Black Belt deserves more

Published 9:39pm Monday, April 15, 2013

If you’ve been reading the papers over the past two weeks it may be hard to believe, but Democrats and the Black Belt have won a couple of major victories in the Alabama Legislature.

The first came two weeks ago when the State House of Representatives passed House Bill 180, which would provide income tax credits for the rehabilitation, preservation, and development of historic structures. This bill, which has now moved on to the Senate for debate in legislative committee, not only helps preserve our cultural heritage and history, but also serves as a tool for economic development. The Black Belt is an Alabama treasure. There are dozens of historical landmarks throughout our region, especially in Selma and Montgomery. These structures stand as a testament to our history as well as tourist sites. Even presidents and presidential candidates come to Selma to commemorate our nation’s civil rights movement and history.

Preserving these structures can create dozens of jobs during a time when our unemployment rate continues to hover at about 14 percent. Now that House Bill 180 has passed the House, I encourage our state senators to rally behind our own Sen. Hank Sanders to get this important legislation passed.

Our second victory came last week during the debate on the education budget. When the budget was brought to the floor, it cut $100,000 from the Black Belt Treasures Program, which would have been a huge blow to our region. When the budget was brought up for debate last week, it redirected $100,000 out of the Black Belt Treasures Program and into the Teach for America program. I spoke with the other members of our legislative delegation, and we all agreed that the money would be put to better use for economic growth if it stayed in the Black Belt Treasures Program. We worked out an agreement with the leadership and the budget chairman, and we were able to place the $100,000 back into the Black Belt Program.

For the past three years, we haven’t had many legislative victories in Montgomery for the Black Belt. And in many ways, our region is still getting hit with significant cuts in education and public services, not to mention the thousands of uninsured Alabamians who could receive health insurance if Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley expanded our Medicaid program. Protecting funding for Black Belt Treasures and passing House Bill 180 will open the doors for more economic growth throughout the Black Belt. I hope that the Alabama Senate will continue this good work and protect the Black Belt Treasures Program and pass House Bill 180. The Black Belt is an Alabama treasure, and our state government should invest in our community.

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