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House education budget committee gets ‘jump start’ on 2020 issues today

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama House Education Ways and Means Committee on Thursday afternoon begins two days of hearings in the State House where it will have presentations from various education and state agency leaders.

Committee chairman Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said the annual hearings allow for a deep dive into some of the issues that will be before lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session.

“The education budget starts in the House this year, this gives us an opportunity to jump start some of those conversations,” Poole said. The session begins Feb. 4.

Later this month there will be budget hearings for education and General Fund agencies before House and Senate members.

Today, the House committee is expected to hear from Jim Purcell, executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education; Neah Scott, legislative counsel for the Retirement Systems of Alabama; Damon Bailey, executive director of Teach for America’s Alabama region; and Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

Poole said Purcell is expected to talk about the state’s teacher shortage and the decline in education majors at universities.

Boswell is expected to discuss rural broadband access. In this year’s education budget, $20 million was allocated for a rural broadband access grants administered through ADECA. Poole said the committee wants to know how that money is “moving the needle” on the state’s internet access problem. 

On Friday, presenters will include state Superintendent Eric Mackey and Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield.

Two major tax incentives — the Alabama Jobs Credit and the Growing Alabama Credit — expire at the end of 2020 and need to be renewed by lawmakers. Poole said changes to both are expected. 

The intent of the Jobs Credit is to promote job creation and capital investment. It allows for a cash rebate of up to 3% annually of a compnay’s previous year’s gross payroll.

Canfield is recommending extending the sunset date through 2024 and removing the annualized cap, currently $300 million, since the program is pay-as-you-go, meaning it is funded by tax revenue from companies receiving incentives, his office told Alabama Daily News this week.

The Growing Alabama Credit is intended to enhance business and industry by providing a source of funds for local and state economic development organizations for site preparation and infrastructure needs of industrial sites.

The tax credit is equal to the contribution by the taxpayer, not to exceed 50% of the taxpayer’s tax liability. The incentive is now capped at $10 million a year.

Canfield is recommending extending it into 2024 and increasing the annual cap to $20 million because the 2019 Alabama Incentives Modernization Act opened the credit to allow for more qualifying activities. Commerce is also proposing to make the credit available to insurance companies to offset insurance premiums tax and to banks to offset financial institution excise tax. It is currently limited to income tax, which restricts potential donors, Canfield’s office said.

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