Governor Bentley Gives Legislative Update, Expresses Frustration Over Failure Of HB160

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It's safe to say Governor Robert Bentley has a lot on his plate right now.  The 2012 legislative session is wrapping up, and Alabama doesn't have budgets for next year.  Medicaid faces critical cuts and 150,000 people are still out of work in our state.

Bentley expressed frustration at many of these items, but mostly at the failure of House Bill 160.  Also called the Alabama Job Creation and Retention Act of 2012, the bill's online description says it would allow Alabama companies which undertake certain qualifying projects to retain a percentage of state income taxes withheld from eligible employees.

Alabama voters would have to approve it on a future ballot.

"We would have had it, except for four Republican senators," Bentley told the crowd.  Many in the crowd exchanged glances with each other at those words.  One, because of his strong emphasis, and second, because Bentley is a Republican.

Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) is one of the Republicans who voted against the bill.  WHNT News 19 asked him why.

"Part of my problem with the bill is that it puts a new business in our local area at a competitive advantage over someone that might have been here for three or four decades," said Sanford, a small business owner. "They have the ability to keep that tax money to fund their start up costs."

Other Democratic senators voted against the legislation, too.  Representative Barry Mask (R-District 31) sponsored House Bill 160.

Governor Bentley's address was part of the annual Alabama Update Luncheon presented by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

He also spoke about the state's unemployment rate, which has dropped to 7.3 percent, from 10 percent last July.  Bentley applauded companies that have added jobs recently, including Jim Walter Resources, which announced more than 500 new jobs in early May in the Birmingham area.

"The average pay for those jobs is $120,000," said Governor Bentley.

Bentley also applauded the Heroes For Hires bill, which passed the Legislature.  It will give companies a $1,000 tax credit for hiring a veteran who is unemployed.

He celebrated the passage of the Pension Reform Bill, but expressed frustration at the legislature for overriding his executive amendment on the Flexible Schools Calendar Act of 2012.

"This bill was not flexible," said Governor Bentley.  "I believe local school systems should have control of their calendar."

The bill pushes the school start date back to August 20.  Classes must end no later than the last Friday before Memorial Day.  Many school systems are scrambling to change their 2012-13 calendars, and it may mean fall break is cut in many cases.

The Governor said the Legislature must find a way to fund Medicaid. 

"We cannot function with $400 million in the Medicaid agency. We just cannot," said the Governor.

He said if the current budget passes, hospitals and Alabama's poor face a crisis.

"Every hospital in Alabama could go under if we take away [this much] Medicaid funding.  Medicaid funds more than the poor in Alabama."

The Governor has proposed taking money from the state's Education Trust Fund to fill the gap in the General Fund budget, which supports Medicaid.

"Medicaid is growing exponentially," Governor Bentley added.  "Four hundred thousand more people will be placed on Medicaid next year, and 900,000 are on Medicaid today."

Earlier Monday, Governor Bentley visited Teledyne Brown's manufacturing facility.  He helped Aerojet and Teledyne Brown unveil a new liquid rocket engine.

The project solidifies the partnership between the two companies as they work together on several projects, including several from the U.S. government.