- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CHATOM, Ala. (AP) - Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said Wednesday that he plans to call a special session of the Legislature to use money from the state’s education budget to pay for economic incentives to lure new companies.

Bentley made the remarks Wednesday at a workforce development summit in Washington County, al.com reports (https://bit.ly/1rM4rM1). He said the special session would come after the election in November.

The governor says the state is short on money to draw manufacturers and other large employers. That money usually comes from the General Fund budget, which pays for non-education government agencies. But Bentley says the Education Trust Fund is the main beneficiary of the taxes generated by new businesses.

“Who pays for the incentives? It’s not education, but they benefit from it totally. … You ought to eat what you kill,” he said.

Lawmakers haven’t been enthusiastic about the idea of a special session. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he opposes it.

“I think we’ve got so many challenges with the budget that I’m going to be very resistant to offer any kind of economic incentive packages,” he said. “I’m not on board.”

But others were more positive about it.

Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, who chairs the Senate’s General Fund budget committee, said the state relies too much on borrowing money by selling bonds to fund economic incentives and needs to look at other options.

“The idea of issuing debt to fund economic development certainly in my opinion is not the best way to support economic development,” Orr said. “There are better ways to achieve that goal.”

Orr said he’s talked with Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield about alternatives but wasn’t aware of specific proposals.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said in a statement that private-sector job creation and a pro-business environment are priorities for the Republican majority. But he said he hasn’t seen a proposal and said it wouldn’t be wise to call a special session without involving legislative leaders.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, was more firm in his opposition to the idea.

“This is how it begins: Raiding the education budget for tax incentives for out-of-state corporations,” he said in an email. “The next step will be combining the budgets so they can pay for prisons with our children’s education funds.”

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Bentley said that “any economic incentive package I propose will guarantee millions of dollars more for education.”

“I will work closely with the legislature to make sure we have the most competitive economic incentive package in the country,” Bentley said. “I have fought hard for education during my entire career in public service. My goal is to grow the ETF so that we can provide a quality education for our children and to make sure our teachers and support personnel have competitive salaries and benefits.”

Bentley is looking at many options for economic development incentives, press secretary Yasamie August said.

“Calling a special session on economic development is one of many options that may be necessary to help Alabama continue to compete with other states to bring jobs to the state,” she said in an email. “The Governor will work with the Legislative Leadership before calling a special session.”

The state should have about $150 million a year to pursue large projects, Bentley told attendees at the Delta Regional Authority conference. The money should come from a budget stabilization fund, not the Education Trust Fund itself, he said.

The governor said his office is still working on the specifics of a proposal and declined to discuss details.

“We don’t have any final proposal on that,” he said, later adding, “We will not do anything to hurt the Education Trust Fund.”

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