
Elliott's district, which spans from Spanish Fort to Orange Beach, is the wealthiest district in the state. He said a recent survey by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) showed Baldwin County taxes provided the largest contribution per capita. Elliott wants the state to fairly fund projects in the county.
"We have a constant battle in Montgomery, and that is their perception of us on the Gulf Coast," he said. "They think we have streets paved of gold. We're on permanent vacation. We have plenty of money to pay for things ourselves. Then they point out the dire poverty in the rest of the state and say, 'how could you take money from those areas when you've seen their suffering?'… I am consistently advising them that the way to grow their slice of the pie is to grow the pie, and then their slice gets bigger."
Elliott's priorities included American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, liability insurance for restaurants and hospitality, economic development incentives, occupational licensing reform and tax reform.
As for occupational licensing reform, the second-term senator said "sometimes it's a little scary" to see how many workers in Alabama were covered by regulatory boards.
"There are dozens and dozens and dozens of these boards," he explained. "And sometimes you look at them, and you realize it's a private company … I think it is the last vestige of really big government stuff that we have leftover from decades ago, and it permeates everything we do."
Elliott said the sometimes "sketchy" boards do not have much oversight in Alabama and wanted to fight for reform early in the session.
Another issue he hopes and believes will be discussed heavily is the state's grocery tax. While he appreciates rebates Gov. Kay Ivey announced during her State of the State address, he said more permanent tax reform at the state level was needed.
Elliott said some things he is fighting for budget-wise in Baldwin County are focused around education, including funding for the Baldwin Prep Academy and funding for Orange Beach City Schools.
"We are going to continue to focus on some legislative certainty as it relates to funding for the Orange Beach City Schools," he said. "That is something that we are going to focus on and make sure that we get it done. Y'all have seen, in my opinion, some very unfair and half-truth reporting from – I looked up the definition of a tabloid the other day, and Lagniappe classifies as a tabloid if you look at it that way – but the Orange Beach City School system is on good financial footing. It will continue to be on good financial footing, and we're going to make sure that the legislature underscores that for our friends at the State Department of Education."
Elliott hopes also to request more infrastructure funding this session. He said Baldwin County was the top recipient of infrastructure funding in Alabama, but he hopes to see more cooperation between municipalities regarding projects such as the Intercoastal Waterway bridge debate.
"We've got to do a better job getting on the same page when it comes to what our regional priorities are," Elliot added. "What coastal Alabama's priorities are, what Baldwin County's priorities are. And I'm not lecturing but rather encouraging. When we go to Montgomery … when we're trying to advocate for Baldwin County and we've got Gulf Shores and Orange Beach not getting along or Foley wanting something different than Daphne, if we can prioritize those things, we will be much more successful."
The mayors of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have disagreed over traffic relief and whether an existing bridge should expand or if a new bridge needs to be built.
Elliott told the chamber he was also looking into mental health funding.
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