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January 10, 2012

Hamilton Richardson
Wetumpka Progress
Article Source »

Gov. Robert Bentley speaks to the leaders and officials of Elmore County last week at the annual Unity breakfast in Wetumpka. / HAMILTON RICHARDSON/PROGRESS

Gov. Robert Bentley speaks to the leaders and officials of Elmore County last week at the annual Unity breakfast in Wetumpka. / HAMILTON RICHARDSON/PROGRESS

Last Thursday, Gov. Robert Bentley took time out of his schedule to encourage and rally the leaders of Elmore County at the third annual Elmore County Economic Development Authority Unity Breakfast in Wetumpka.

Bentley, who spoke to a group that filled the Wetumpka Civic Center, talked about his priorities in the New Year and even took a few minutes to answer some questions from the audience.

About the spate of natural disasters that struck Alabama in 2011, and Elmore County in particular, the Governor said, "It was the greatest natural disaster that hit us."

Bentley went on to comment on how the state got through the times of trouble and hardship.

"It came from individuals that cared for each other," he said. "When local people worked together, it made the entire state do well. Trials make you stronger. It strengthened us as a state."

Those who had gathered to hear from the Governor included Rep. Barry Mask, Mayors Al Kelley, Jerry Willis and Jon Chapman, county commissioners Joe Faulk and David Bowen, members of the Elmore County Board of Education and city councils, among many others.

Bentley made it a point to tell the group how focused he has been, and will be, on job creation.

"The good news is that the unemployment rate has dropped," Bentley said. "The number one goal is to create more jobs. Putting people back to work is very important."

Bentley then addressed the problems associated with the budget shortfall.

"We thought budgets were bad--they're going to get worse," he said. "The legislature did an outstanding job (but) we had to ask people to make sacrifices."

The governor singled out the sacrifice made by teachers and the impact of ongoing proration.

"I love teachers. We're going to do everything we can to help our teachers," Bentley said. "Nothing is more important as a classroom teacher. 2013 is going to be worse (but) education is going to be OK."

The state's top elected officer also mentioned frustration with the General Fund's shortfalls.

"The General Fund will never get any better. We'll always fight over funding the General Fund," he said. "Medicaid is important, the police force is important, the court system is important. "

Bentley said that Alabama's budgeting process is "archaic" and that he will take a look at improving it.

He also compared the personal checkbooks of the average person who has to carefully budget and spend and keep track of their expenses to the way the government handles finances.

"The people get it--it's the government that doesn't get it," he commented.

Bentley went on to take a few questions from the group, which ranged from job creation to immigration to broadband.

One member of the audience asked for Bentley's clarification of the new immigration law. "The bill that was passed was a good bill," the governor said. "We are not going to repeal that bill. There were some parts that were not necessary. We are working to make it simpler--to clarify the enforcement of it."

Bentley added, "If you live and work in this state, we expect you to obey the law. There's nothing unjust or in humane about asking people to obey the law. The Federal Government has failed at enforcing the laws of this country."

The governor also answered a question about job creation by saying, "Job creation is the number one priority. We are working to help create an environment in this state to entice new industry. We have the best workers in the state.

The governor added that he the chief salesman of the state.

"I have to do my best to put our best face forward and our best foot forward," he said. "We're going to get through it. We have great people in this state."