Vote 'yes' to level playing field

Published 3:37 am Wednesday, October 13, 2004

By Staff
Last winter, the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority received a request for proposal (RFP) from a site locator. A well-established company was looking for proposed sites on which to build a plant to process and freeze sweet potatoes.
The company was looking for land and local incentives. Had they located here, they would have employed more than 100 people and needed a local supply of sweet potatoes.
Dutifully, ECIDA Director Marshall Rodgers submitted details about available sites. But the only incentives Escambia County could list were tax abatements, which excuse industries from some taxes – less the portion assessed for education, in return for making capital investments and hiring local workers.
The company that proposed this project also sought proposals from other states and communities, including Mississippi. Although the company's site selector really liked Escambia's available locations, Mississippi sites were immediately more attractive. Why? Because a state program in Mississippi gives $1 million in construction incentives to companies related to agriculture.
The problem is that at the present time, we cannot legally pass along any incentive to new companies other than the state-approved tax abatements. Alabama's Constitution prohibits local governments from providing money, buildings, equipment or land to private businesses. Only the state has the blanket authority with which to do so, a tactic some say was originally designed to concentrate all governmental power in Montgomery.
However, some Alabama counties have individually gotten Constitutional amendments passed, giving them the authority to negotiate incentives.
In other words, the playing field is not even.
Often, our county and others like us are at a disadvantage when competing against communities in this state and others which can provide economic incentives for new industries.
In less than three weeks, we have an opportunity to change that.
Amendment Three, sponsored by Rep. Nelson Starkey, D-Florence, endorsed by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, and approved unanimously by the Legislature last year, gives Escambia and 19 other counties the power to provide cash, land, equipment and buildings to attract new or expanding industries.
Other counties included in the Amendment are Baldwin, Barbour, Cherokee, Choctaw, Cleburne, Colbert, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, DeKalb, Elmore, Jackson, Lauderdale, Lowndes, Marshall, Monroe, Pike, Washington and Wilcox.
If approved, Amendment Three would require a county commission or city council to advertise proposed financial aid in a local newspaper and then wait at least seven days before voting on it.
The Amendment should pass, unless the lawsuit filed by the Alabama Association for Judeo-Christian Values is successful in its attempts to block it. A spokeswoman for the group said that the bill started out affecting only one county in North Alabama, but was rewritten in the Senate in a "sneaky" way and therefore has a hidden agenda. On those terms, the group could challenge almost any legislation passed; their suit is pending in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Proponents of the Amendment say that the change in affected counties was explained to the House; that Speaker Seth Hammett delayed voting on the matter for two hours so that legislators could ask questions; and that the list of affected counties was read before the vote was taken.
Assuming it survives the judicial process, Amendment Three could be a very good thing for Escambia County. Please remember to support it when you go to the polls on Nov. 2.

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