Governor: ‘State of Opportunity’ is Competitive and Thriving

Gov. Kay Ivey was in Huntsville Wednesday to tout her administration’s accomplishments over the past year and work to garner support for an upcoming amendment to the state’s constitution that will replace the Alabama Board of Education.

The Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce hosted the annual Alabama Update.

A packed North Hall audience hears Gov. Kay Ivey during the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber’s annual Alabama Update. (Steve Babin/Huntsville Business Journal)

The governor kicked things off by commenting on Alabama’s addition of 34,000 jobs and more than $14 billion in business-related investments during her time in office.

The state has an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, which is the second-lowest in the Southeast, but slightly higher than the nation’s rate of 3.6 percent, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

“In May, we also announced that every county in the state dropped their unemployment rate,” Ivey said. “Not only is Alabama open for business, but we are competitive and thriving and a state of opportunity.”

Also in May, Ivey signed two bills designed to boost broadband access for rural and underserved communities and commented, Wednesday, on why those were important.  She said there are currently more than 480,000 Alabamians without access to broadband services.

One bill, Ivey said, allows the use of electrical easements for broadband purposes and the other creates grants for various broadband projects.

“Delivering high-speed broadband access is critical to the education that we provide our students, to our economy, it’s essential to our health care and overall quality of life,” she said.

Then the governor spoke about the recent 10 cents per gallon increase in Alabama’s gas tax, referring to it only as “an investment in Alabama’s infrastructure.”

“About three decades have gone by without making an investment in our infrastructure – until now,” Ivey said. “This investment will translate into projects that will tackle the problems of roadway congestion, aging roads and bridges, and unsafe conditions for drivers on their way to work and school.”

Specifically related to Huntsville, the governor highlighted the first project of the “Rebuild Alabama Plan,” which was the widening of I-565 to eventually allow the expansion of the I-65 interchange.

Ivey then transitioned from talking about roads and bridges to the state’s prison system. She said the first step in bettering the prison system was to better recruit and retain the prison’s correction officers.

“Earlier this year I proposed adding $31 million to the general fund to hire 500 new correctional officers to ensure the safety of our personnel and the general public,” she said. “Today, I’m happy to announce… that we signed HB 468 into law that provides a two-step pay raise for the department of correction employees and extends an incentive program to include bonuses.”

Ivey also addressed the state’s education system and her education initiative called Strong Start, Strong Finish.

This initiative included adding $26.8 million to Alabama’s Pre-K budget, improving the computer science curriculum throughout the state and putting programs in place to help students get a job through various apprenticeships and certifications.

Citing Alabama’s current position at the bottom of “almost every ranking that measures education in our states,” Ivy asked for the support a constitutional amendment that would replace the state’s board of education with a governor-appointed commission called the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.

 The amendment is expected to be on the March 2020 ballot.

“It’s simply time for Alabama to take the lead.  That’s the name of my new effort,” Ivey said. “Our current system simply is not working. And, if the system is not working then we can’t continue to operate with the system that we have and expect different results.

“We must have leadership that sets high, but obtainable, goals that prepare our students for 21st century jobs.”