Squeeze of reality in Montgomery continues

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The squeeze of reality continues. During the last few days of the 2012 Regular Legislative Session, forces were squeezing us from all sides. Some were vise-like. Let’s first explore how reality continued to squeeze us on the immigration issue.

I thought the squeeze of reality would come from one direction but it came from another, I thought the squeeze would be on me and others to decide how we should vote on a very bad immigration bill or risk keeping the current law that is truly terrible. I also watched the squeeze of reality closing in on Republican senators in a powerful way.

As I said in a previous column, Republicans were divided: some did not want any changes in Alabama’s infamous immigration law in belief that the U. S. Supreme Court would sustain such laws; others wanted changes that lifted oppressive requirements on businesses; still others wanted changes that shielded the law against legal attacks. From the outside, the divides seemed too great to overcome. But the squeeze of reality closed in and squeezed us out.

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However, Republicans seemed to get together in spite of divisions. Those who wanted no change appeared to have accepted some changes they didn’t want. Those who wanted some changes appeared to have accepted less changes than they wanted. The squeeze of reality appeared to have closed in on them and squeezed us out.

The squeeze of reality was at work in other ways. When HB56 passed in the Senate last year, we were not permitted to debate or even to speak on it. We protested our exclusion. The law passed was so much worse for lack of debate. This time we were able to offer a substitute bill that would repeal HB56. It was voted down because the squeeze of reality squeezed us out. The vote on the substitute bill to repeal it was 14 to 20. It was a good showing but “show” (as in “win, place and show”) only counts in horse and dog races.

It later appeared the Republicans could not come together on immigration after all. Therefore, they did not move forward. The bill was carried over to be considered on the last day of this legislative session set the following week. That indicated that they didn’t have the votes to do what they wanted. The squeeze of reality.

The squeeze of reality closed in on other legislative initiatives. The Bentley Administration proposed to give businesses an outlandish slush fund in the name of jobs. The bill had a good sounding name: Alabama Job Creation and Retention Act. (Look out for legislation with good sounding names.)

Usually, business incentives provide credits and deductions against income taxes paid by the business. These incentives are always for new industries that produce new jobs or expansion of existing industries that produce additional jobs. Both ultimately produce additional revenue for the state in income taxes. If businesses do not pay taxes, they do not receive the benefits of the incentives.

This Alabama Job Creation and Retention Act turned all those requirements upside down. First, employee withholding taxes will be given to businesses even if they are not successful enough to pay income taxes. Two, businesses already located in the state will be eligible for the incentives to stay in Alabama. Three, the additional jobs and revenue for the state will not be critical factors to receive the incentives. Because income taxes are earmarked in the Alabama Constitution for public education, this so-called Jobs Creation and Retention Act amounts to a gigantic slush fund that raids the Education Trust Fund. This was a huge reach that turned out to be an over reach.

Over reach can be a powerful factor in the squeeze of reality. Commitments kept and unkept are also ever present factors. The so called Jobs bills passed the House and came to the Senate. One was a Constitutional Amendment and the other an enabling act linked to each other. I was assured that one of the bills would die in the Finance and Taxation Education Committee if several of us showed up on time and voted against the bill. We were present, on time and voted against the bill. The bill was still reported out of committee by one vote. One Senator went back on his commitments. That too is the squeeze of reality.

One of the so-called jobs bills came up for a vote on the Senate Floor. The initial vote by the full Senate was on the BIR (Budget Isolation Resolution), which is required to consider any bill before budgets have passed the Alabama Legislature. The proponents needed a 3/5 vote. The vote was 18-14, falling three votes short. This was a great victory for public education. That, too, is the squeeze of reality.

Finally the squeeze of reality closed in on the charter school law. A House committee carried over the bill, ending its sojourn in this session. But some desirable flexibility provisions for public education died as well because they were in the same bill. The squeeze of reality continues.