MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Republican caucuses of the House and Senate have endorsed a package of bills designed to lower the state's nearly 10 percent unemployment rate by addressing everything from tax incentives offered to new industries to the hiring veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Our number one priority is boosting private sector job growth in Alabama," House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said at a news conference Wednesday.
Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston said both caucuses have unanimously endorsed an eight-bill package that they expect to pass in the session that starts Feb. 7. Republicans have a super majority in both houses.
Marsh and Hubbard said the package includes bills to::
— Give the governor and his top industry recruiter, the Alabama Development Office director, the flexibility to modify tax incentives when negotiating for new industries. They said changes now must be approved by the Legislature, but the governor needs to make changes quickly when Alabama is competing with other states. The proposal is a constitutional amendment needing the approval of both the Legislature and voters in a statewide referendum.
— Re-enact legislation passed in June that provided foreign businesses locating in the state temporary tax incentives to offset tariffs from the construction phase of their plants. Members of the Alabama Education Association have filed a lawsuit contending the tax break is unconstitutional because the bill started in the Senate rather than House. The GOP leaders said the bill, which has bipartisan support, will be passed again with it starting in the House
— Expand the tax incentives for new industries to encourage the recruitment of data processing centers.
— Give businesses a tax credit of $1,000 to $2,000 for hiring a recently returned veteran. A separate measure would offer veterans a $1,500 tax credit for starting their own businesses. GOP leaders said the proposals are based on anticipated influx of veterans with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down. "They served their country and they deserve a job when they get back," Hubbard said.
— Give businesses a bigger voice in determining the technical training programs offered by the state's community colleges so that they produces enough graduates to fill fields with shortages, such as welding. "We're hearing from industry that the right skill sets aren't coming out," Marsh said.
— Require state agencies to prepare an economic impact analysis before adopting a regulation that could have an adverse effect on small businesses. Agencies would also have to look at whether there are alternatives that would accomplish the same purpose while minimizing the impact on businesses.
— Create a Small Business Financing Authority to provide loans to small shops and provide it with up to $5 million over time. They said the current banking problems have made it difficult for small businesses to get loans, and the state needs to step in to encourage job growth.
— Create a task force to study the issue of streamlining and simplifying the administration and payment of sales, uses and lease taxes. They said the goal is to reduce red tape and administrative costs for businesses.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Republicans are trying to mask the fact that Alabama's unemployment rate has risen from 9.0 percent in November 2010, when the GOP took control of the Legislature from Democrats, to 9.8 percent now.
"I see a lot of government spending in their plan, what I don't see are real solutions. Instead of throwing money at big corporations, we should close the corporate loopholes which allow companies to take advantage of our tax laws," he said.