Archived Story

Jobs should be priority in the Legislature

Published 7:59am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The number one priority for this first legislative session should be jobs.

Our unemployment rate remains far too high. Families have been suffering as breadwinners worry about work or struggle to replace a job that has been lost. Jobs were the central issue in last year’s election, so you would think there would be many job-related bills in the pipeline even before the session began.

Here we are well into the session, and there still is not a jobs package introduced. It is becoming abundantly clear the new legislative leadership has not made it priority.

So what is occupying their time and attention? It seems to be settling scores and the same old petty politics.

From the time of the first special session back in December, it has been politics, not people, that is front and center for the new legislative leadership. Back then the special session was called for ethics reform, something our state desperately needed. Yet, the very first bill that was introduced attacked the ability of teachers to use their own money for professional dues through payroll deduction. The entire session was almost derailed over this bill that had nothing to do with ethics at all.

What was really at issue was the fact that the main teachers organization had not supported the legislative leadership’s handpicked candidate for governor last year. Leaders thought that getting rid of the convenience of payroll deduction would hurt the education association. Payback, not the important issue at hand like ethics, was the driving force, and it still seems to be.

Take for example a bill for education liability insurance introduced last week in the House appropriations committee, the budget-writing panel. This bill is again thought to target the teachers’ association because most educators pay for their own liability insurance through their professional organization. It is certainly not about saving teachers money because the leadership is already proposing huge cuts to teacher salaries.

So, at a time when we have lost thousands of education jobs, where layoffs and larger class sizes have become a common occurrence in our school systems, the Republican leadership wants to spend millions of dollars and critical time not on getting more teachers back into the classroom, but on a boondoggle that is politically motivated.

In an economy like this, saving a job is just as important as creating one. Yet, the only bills and budget ideas proposed for schools are to continue the school cuts and teacher reductions. There is no priority for jobs, only for retribution.

Last week, Democrats proposed a series of bills that would save thousands of school jobs and help maintain our children’s education, while also leveling the playing field for Alabama small business where most new jobs will be created. These bills close loopholes and shut down shell games used by major out-of-state corporations to pay little or no state income taxes, revenue that is earmark solely for education.

If these loophole-closing bills are passed, it would generate more than $200 million for education and save thousands of teacher jobs. These teachers in turn will spend money at local small businesses and help them hire more workers.

Loopholes that large multinational companies exploit to avoid paying Alabama taxes, such as paying themselves rent or posting huge fees to use their own name, put local small businesses in danger because they cannot use these gimmicks. Such a tax disadvantage turns into a competitive disadvantage, and that must stop.

We need to drop the showmanship and rhetoric and get down to the business of employment. Our only question in the next weeks for every bill that comes before the Legislature is if it will create or save jobs.

If it does not, then we are not doing the job Alabama voters sent us to Montgomery to do.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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