Governor Bentley’s chief of staff promises support for Business Council of Alabama’s legislative goals (VIDEO)

Governor Robert Bentley’s chief of staff said Bentley will support vital Business Council of Alabama education, workforce preparedness, and business tax initiatives in the 2014 legislative session that began at noon today.

Chief of Staff David Perry spoke to the BCA’s Government Affairs Conference on the opening day of the legislative session that could end April 7, a month earlier than usual due to a dramatically changed political primary election qualifying season. Democrat and Republican Party qualifying ends Feb. 7, earlier than usual due to overseas military ballot requirements. The party primaries are June 3.

“I hope it will be short and sweet and let the Legislature get out of town,” Perry said of the session.

Because it’s an election year, Perry said, Bentley doesn’t have a lengthy legislative slate but he will continue to back education, tax and workforce preparedness issues that are on the BCA’s 2014 legislative agenda. Early education is vital to businesses that need qualified workers.

Perry said Bentley will seek a substantial funding increase for voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds. “That is near and dear to his heart,” Perry said. Perry said data show that last year’s third-graders who had enrolled in Pre-K were proficient in math and reading at grade-level.

The BCA’s 2014 legislative agenda includes continued incremental funding increases over a 10-year period with the goal of fully funding a Pre-K program taught and administered by certifiably trained staff.

The 2013 Legislature appropriated $28.5 million, an increase of $9 million, to expand Alabama’s nationally recognized Pre-K, enabling 1,700 additional 4-year-olds to enroll. About 10 percent of the state’s eligible 4-year-olds are enrolled in Pre-K.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance seeks an additional $12.8 million for Pre-K in Fiscal Year 2015 and an additional $12.8 million each year over the next nine years.

Perry said Bentley also will support other valuable education initiatives – the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative, ACCESS, and Advanced Placement.

Bentley also supports the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, Uniform Revenue Procedures Act, or TBOR. It would update the outdated 1992 TBOR law and create an independent, appointed Alabama Tax Appeals Commission to rule on appeals of final tax assessments from self-administered cities and counties.

A single-point appeals agency is designed to end differing interpretations and appeals of tax assessments that are frustrating to business.

“It’s an issue near and dear to y’all,” Perry told the Governmental Affairs Committee. “The governor gave his word several years ago that he will support it and he’ll honor that and he looks forward to working with y’all.”

TBOR II as it’s known is supported by the BCA and is also on this year’s House Republican Caucus agenda.

Bentley supports creating a Workforce Advisory Council that has been recommended by the College and Career Ready Task Force, Perry said. Its members are from education and business including the BCA.

Perry said the success of several economic development projects will determine whether there’s a need for economic development and workforce development incentives.

Perry said Bentley will recommend level funding for most General Fund agencies but he will recommend a teacher pay raise of between “zero and 6 percent.”

“It’s a relatively light agenda by our office,” Perry told the Governmental Affairs Committee. “Our goal is to see budgets passed. We’ll be playing defense like a lot of y’all are.”

-Dana Beyerle