Alabama Legislature gives final approval to economic incentives package

Tourism spending in one bill draws criticism from senators

By: - April 20, 2023 1:45 pm
Arthur Orr reviewing papers at a podium

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, reviews files during a debate in the Alabama Senate on April 13, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Legislature Thursday gave final approval to a package of economic incentive bills, but not before criticism from the chair of the Senate’s education budget committee. 

The economic incentives, called “The Game Plan,” renew and expand existing incentives; provide funding to develop industrial sites and provide new reporting requirements on the bill.

The package had the backing of Gov. Kay Ivey and Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, along with Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield. But it drew criticism from Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee. 

Most incentives target income or sales taxes, which fund the state education budget. Orr expressed concern called the pursuit of economic incentives “repugnant.”

“And I say that because here we take taxpayer money and dole it out to corporations,” he said. “Because 49 other states do the same. And if we did not arm Mr. Canfield and the Department of Commerce, our economic development teams scattered across the state with the measures of this Jobs Act, we undeniably would not be competitive.”

Orr suggested the federal government should intervene to prevent governments from pursuing them.

“The system that has been created does not work in favor of the states to spin money in this manner,” he said. 

Citing the mass shooting in Dadeville that killed four people and injured 32, Orr said money spent on incentives is money taken away from other programs, such as mental health counseling.

“If we had counselors back then, would it have made a difference in their lives?” Orr asked, referring to the four people arrested in the Dadeville shooting.

Orr also objected to what he said was a lack of legislative oversight over the incentives, and took issue with money from the education budget going towards tourism. 

“Every time there’s winner, there’s a loser because we have limited funds,” he said. “And so this one, they’re going to be some winners in the tourism business.

The bills include: 

– HB 241, sponsored by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, would increase the cap on job creation tax credits offered under the Alabama Jobs Act from $350 million to $475 million through 2027, and allow renewable energy programs to qualify for credits. The bill also offers 10-year tax credits for certain qualifying tourism projects. The bill passed the Senate 29-6. 

– HB 247, sponsored by House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, would make $25 million a year available to small businesses through a tax credit program. The bill passed the Senate 30-0. 

– SB 165, sponsored by Orr, that makes money available to develop industrial sites. The bill passed the House of Representatives 104-0. 

– SB 151, sponsored by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, requires the publication of information related to job creation, including total positions and wages. The bill passed the House 104-0. 

The bills went to Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday. Ivey planned to sign them early Thursday afternoon. 

Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville, also raised objections to the tourism language in the Jobs Act bill, saying it created an unfair playing field. He said he recently closed on a $97 million development project that got no incentives. 

“There are all kinds of things we’re doing in great economic investments that we don’t pay anything for,” he said. “We don’t reimburse them, and so I am deeply troubled about that.” 

Orr and Givhan voted against the Jobs Act. The other no votes were Sens. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile; Tim Melson, R-Florence; Dan Roberts, R-Mountain Brook and Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville. 

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Jemma Stephenson
Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.