AP News

Business group backing Ala. gov ads for job money


MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The political consulting firm that helped Robert Bentley win the governor's office is now helping persuade voters to give him more money to lure jobs to Alabama.

Bentley is appearing in TV ads urging voters to vote "yes" on Amendment 2 in the election Nov. 6. The ads were done by Dresner Wickers Barber Sanders, a well-known San Francisco firm that helped get across his winning message in 2010 that he would not draw a salary as governor until he got Alabama's high unemployment rate down to normal levels.

Now he's telling voters that to accomplish that goal, he needs millions in incentives to offer companies to locate plants in Alabama, rather than elsewhere.

"If we don't have incentive money, we are not going to be able to compete. If we can't compete, we are not going to get companies to come to Alabama like Airbus and Wrangler," he said Monday. "Almost every major company that has come to Alabama has been brought here by some of the incentive money."

Bentley is still a long way from drawing a paycheck. Alabama's unemployment rate was 9.0 percent when he was elected in November 2010 and is now down to 8.3 percent. He wants it to fall to 5.2 percent before he takes a paycheck.

Amendment 2 would modify a program created during Gov. Don Siegelman's administration that allows the state to issue up to $750 million in bonds to get money to offer companies for locating or expanding plants in Alabama.

The problem is, the incentive program has issued $720 million in bonds and now has just $30 million left to be sold. But the existing law doesn't lower that $720 million as bonds are paid off, and if old bonds are refinanced, the old debt and the new debt are counted toward the $750 million cap.

Amendment 2 wouldn't change the $750 million cap, but it would allow new bonds to be issued as the debt is paid down — paid off by royalties from natural gas wells in state-owned waters along the coast. It would also count only new bonds during a refinancing and not the old ones that are paid off by the refinancing.

As a result, Bentley would have about $160 million in bonds he could sell rather than $30 million. And that's more than pocket change for drawing a new business to the state. For instance, landing 1,000 Airbus jobs for Mobile required $153 million in incentives.

A political action committee called Make Jobs Alabama is paying for the Bentley ads. So far, it has reported receiving a $25,000 donation from the Birmingham Business Alliance and a $75,000 loan from Bryant Bank in Bentley's hometown of Tuscaloosa. Bentley said others in the business community have agreed to help because the issue is vital to the state's economic future.

Brian Hilson, president of the Birmingham Business Alliance, said Alabama's success in recruiting industries justifies a yes vote. The ad campaign is designed to make sure Amendment 2 doesn't fly below the radar of voters focused on other issues, he said.

So far, $75,000 of the PAC's money has gone to Dresner Wickers Barber Sanders for the ad campaign, according to campaign finance reports filed by the PAC.

Amendment 2 has no organized opposition, but it has drawn criticism on some conservative websites. Some comments posted on the websites say more borrowing is bound to lead to more taxes. Others question why Bentley is seeking more money after he got Alabama voters to approve a constitutional amendment Sept. 18 that provided $437 million to help balance the state General Fund budget for three years.

Bentley said he addresses that issue in speeches he's making across the state to promote Amendment 2.

"This is not the same as Sept. 18. People don't realize there are all sorts of different pots of money out there. There are different budgets. It's complicated, and I know it is," he said.


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