The race for District 89: Incumbent Boothe cites experience

Published 3:00 am Saturday, November 1, 2014

During his 16 years in the state legislature, Rep. Alan Boothe has been a part of landmark legislation; he’s advocated for farmers, teachers and business owners; he’s budgeted when times were good and when times were lean; and he’s made some difficult decisions.

But for the District 89 incumbent, the responsibility of representing his constituency in Pike County and southeast Alabama has never waivered. And when voters head to the polls on Tuesday, the Republican candidate said they should consider three things: “Experience, at the voting record and at the fact that I’m honest.”

Boothe was elected to the statehouse in 1998, when as a Democrat he defeated his current challenger Joel Williams in the primary. He won two more terms as a Democrat and switched to the Republican Party after the 2010 general election. He remained unopposed until this year, with Williams running on the Democratic ticket.

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“Service has been a part of my nature for so long,” said Boothe, who served three terms as Pike County coroner and three on the Troy City Council before seeking the state office. “I also served in the military for 20 years and have worked at Troy University until next month, when I retire … I enjoy serving people and I enjoy helping people.”

Throughout this tenure in the statehouse, Boothe said he has sought to fairly represent the interests of his district. “Agriculture is huge to this part of Alabama, and one of the things I’m most proud of is a program we did to give farmers tax breaks for irrigating their lands,” Boothe said. “It’s going to be a hallmark for economic development in this part of the state.”

Boothe said the legislation, which provides up to $10,000 in tax breaks for farmers who invest in irrigation equipment. By tapping into the plentiful natural resources of water through irrigation, Boothe said farmers could significantly increase the yields of their crops. “I had one man tell me that he raised corn and, after irrigating, had almost 200 bushels on one acre … that’s almost Iowa-level corn.”

And to illustrate how that translates to economic development, Boothe cited a University of Alabama at Huntsville study that shows that irrigating 200,000 acres of corn land and increasing its yield is the equivalent of brining an auto assembly plant to the state, in terms of jobs produced and revenue generated.

“That’s huge for Southeast Alabama and our folks in Pike County,” he said.

Another issue of paramount importance to his constituency is preserving Fort Rucker. Located in Ozark, the base serves as the helicopter training facility for the U.S. Army and is among the bases to be reviewed in an upcoming Army realignment process. “Protecting Fort Rucker is a priority for me,” he said. “Besides being in this legislative district, a lot of folks are employed there … we’ve already allocated funds to help work through that BRAC process and protect those jobs.”

Boothe’s tenure in the Legislature also has allowed him to develop key contacts and leadership opportunities, such as serving on the state Education Ways and Means Committee, which allows him to advocate for Troy University, “which is so important to our community.” And, serving as a committee chairman has allowed him to directly benefit the taxpayers in his district.

“When you serve in the House as a committee chairman, you get extra money in your discretionary funds for education,” he said. “I’ve returned over $170,000 to our district through the educational discretionary fund.”

Those funds help fund everything from classroom projects to construction of athletic facilities and provide additional funding in the educational system that Boothe said is the key to providing for economic development, quality of life and the success of the state.

“Education is so important to our community today,” he said, explaining that his mother was a second-grade teacher for 40-plus years and his wife was a classroom teacher as well. He said he considers himself a friend of education, even if he’s had to make difficult decisions as relates to education funding, particularly pay raises for educators.

“Since I’ve been in the Legislature the record will reflect that I have voted for every teacher pay increase that has come before the Legislature,” he said. “I think there have been a total of six.”

He also voted in 2013 for changes in the state retirement system funding mechanism, which in turn raised the individual contributions education employees had to pay for health insurance and their retirement. “I guess that’s the cuts to teacher pay that others have been citing,” he said. “At the time, we had to make some changes to the retirement system. (David) Bronner suggested the changes and I supported him.”

In 2014, Boothe said he voted for a bill which increased the state contribution toward health insurance costs rather than giving educators a 2 percent pay raise, a move he said saved teachers from having to pay the increasing costs of health insurance. “If we had the money I’d vote for every percent of pay increase for teachers that came up … I think classroom teachers deserve every dollar they can get.”

But, he said, the state is out of tax money. “Every 1 percent of a pay raise costs around $80 million statewide,” he said. “And that’s a recurring expense, every year … we’re trying to avoid proration, which we have not had since 2010. For so many years we kicked the can down the road and passed increasing without considering how to pay for it.”

He supports the Accountability Act, which provides state funding for students to pursue private education if their public schools are deemed “failing,” and says that the $40 million in set aside will not reduce any actual revenues distributed to the Pike County or Troy City Schools. “I asked that before I voted, and their levels of funding will remain the same,” he said. “But we had to do something. And passing the Accountability Act gave us an opportunity for those students in failing schools … it’s a wake-up call.”

He’s a proponent of pre-kindergarten education, if funding is available. “The studies prove that it works. And, I’m speaking from my own experience here, but I had a granddaughter in Birmingham who was in a pre-K program and learned a good bit of Spanish in it.”

He supports career and technical programs as viable, effective ways to prepare students for the workforce. He cites the aviation program at community college in Ozark, where “students can get trained and walk across the road to Fort Rucker and get a job.”

Boothe is a staunch proponent of economic development, both on a local and state level. “It’s all about jobs,” he said. “And the more outreach we have now, in this global society, the better able we’ll be to bring them to Southeast Alabama.”

He cites Troy University, with its 800-plus international students, as an untapped opportunity for global interactions. He supports the use of tax incentives to recruit new business and support existing businesses, when necessary. “While it may be a little bit painful now, it will pay dividends in the long run,” he said, citing companies such as Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky Support Services, both of which have been vital to the economic stability of Pike County.

He’s an equally staunch opponent of increasing taxes. “I’m not a tax increase person; I believe we need to live within our means,” he said. “Right now, our general fund is projected to be $200 million short for the year.” While changing the tax structure – such as eliminating the sales tax on groceries – sounds appealing to voters who are faced with their own budget shortfalls and difficult choices, Boothe said the challenge lies in reconciling those tax breaks with the state’s overall budget needs. “If there was a way you could show me how to do that and replace the lost dollars in the budget without increasing taxes, I’m for it.”

And he cautions that a statewide lottery isn’t the panacea some would think. “I think the people deserve the right to vote on a lottery and I have voted that way every time the issue has come up,” he said. “But I would have to see how the money would be spent before I could tell you if I’d personally vote for the lottery.”

On the issue of legislative pay raises, he said while he did vote for a legislative pay raise in the mid 2000s, he also voted to repeal that pay raise during his last term. “It will never come up again,” he said. The bill instead allows for an annual cost of living allowance increase in lawmakers’ pay, tied to economic indicators.

And if re-elected on Nov. 4, Boothe said he pledges to continue to serve with the same level of commitment to the people of Pike County. “I believe in the values of the Pike County and its people.”