Apr
22
2014

Jobs Should Be More Than Just A Campaign Slogan

“Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.”

It’s an election year, and you have probably seen that campaign slogan on billboards and yard signs all across the state. But are we really creating jobs here in Alabama? Or is job creation just more election year rhetoric like the teacher pay raise?

The news seems to be mixed at best. On the one hand, economists at the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research have recently predicted our state’s economy to grow slightly faster than expected – about 0.2 percent faster to be exact, at a rate of about 2.4 percent.

That is hardly an economic boom. It is also nowhere near the 5.1 percent annual growth we averaged in the years prior to the recession.

At the same time, our statewide unemployment rate has continued to climb. Now at 6.7 percent, our unemployment rate is the highest it has been in more than a year, and is only 2 percent less than what it was four years ago when the Republican Supermajority took control in Montgomery.

Before the legislative session started, Alabama was ranked 49th in the country for job creation. In 2013, Alabama only added 300 new jobs. The reason for these terrible numbers is because for every job we create we also lose a job. And the jobs we are creating are not the good-paying jobs we are losing.

Other than manufacturing, our highest job growth has been in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes hotel maids and fast-food workers. Those are honest, hard-working jobs. But they also rarely pay enough to provide for a family of four.

Medicaid and food stamp enrollment have also been increasing lately. These are signs that we are not creating jobs like we should, and the jobs we are creating simply do not pay a livable wage.

But even if the numbers and economists are wrong, ask yourself: If you lost your job today, would you feel comfortable looking for work in this economy?

We do not need more broken promises and empty political rhetoric from our state leaders, senators and representatives. We need solutions.

A good first step was increasing funding for dual enrollment. This was a priority for Democrats this year, and a central part of our legislative agenda. After we announced our agenda, the Republican leadership in the state legislature announced that they, too, would push for expanding dual enrollment. In the end, we passed an expansion bill, though we could have found a better way to pay for it so that it would not have cost our K-12 schools.

But where we had success with dual enrollment, the legislature failed to pass other initiatives. For example, state leaders failed to increase funding for workforce development training.

We also failed to pass the Job Creation and Taxpayer Protection Act, which would have required clawback provisions to be put in place on any economic incentive packages offered by the state. This would have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars and required businesses receiving the incentives to create a minimum number of jobs in exchange for the incentives.

But it is not just that state leaders have failed to create jobs or pass job creation legislation. It is that they seem to be out of ideas.

State leaders are constantly talking about jobs, but they never talk about the specifics of how they plan to create these jobs. All they ever talk about is forming committees to study the issue and offer advice. At some point, we need to stop studying and start taking action.

And we do not need a committee to tell us what we already know works: investing in our infrastructure, as well as targeted tax incentives with reasonable clawback provisions and job commitments creates jobs in the short-term.

In the long-term, we create jobs by investing in education and workforce development training. We have to give the people of Alabama the tools they need to be successful. At the same time, investing in infrastructure and education makes Alabama more attractive to potential employers looking for a place to move or open new facilities.

The Republicans in the Alabama legislature love to talk about jobs. But if you were out of work today, would you feel comfortable looking for a job in this economy?

Job creation should be a priority, and not just a campaign slogan.

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Apr
14
2014

Deception, Broken Promises the Status Quo in Montgomery

Despite months of promising a pay raise for educators, it turns out all the governor’s talk was just that: more election year rhetoric.

After four years of constant assaults on our public schools, this budget and the governor’s empty promises for a pay raise are just one more attack on education from the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery.

Gov. Bentley made a commitment to educators. Not only did he promise a raise in his State of the State address, he and his staff continued to publicly make that promise throughout the legislative session.

In a March 5th article from the Birmingham News titled “Gov. Robert Bentley won’t sign education budget without 2 percent raise, health insurance funding increase,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Rebekah Mason, told the press that the governor would send the budget back to the legislature if it did not include a raise and health insurance increase.

After the session ended, the governor took over a week to decide if he would sign the budget. Now he has not only backed out of his promise to educators, but he is trying to rewrite history and claim he never made the promise to begin with.

By playing games about vetoing the budget and calling a special session of the legislature, the governor is abusing the power of his office for political gain.

The governor has led educators on for months about a pay raise, and this week he continued to do the same thing by saying he might call a special session in the summer or fall to pass a pay raise.

There is no reason to delay calling a special session other than to allow
Republican legislators time to campaign in their primaries and then come back
this summer to try and win back educators’ votes before the general
election.

The governor is trying to protect anti-education Republican legislators in the primary elections. Because there are so many pro-education Republicans running this year, the governor did not want to force sitting representatives and senators to vote against a pay raise right before an election.

The truth is that if the governor and Republican legislators won’t stand up for educators in an election year, then there is no reason to believe that they will stand up for educators during the next four years if re-elected. And that is why, in his speech explaining why he went back on his word, the governor only recognized three Republican senators for the one time in four years that they stood up for education instead of recognizing all the legislators—Republican and Democrat—who have supported educators over the past four years.

Our children spend a third of their day at school. That time is spent with educators who are responsible for guiding them and preparing them for college and their career. Other than parents and preachers, no one has a greater impact on our children’s upbringing. If we want to recruit and keep the best and brightest educators then we have to offer competitive pay and benefits. But over the past four years, we have cut school budgets and taken resources and thousands of educators out of the classroom.

The legislature cut 2.5 percent out of their pay checks and then gave 2 percent back, leaving educators making less today than they did four years ago. But worst of all, the Republican Supermajority has cut educators out of the conversation about school reform. We are passing radical laws, like the Accountability Act, that take millions of dollars out of our schools and not a single educator—not even the state’s Superintendent of Education—were included in the conversation.

We cannot expect our schools to be successful and our educators to keep up morale if we constantly shut them out, cut their pay and deceive them with broken promises of pay raises. It is time for the governor and Republican legislators to be honest with educators and taxpayers, and stop playing political games with peoples’ income.

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Apr
11
2014

Statement from House Minority Leader Craig Ford On Gov. Bentley Signing the Education Budget

For Immediate Release: April 11, 2014

“I am disappointed that the governor’s talk about a pay raise for educators was just more election year rhetoric. After four years of assaults on our public schools, this budget and the governor’s empty promises for a pay raise are just one more attack on education by the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery. He’s abusing the power of his office for political gain. There is no reason to delay calling a special session other than to allow Republican legislators to campaign in their primaries and then come back this summer to try and win back educators’ votes before the general election.”

Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.

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Apr
6
2014

Gov. Bentley Has One Last Chance to Make Things Right

Another legislative session has ended in Montgomery. And like most years, this session had its share of disappointments.

While there were some positive things that came out of this legislative session, the $400 bonus and conditional 4 percent pay raise for state employees next year, as examples, the bad outweighed the good.

Once again, legislative leaders refused to pass bills allowing the people to vote on a state lottery. A lottery could bring in hundreds-of-millions of dollars for our public schools and provide scholarships to our children. But the leadership in Montgomery continues to refuse to let the people of Alabama vote on the issue.

The leadership also refused to allow a vote on legislation to provide additional funding for workforce development training and to put clawback provisions on tax incentives offered to businesses and corporations.

It was disappointing to see the state House of Representatives pass legislation that doubles down on the failed Accountability Act. This bill would have removed the cap on tax credits for individuals and couples donating to scholarship organizations for private schools. The Accountability Act has already cost our public schools $40 million this year; it will cost us at least $25 million next year. What’s worse, is for all that money lost, only 52 kids transferred to private schools last year. Passing this bill would be like betting on the loser of the Super Bowl after the game has already been played. We know it is a losing bet! Thankfully, the bill was not passed by the state Senate.

At the top of the list of setbacks is the legislature’s failure to pass a pay raise for educators and retirees.

Gov. Bentley promised in his State of the State address to give educators a 2 percent raise, but the Republican Supermajority was never on board with the governor’s plan. From the beginning, the legislative leaders claimed there was not enough money for a 2 percent raise— that argument just doesn’t hold up.

As the saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way. If legislative leaders had chosen to make educators’ pay a priority, then they would have put the pay raise in the budget first and then budgeted everything else around the raise.

As the governor has said from the beginning, we know the money is there. Gov. Bentley proposed an education budget that not only provided a 2 percent raise but also fully funded the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan, PEEHIP.

Legislative leaders have claimed that the governor paid for this raise by going around the spending cap created by the Rolling Reserve Act. These same legislative leaders also chose to go around the cap in their budget, so there is no legitimate reason for why we are not giving educators and retirees a 2 percent raise next year.

Instead, the Republicans forced through the budget without a raise at the last minute and then ended the session so that the governor could not send the budget back with a pay raise amendment. Legislative leaders have done everything they could to avoid having to vote on a raise. Now the only option left is for the governor to veto the budget and call a special legislative session.

It is ridiculous that it has come to this! Had the legislature simply passed the governor’s version of the budget, we could have avoided all of this. Now the governor must either keep his promise and call a special session or sign the budget without a raise and lose all of his credibility.

There is no good outcome to this situation. But the governor must stand by his word and veto this budget. Educators were promised a raise. More importantly, they have earned one! If the governor backs down now he will lose his credibility. I hope Gov. Bentley will do the right thing and, for the sake of our educators and himself, keep his promise and demand a pay raise.

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.