Ken Hare In Depth: Bentley trying, but hard to make jobs numbers pretty

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Four years ago when he was running for election, Gov. Robert Bentley promised voters that he would make jobs his No. 1 priority if elected. Now that he is running for re-election, he is trying to make the state's job picture look as attractive as possible.

But frankly, it's going to be difficult to persuade knowledgeable voters that the current employment picture in Alabama is a pretty one.

Here are two factors that Bentley is going to have trouble putting a pretty face on:

-- When Bentley took office in January 2011, there were 1,995,143 employed persons in Alabama. Figures released recently showed that July 2014 employment was 1,986,908 using seasonally adjusted numbers. That's actually a small decrease in the number of employed Alabamians, even though the state's population has grown over that span.

-- In both June and July, Alabama was the only state in the nation that actually saw its unemployment rate increase from a year before, according to the Associated Press.

There are some good things that Bentley can point to: He has been successful in attracting several high-profile employers to the state, and he has seen the unemployment rate decrease dramatically from 9.1 percent when he took office.

He recently told the Associated Press that nearly 60,000 new jobs have been announced since he became governor. He pointed to plants coming on line like Airbus in Mobile, Golden Dragon Copper Tubing in Wilcox County and Remington in Huntsville.

It is also true that Bentley has seen the unemployment rate decline rapidly since he took office. But it is also true that improvements have been stymied in recent months.

When he was running for office four years ago, Bentley promised to create 250,000 new jobs if elected and to not take a salary until the state reached full employment, which he later defined as 5.2 percent unemployment.

As I have noted before, the promise of 250,000 new jobs probably was unrealistic when it was made.

The goal of 5.2 percent unemployment was not unrealistic, however, especially considering that the state had an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent back in 2006 before the national economy went into the gutter.

Bentley was right when he told the AP that it is a good sign that as Alabama's economy has improved, more people have started looking for work, even though that has pushed the unemployment rate up.

However, while it is good in the short term that more people are seeking jobs, in the long term that is good only if more of them can find those jobs.

Bentley's Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith of Huntsville, has focused on the jobs picture, telling AP: "We've got a chief executive who doesn't realize the state is going backward and not forward."

It's over the top for Griffith to paint the state's economy as "going backward" based on unemployment numbers from the past few months.

But Bentley chose to make jobs his top priority, and chose to make campaign promises four years ago involving job growth and unemployment. So he should not be surprised that his political opponents are taking advantage of it.

City should use new web site for accountability

In the category of "wouldn't it be nice if," I've got a suggestion for the City of Montgomery's new web site that is under development: Make it a pacesetter for public accountability in how government uses the public's money.

City officials are asking the public for input on what should be included in a new city web site scheduled for launching in October.

"Our goal is to make something beautiful, easy to navigate and extremely user-friendly," City Director of General Services Steve Jones said in a news release. "In developing a new web site, our mission is to address our citizens' needs, which is why we want to gather their input."

So wouldn't be nice if the city officials used that new site as a means to let the public know specifically how their tax dollars are being used?

Alabama state government actually has done a good job in recent years of making lots of information of this type available online to the public.

Taxpayers can go to to find how the governor's contingency fund is being used, budget plans and performance, ethics information, links to campaign finance reports, and even the state's checkbook ledger.

If city officials want to emphasize accountability, they should place the same sort of information on Montgomery's new web site.

Information should include spending reports from the mayor's office, copies of expense accounts for the mayor and city council members, details on how any council discretionary funds are used, the annual budget and monthly budget reports, all audits, attendance records for city council and all city boards and commissions, and so on.

So I urge readers to go to the city's current web site to take the survey on what should be included in the new site. It's quick and easy. Then don't forget to urge the city to use the new site as a way to let the community's taxpayers know how their money is being used.

Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at

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