Alabama Scene

No, Gov. Barbour, the Gulf isn’t fine

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

“Beautiful,” the governor of Mississippi observed to the national media this week about the beaches in his state: “The coast is fine; y’all tell everybody to come on down. Get a picture of that beach; it’s pristine,” he urged a photographer.

Gov. Haley Barbour, however, has the marshlands along the coast of Louisiana and the barrier islands to the south, including the Gulf Islands National Seashore, to protect the Mississippi coast from the oil soiling our beaches.

It is certainly OK for the governor to promote his own state, just as Gov. Bob Riley spent the past weekend in Gulf Shores to help promote tourism on Alabama’s beaches.

However, please take note, Gov. Riley, those casinos along the coast of Mississippi that attract 20 percent of their customers from Alabama to help fund Mississippi schools have the sugar white sand while on the Alabama coast we tip-toe through the oil globs. Ironic, isn’t it, that we again suck Mississippi’s exhaust, this time at the hands of Mother Nature?

The Gulf certainly isn’t fine, Gov. Barbour. It has been damaged for at least a decade. You should ask business owners along the Baldwin coast, who will likely see a 50-percent reduction in profits this summer.

You should ask people like Tom Mann, who operates Adventure Sports in Montgomery and reports that damage to his business has taken several forms. Bookings are down, but even in areas open to diving, he must cancel trips because no boats are available because BP has chartered them all to lay booms.

Gov. Barbour, you should ask the owners of fishing boats, including those operating from the shores of Mississippi, and get their take on fishing in the Gulf for the near future or even the extended future. Tell those in the lodging business that “everything is fine on the Gulf,” but be prepared to exit their businesses quickly.

And finally, Gov. Barbour, ask your casino owners on the coast if it’s “fine” that crowds of summer vacationers will no longer roll the dice or stuff those dollars into the slot machines.

But by golly, Governor, the home folks and players from Alabama will still be there and soon in even larger numbers to help you build more schools and educate more Mississippi children. You see, our “bingobusting” governor has revved up his antigambling task force again and is trying to shut down decent paying jobs at Greenetrack, one of the closest legal gambling establishments to your border.

The issue has been delayed for a week or so, but you can perhaps look forward to Gov. Riley’s help once more in funding your state’s budget from the pockets of Alabama gamblers. It is interesting, Gov. Barbour, that our governor is attempting to close a profitable bingo operation even though it owes $72.7 million in unpaid taxes to the state. Perhaps he will someday explain that logic to us.

I know, Gov. Barbour, that you have been heavily involved in the promotion of casino gambling in Mississippi, which has been a real bonanza for your state.

Your state added gambling as a new revenue source in 1990 when the Gaming Control Act legalizing dockside casino gaming was adopted.

Under the act’s provisions, counties that border the Mississippi River or the Gulf Coast can legalize gambling. Currently, the state is home to 30 casinos on the coast and the Mississippi River plus two Choctaw Indian casino operations.

In fiscal 2009, your state collected more than $312 million in taxes from the casinos, and there’s talk of increasing the take. In addition, you collect taxes from individuals on their winnings.

To make sure Mississippi tax collectors are getting all that’s due, winnings that casinos must report on a W2G, 1099, or other information returns have been subject to a 3-percent income tax that’s collected by upfront withholding.

Gov. Barbour, even though you misspoke about the damage to the Gulf, wouldn’t you like to come over and serve as our governor for a few years? Alabama could use $300- million-a-year in new revenue.