The so-called Jobs Act, part of a package of bills deemed "The Game Plan" by Gov. Kay Ivey, sailed through the legislature on Thursday and was signed into law by Ivey almost immediately. But it was not without vocal opposition from some in the upper chamber.
Despite passage by a 29-6 vote in the Alabama Senate, with State Sens. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), Tim Melson (R-Florence), Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) and Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville) voting against the Jobs Act, Orr took to the well of the chamber to criticize the legislation.
The Morgan County lawmaker, who also chairs the Senate Education Budget Committee, called the Jobs Act "repugnant" but acknowledged it was a product of the "system."
Watch (courtesy of The Alabama Channel):
"[T]he economic incentive bill that we have before us, the Jobs Act, to me, as a citizen and as a senator, is repugnant," he said, speaking extemporaneously. "And I say that because here we take taxpayer money and dole it out to corporations because 49 other states do the same. And if we did not arm Mr. Canfield and the Department of Commerce, our economic development teams scattered across the state with the measures of this Jobs Act, we undeniably would not be competitive."
"In other words, the system that has been created does not work in favor of the states to spend money in this manner," Orr continued. "But we didn't create the system. I see us on a trajectory that is not of our making, which is unfortunate. You would like to think D.C. or Washington, our friends at the federal level, would create a law that would ban such incentives and say they wouldn't be allowed, to allow competitive field among the states, based on workforce, based on sites, rail, infrastructure — those kind of things. But instead, they let us pit taxpayer dollars from one state against another."
"And when you look at D.C., what a mess: $30-plus trillion of operating debt, over $100 trillion of obligations and not a clue of how we'll ever pay for them," he added. "So, I commend the pro-tem for bringing this bill — again, not of our making, not of choice and something our fate is linked to, whether we like it or not."
Orr was especially critical of the tourism component of the Jobs Act, which offers some incentives retroactively to existing hotels. He also questioned the funding from the state's education budget.
"With the tourism aspect to this bill, that is something that we have more control over as we go down this road that we've not gone down before with tourism," Orr explained. "My recollection, and I could stand to be checked, our tourism agency, in the recesses of my mind — somewhere around $40 million they bring in for the tourism agency themselves. However, this money in this Sweet Home Alabama component comes from [the education budget], which is disturbing. Our tourism folks do a good job with tourism. We have raised our numbers thanks to the leadership of Mr. [Alabama Tourism Department director Lee] Sentell. We've raised the funds through the years and do an admirable job with the funds that he has."
"I offered an amendment yesterday in committee, and you all know the fate of that amendment," he continued. "[State Sen. Sam Givhan] from Huntsville brought up one of the points. This is retroactive. So, in other words, if you have a project already constructed and built, and this bill passes, and it will, you're in the money. What kind of incentive is that?"
"Another thing that amendment did was try to create more local investment, who are going to get a lot of lodging taxes from whatever we do," Orr said. "Tried to raise that from 20% to 50%. Not to be. Another I wanted was legislative representation. We're about to dole this money out and let's call it $50 million over five years, $50 million. We're going to dole it, and we're going to give it and no legislative oversight. No legislative input. We're going to entrust others to make those decisions."
"So, the train is going to be leaving here shortly when we vote this bill, but I won't be on it with you," he added. "Not on this one. And whether, I don't know the vote in the House, the tally is 139 [yes] and one nay, so be it. We need the Jobs Act. But I ask you every time we take money away from education, would that $10 million or $50 million, call it what you will — would that have made a difference in mental health counselors in our schools? Would that have, perhaps, these young men who have been accused in Dadeville, if we had counselors back then, would it have made a difference in their lives, instead of now, all things assumed, perhaps being incarcerated the rest of their lives? Would it make a difference in other areas of education?"
"And I can go down the list, but we've got over a billion dollars of tax credits, tax exemptions, tax deductions that have already been filed, House and Senate," Orr continued. "And we're going to have a lot of decisions before us, but every time we chip away, take away trying to do some good, just remember it comes at some cost. This is not Washington, D.C. Every time there is a winner, there's a loser because we have limited funds. And so on this one, there are going to be some winners in the tourism business. We talked about hotels in committee and the cost of a hotel, and in a former life, I know the cost of a key and what that means and what the inflation would have done, and where we are with the costs of hotels. But it is not to be. Thank you for your time. I can hear the whistle blowing, but let's remember at what cost we make these decisions.
Jeff Poor is the executive editor of 1819 News and host of "The Jeff Poor Show," heard Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon on Mobile's FM Talk 106.5. To connect or comment, email [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.