Anniston representative's bond bill on Dems' House agenda
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jan 21, 2014 | 2657 views |  0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Barbara Boyd
Barbara Boyd
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MONTGOMERY — Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, plans to file a bill that would allow Alabama to issue $20 million in bonds to expand the state's workforce development programs.

"There are thousands of skilled labor jobs becoming available in Alabama, but we have to give our people the training to do those jobs," Boyd said in prepared remarks at a press conference Tuesday.

Boyd's bill was one of nine bills House Democrats listed as being on their legislative agenda for the 2014 legislative session, which began last week.

That agenda also includes a repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act school tax credit, a proposal to create a lottery to pay for education, a 6 percent pay raise for teachers and a dollar-per-pack hike in the cigarette tax to fill the shortfall in Alabama's Medicaid program.

Few of the Democratic bills are likely to get far in the Legislature, where Republicans have held supermajorities in both houses since 2010. Some of the items on the list, such as the lottery and the cigarette tax, have been proposed multiple times in the past. House Minority Leader Craig Ford dismissed the idea that the bills were just an election-year effort to spur debate on Democratic talking points.

"I'm an eternal optimist," Ford said. "I think Republicans are trying to back away from their record."

Boyd's bill, which has yet to be filed, was one of the few of the nine that seemed to be new. The bill would allow the state to issue up to $20 million in bonds to expand workforce training programs in the state's community colleges.

A former K-12 teacher and Gadsden State Community College professor, Boyd said she often saw students reaching the community college level without basic skills they needed to function in the workplace.

"Sometimes, when they get to us, they're lacking some things instructionally," Boyd said. She said workforce development programs allow two-year colleges to prepare students with the skills employers say they need.

The bill would create a bond-funded Workforce Development and Training Fund and would establish a committee to make one-time grants from the fund to schools hoping to expand their programs.

Boyd's bill would draw money from existing utility taxes and use taxes to pay down the bonds. That money would otherwise go to the Education Trust Fund, the state's budget for schools.

Democrats touted the bill as part of the "job creation and retention" portion of their 2014 agenda. Other bills would give Alabama-based businesses priority in government contracts, require businesses to commit to creating a specific number of jobs before they receive state subsidies or tax breaks, and dismantle a $5 million teacher insurance program and use the money to pay for dual K-12/college enrollment programs. Democrats opposed the teacher insurance program when it was created last year, saying it was an effort to draw supporters away from the Alabama Education Association, which has long provided that insurance to its members.

In a dig at Republican counterparts, Ford stressed that the Democrats' agenda was focused on Alabama problems.

"We're not running for federal office, unlike the governor and Republican caucus," he said. The jab was an apparent reference to Gov. Robert Bentley's State of the State speech, which Democrats claimed was too focused on criticisms of the federal government.

House Republicans last year announced a nine-bill legislative agenda, focused on changes to the state's tax laws. Four bills on that agenda, all relating to taxes, passed the House last week.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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