Two weeks of the 2012 legislative session are now behind us and it is becoming increasingly clear that we in Montgomery really have our work cut out for us. The shortfalls in the state’s general fund and education trust fund budgets create significant challenges. Resolving them could consume a substantial amount of time and effort this session. But we’re fully engaged and working to create additional revenue in the state by growing Alabama’s private sector economy.
I believe the new Republican leadership in the House and Senate is already proving how serious we are about job creation and retention in Alabama. Just this past week a bill was passed in the Senate that will assist the state in recruiting coal mining projects. This legislation will immediately position us to secure one specific project that will result in almost a $1 billion investment in the state’s economy and more than 500 new jobs. I am sponsoring legislation this session that is part of a package of bills focused on creating and retaining jobs while boosting economic development throughout the state.
We recently learned that Alabama’s unemployment rate is dropping faster than any other state in the country. The stats continue to prove that the pro-growth, business-friendly approach being implemented by the Republican-led legislature is working. In fact, we have added 41,000 new jobs in Alabama since January of last year. I believe this progress can be largely attributed to the economic development legislation passed during the 2011 session.
We are also working to streamline your state government. By making it more efficient, transparent and effective, we will reduce the size of government and save Alabama money — making us better stewards of your tax dollars. So far, this initiative has profiled 196 current state agencies and found roughly 125 agencies that are duplicating services or operations in some way. Once all agencies and departments have been closely studied, recommendations will be presented to the legislature and we will begin implementing solutions that will consolidate these duplications.
As you can tell, there are a number of very pressing issues that will have to be considered this session – many of which are not mentioned in this post. But one issue I am personally committed to solving once and for all is the escalating crisis in Jefferson County. It’s important to understand that what is done (or not done) in Jefferson County will affect other cities’ ability to borrow money for capital improvement projects. The bond market will not differentiate between Birmingham and other areas like Huntsville and Mobile. Cities around the state will all be viewed with the stigma of the Jefferson County bankruptcy, just because they are located in Alabama. My fellow legislators and I must come together to get something done.
We can still reverse course and save Jefferson County from some of the negative ramifications that come with bankruptcy. But no tax or plan should be proposed in Montgomery unless it addresses both Jefferson County’s sewer debt and its general fund shortfall. I’m committed to resolving these issues this session and I hope other Jefferson County elected officials will join me in doing what is in the best interest of our constituents.
Slade Blackwell is serving his first term in the Alabama State Senate representing Jefferson and Shelby Counties in District 15. For more information about Slade, please visit sladeblackwell.com or follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @sladeblackwell. To reach him by phone, please call 205.396.1144.