LEEDS — Kay Ivey’s message was simple on Friday night: “Alabama is on the move.”
Speaking to the annual banquet for the Leeds Area Chamber of Commerce, the lieutenant governor repeated the phrase — “Alabama is on the move” — multiple times while outlining the state’s plan for the coming year.
“I assure you, Alabama is on the move,” she said.
Cooperation between various entities was a strong theme in Ivey’s remarks Friday night, whether referring to cooperation between her office, Gov. Robert Bentley and the state legislature, or public-private partnerships created to handle various issues. She described the current climate in Montgomery as “pro business” and cooperative.
“I’ve been there when folks didn’t work together,” Ivey said. “We have a good formula and mission for coming up with better ideas.”
Ivey said the state has four “commitments” for the coming year: growing quality jobs; “right-sizing” government; new leadership in Medicaid; and balancing budgets “while maintaining essential state services.”
According to Ivey, the state created more jobs in one year than it has since 2007, and that 26,000 new jobs were created the first 18 months of the Bentley administration (which officially took office in 2010).
“And we haven’t even begun to calibrate for things like Airbus (locating in Mobile),” she said. “When that company chose to locate in Alabama, the eyes of the world started to take notice.
“Be assured, Alabama is on the map, and really commanding attention.”
Ivey said unemployment in the state has dropped from 8 percent to 7.1 percent, the lowest in the Southeastern United States.
“That’s still too high,” she said. “We have to keep working together.”
Ivey said the two biggest part of the state’s budgets are Medicaid and the Department of Corrections, which eat up more than $900 million each year. The challenge to “right-size” government is even more daunting in the face of those two departments.
“We’re working with the legislative branch, and we’re on track to save $1 billion in budgets, through refinancing bonds, pension reform and streamlining,” she said. “It’s not immediate, but we are on the right track.
“You know, as business leaders and managers, when times are tough, you have to evaluate and set your priorities. Government should be no different.”
The state is also facing a fight when it comes to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Bentley recently stated that his government would not set up a health care exchange, according to the terms of that act.
“The Affordable Care Act says, either we set up an exchange, or the federal government will do it for us,” Ivey said. “We don’t want that, either.
“It is acceptable to Alabama to create an exchange, but if we do, we want to be sure we get it right. The Affordable Care Act is not getting it right.”
Ivey called Medicaid reform “a heck of a challenge.”
“But it’s worth it,” she said. “We need to find a long-term solution.
“I’m proud to work beside the governor and the legislature. We’re on the right road, and Alabama is on the move in the right direction.”