GOP leader rolls dice on gaming support on Tornado anniversary

Gov. Robert Bentley lays out cuts to Cullman Chamber of Commerce on Monday, April 27, 2015 Photo credit: Mike McClanahan

(WIAT) — The tornado that ripped Tuscaloosa apart on April 27th, 2011 changed the landscape forever.

It destroyed the Krispy Kreme on McFarland Boulevard and everything around it.

Four years later there’s a construction boom which promises a brighter future than ever. All around the store there is new construction going up.

Krispy Kreme owner Evan Smith said the neighborhood behind the store was mainly older houses before the storm, which were often rented by college students. The same area will soon be a retail development. There is also new housing going up on both sides of McFarland, according to Smith.

“At the moment it happened at the moment you think, ‘oh it’s the end of the world, I’ve lost everything.’ But at the end of the day you know God looks after everybody and everything’s bounced back ten times stronger than what it was,” said Smith.

Another hard hit town that’s making a comeback is Cullman. Four years ago the downtown area was decimated.

Today Cullman Mayor Max Townson said 90-95 percent of the businesses destroyed four years ago have rebuilt or relocated.

“Y’all did a tremendous job in reporting, but I think that’s why so many people weren’t hurt here in Cullman. They took warning and I think that they will do that from now on,” said Townson.

Mayor Townson said the most visible signs of the tornado damage in Cullman these days are the empty lots along highway 278. The homes they once held have been cleared to one day widen the road.

Cullman is the first place Governor Bentley visited after the tornadoes that wreaked havoc statewide. He returned on the four year anniversary.

“I see progress everywhere as far as our long-term recovery is concerned, but there still are areas that have not rebuilt,” said Bentley.

In Cullman the Governor also laid out the budget cuts that he predicts if the legislature doesn’t approve tax increases this year.

Just looking at a few of the specifics he says the cuts would include: $300,000 less in funding for Cullman Community Corrections, 35 seniors would lose funding that allows them to get assistance at home instead of an institution and about 221 children in Cullman County would lose temporary assistance from DHR.

“This budget that the legislature’s looking at right now with no revenue raising it’s going to be a drastic effect on the entire state of Alabama and everyone,” said Bentley.

Bentley said if the legislature won’t approve new taxes, the state will have fewer matching funds to respond to disasters like April 27th.

Mayor Townson worries about that possibility.

“They had matching funds and discretionary funds that helped us and we were able to obtain some of it, just like we did from the federal government on the cleanup,” said Townson.

The same day, Senate President Pro-Tempore Del Marsh announced that gambling revenue could generate $400 million and possibly stave off massive cuts.

The Senate President Pro-Temp’s press office issued a release saying that the Institute for Accountability and Government Efficiency at Auburn University of Montgomery had released a study on the topic of gaming commissioned by Marsh.

According to the press release, the study found that a lottery and casino gaming would have an annual economic impact of $1.2 billion on the state, would create $400 million in new revenue for state programs and would create more than 11,000 new jobs in Mobile, Birmingham, Macon and Greene County.

The release contained the following quote attributed to Senator Marsh.

“This is an extraordinary finding by the AUM group and clearly finds that casino gaming and a lottery would have a major economic impact on Alabama,” Marsh said.  “These two ideas will generate hundreds of millions of new dollars for state programs at a time when essential government services may be cut.”

WIAT asked Governor Bentley if he would support the new and seemingly unprecedented republican push for gaming revenue.

Governor Bentley told WIAT that he is not going to discuss gambling as a revenue solution. He called it a distraction, but did not directly say whether he would oppose gambling legislation.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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