The Bottom Line

Published 10:28 am Sunday, July 13, 2008

By Staff
One-on-one with representative Baker: Part two
By Tray Smith
Last week, this column featured the first of a two part interview with Alan Baker. The column focused on his thoughts about the previous legislative session and his job. This column will feature Mr. Baker’s thoughts on gambling, education, and economic development.
Q: This year, the legislature took up legislation that would have legalized certain types of gambling at dog tracks in Mobile and Birmingham. This would have undercut the efforts of the Poarch Creek Indians. How do you feel about this legislation?
A: One proposal of the bill was actually tied to Medicaid funding, so the revenues would be used to support Medicaid. I think It would have caused unequal competition for the Poarch Creek Indians which would be highly unfair.
Q; If we are going to legalize gambling, why just do it in Mobile and Birmingham. Why not do it statewide? Is it because of Milton McGregor’s (Dog Track Owner) influence?
A: McGregor does have quiet a large amount of influence with his gambling operation. Some feel like those facilities ought to not even be allowed, and I respect that opinion. Then there are those that feel like it needs to be restricted to certain location. They are receptive to gambling but don’t want it state wide; like people who do not object to alcoholic beverages but do not want it sold right there next to a church or school.
I think the most effective way to regulate this industry would be to establish a state gaming commission that could oversee the gaming operations we already have, and seek public input about any new gaming operations.
Q: Would a gaming commission have jurisdiction over PCI?
A: I think that would require legal opinions from the Attorney General, and possibly the state or U.S. Supreme Court. The PCI operates outside of the general laws of Alabama, and they report most directly to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Although they are a very cooperative partner here in our county and they extend themselves into the community in a very positive way; the state has limited oversight. I would like to see PCI continue to maintain their current operation and I wish them well with the expansion projects they have ongoing and would like to see things continue to move forward with their operations
Q: Why can’t they have card tables?
A: They need to come to an agreement with the state in order to have card tables. The Governor is opposed to any expansion of gambling so I do not think an agreement is very likely with the current administration. I am still hopeful, however, that the Governor and the Poarch Creek Indians will be able to come to an agreement.
Q: I understand PCI could get card gambling approved from the United States Department of the Interior, and under such an agreement the state would get no tax revenue?
A: That is as I understand it as well.
Q: There was a rumor South Alabama was in the running for a new Volkswagen plant. Did we loose out on that one?
A: Although the sites in South Alabama are no longer being considered by Volkswagen, our state is still vying for the facility. We have a site in Limestone County currently competing against a site in Chattanooga, Tennessee and another site in Michigan for the plant, which should provide about 2,000 jobs. More than looking at this as a loss for our area, we have to view it as a potential win for our state.
Q: How strong is our chance of holding onto the Northrup Grumman tanker contract?
A: The Governmental Accountability Office recently released a report that alleged there had been discrepancies in the process through which the contract was awarded, which has put a hold on things. The report, however, did not address the quality of Northrup Grumman’s aircraft. I continue to hear positive things from Senator Shelby, Senator Sessions, Congressman Bonner, and Mobile officials. I am optimistic.
This is a 41 billion dollar contract. It is not a temporary arrangement, but a long term commitment. If we can hold onto the contract, it will be a huge boost not only for Mobile, but for all of South Alabama. The potential for attracting feeder plants and suppliers will be tremendous.
Q: We have strong economic growth here in South Alabama, but consumers are still feeling squeezed in the current economy. How can the state address their pain?
A: We have got to do something about gas prices.
Q: Last week, Senator McCain proposed lifting the federal prohibition on drilling in some offshore areas. Do you agree?
A: Absolutely. I am very environmentally conscious, but just this past weekend I toured a natural gas facility off the coast of Mobile Bay. The environmental safeguards are amazing. Over 500 feet of pipeline run through Mobile Bay, and they are protected from almost every imaginable scenario, such as a runaway barge, etc. Nothing is risk free, but the risk of an environmental catastrophe is small. If the federal government lifts the moratorium, I hope the state will immediately follow suit and allow drilling in environmentally friendly ways.
I want to thank Mr. Baker for taking the time to speak with me. We at the Advance appreciate his service.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@

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