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Sen. Greg Albritton talks economic incentives, increased prison costs

After Alabama leaders finished allocating more than $1 billion in federal relief money last week during the special session, Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, spoke with Alabama Daily News about what lies ahead for the state legislature.

Upcoming legislation, such as a sweeping economic incentives bill, as well as impacts from the cost of one Alabama prison jumping by more than $300 million were both topics Albritton considered important, and said would be among the top priorities for lawmakers during the regular session.

Economic incentives

Passed in 2015, the Alabama Jobs Act offers both cash rebates and tax abatements to qualifying businesses that make investments in the state, and is set to sunset in July. While the renewal legislation, which hasn’t been filed or made public, has amassed considerable support, Albritton told Alabama Daily News that he doesn’t believe renewing the bill will go over so easily.

“I know the administration wants to move this quickly, but I believe there’s gonna be some controversy over that bill,” Albritton said.

“I think there’s gonna be some amendments and dealings that may change the face of this. There (are) arguments between whether there’s tourism language in there, whether that should be allowed to stay, and there’s controversies from what I’m hearing with several different things, so that may not be the fast, down the chute (bill) like some people wanted.”

Those incentives offered under the Alabama Jobs Act are not unlimited, however. Since the bill’s passing, an annual cap on the dollar amount of incentives permitted has been in place, which has been raised over the years; to $325 million for 2021, and to $350 million for 2022.

When asked whether he saw another potential lifting of the cap, Albritton said he was unsure, but that having a reasonable cap was paramount to a healthy economy.

“I’m unsure about a cap, but the issue here is that money – regardless of what the feds say – doesn’t grow on trees, it doesn’t come out of thin air,” Albritton said. 

“If you’re doing tax abatements and such, that is a real thing, those things are sellable on the market if you will, that is an asset, so somebody’s paying a price for that. If you do not have a cap, that’s dangerous territory. You’ve got to have some kind of control so that you can rely on the revenue coming in and the revenue streams being solid.”

Prison cost spike

Beyond the state legislature passing its final federal assistance spending bill, last week also saw news break that an under-construction prison in Elmore County saw its price tag potentially jump from $623 million to $975 million.

The Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority voted to increase the authorized spending on the project on Mar. 15, with state Finance Director Bill Poole attributing the change to inflation and design alterations.

Like Poole, Albritton said the potential price hike had a “one-word explanation: inflation.”

“It seems like as soon as we took this tiger by the tail and took action, that’s when inflation started, (and) I am not comfortable with it, I do not like it,” Albritton said. 

“I have made that known to the vendors, to the agencies and to the governor, but we’ve gotten ourselves in this mess over two generations, (and) we don’t have viable, safe prisons.”

Alabama has among the deadliest prisons in the country, with the prison homicide rate nearly doubling between 2008 and 2014, from 61 deaths in 2008 to 111 in 2014. Despite the prison population falling 14% from 2014 to 2017, the homicide rate still climbed to 120 that year.

The quality of Alabama prisons were in such poor shape that in 2020, the federal government sued the state, threatening to take partial or even full control of the prison system.

In response, state leaders approved a $1.3 billion plan, $400 million of which came from federal COVID-relief funds, to build two 4,000-bed men’s prisons, along with a smaller women’s prison and renovations to some existing prisons, the prison being built in Elmore County being one of them.

Albritton committed to solving Alabama’s prison problem, but said with the rising costs, it was still a tough road ahead.

“We still have the resources to meet these demands and to get both prisons built, (but) it’s going to be difficult,” Albritton said. 

“We know that it’s going to be a struggle, it’s gonna be ongoing, but we’re committed to it. We believe we have the resources, (and) we think we planned well enough for this and we’re gonna move forward with it. I think we’ll be successful and get this done.”

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