By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Six weeks before the 2020 legislative session begins, Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt on Wednesday laid out an agenda focused on building on the state’s economic success and avoiding potential pitfalls that could cost taxpayers.
BCA is one of Alabama’s most influential political organizations, pooling resources from the state’s business community to support its endorsed candidates for office and lobby the Alabama Legislature for business-friendly policies. Britt was chosen to lead the organization a year ago.
Britt was the featured speaker at the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce’s “Eggs and Issues” breakfast event, which attracted a sold-out crowd of about 400 business and community leaders. For the unfamiliar, she described BCA as a kind of “state chamber of commerce,” and said she is optimistic about Alabama’s future, but ready to get to work when the Legislature convenes.
“Alabamians have always had a can-do attitude, and that’s what makes our state so attractive to industries locating here,” Britt said. “We’ve established Alabama as one of the top five business climates in the country – but we can’t stop there.
“It is our duty to find innovative ways to continue to develop our workforce, providing top-notch training that sets up a pipeline of workers who can thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.”
Looking toward the legislative session, Britt said the BCA would prioritize reauthorizing two of the state’s key economic development statutes: the Growing Alabama Tax Credit and the Alabama Jobs Act. Passed in 2015, the Alabama Jobs Act consolidated and modernized myriad tax incentive programs used by the Department of Commerce to recruit industries. The Growing Alabama Act established a separate tax credit that local economic development organizations can use to build industrial parks or other job-attracting sites.
“Both of these incentive programs have proven helpful to job recruitment and economic expansion in both urban and rural areas,” Britt said. “It’s critical that we reauthorize these incentives, but we are going to work with all stakeholders to make sure we get it right.”
Getting specific on workforce development, Britt said BCA was fully behind Gov. Kay Ivey’s goal to add 500,000 newly certified or trained workers by 2025 and added that the state should “get creative” in finding those willing to work.
“We need to take a look at the incarcerated population, those who will eventually be released and eligible to work,” Britt said. “Are we utilizing opportunities to both train workers and reduce recidivism? There’s a more mature population that could fill many jobs, but might need the proper training to do it. These are just a few examples of a plethora of creative solutions we can use to meet the needs of our state.”
Britt also warned of potential pitfalls that could cost the state if action isn’t taken, particularly on the 2020 Census and prison reform.
“We’re already at a disadvantage [on the Census], because we don’t trust the federal government here in the state of Alabama, right? When we get that form, a lot of us tend to say ‘No, thank you,'” she joked.
“But we need those forms filled out, and that’s why we need you to talk to your employees and people throughout the community about the importance of the census.”
BCA will be working with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and the U.S. Census Bureau to boost participation in the nation’s headcount. As a former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, Britt warned of the consequences of an incomplete count, from losing representation in Congress to cuts in federal programs.
“I can tell you that an accurate and complete count will have a significant and lasting impact on federal programs, such as healthcare, infrastructure, education and obviously our representation in Congress,” Britt said.
Another pitfall the state must avoid is failing to address its dangerous and crowded prisons, Britt said. The state is currently under court order from Judge Myron Thompson to improve conditions inside prisons and, separately, the U.S. Department of Justice is negotiating with state leaders on how to avoid another lawsuit finding violations of the Eighth Amendment.
Should the state fail to act, Alabama could follow the path of California, whose prison system was taken over by the federal government.
“In California, when they didn’t heed these warnings, the federal government came in and took over their entire prison budget. That meant they could levy any taxes that they need to rectify the problem. They levied $2 billion in taxes. If that happened here, that would be a tax on you and you and you and all your businesses,” she said, pointing around the ballroom to chamber members gathered in the crowd.
“Gov. Ivey continues to say this is an Alabama problem that requires an Alabama solution, and she’s exactly right.”
The Alabama Legislature’s 2020 Regular Session begins Tuesday, February 4.