Alabama’s unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in nearly three years, leaving two local lawmakers cautiously optimistic about the future.

A gradual decline in unemployment went from 9.8 percent in September to 9.3 percent in October, and finally to 8.7 percent for November.

Politicians across the state have been hesitant to attribute the decline in unemployment to the tough new immigration law, which faces a multitude of legal challenges, but some are speculating that a glimmer of better economic days could be ahead.

“That’s good news to hear. I hope the decline in unemployment continues,” said state Rep. Jeremy Oden, a Cullman County Republican. “There is some indication this may be a reflection of more of the permanent jobs instead of the temporary ones.”

While the full details of the significant drop in unemployment is not yet understood, Oden said the trend appears to be steady.

Cullman County’s unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent. In October, the rate stood at 7.6 percent. Compared to November 2010 — when unemployment stood at 8.2 percent locally — the reduction is even more significant.

“One point to consider is that, even through this rough period in the economy, Alabama has been aggressive in trying to get employment up, particularly in the private sector. We have some incentives, such as income tax breaks for businesses who provide work for someone who has been unemployed. I think we will continue to focus on incentives when we return to session next year,” Oden said. “However, we’ll have to watch the General Fund closely because of the projections that we’re getting. The Education Trust Fund should be in good shape this year.”

Concerning Gov. Robert Bentley’s recent talk about taking money from education to prop up the General Fund, Oden said he wouldn’t consider such a proposal.

“It would not even be possible for me. I want to see the Education Trust Fund rebuilt so that we can help move our schools forward,” Oden said.

State Sen. Paul Bussman, a Cullman Republican, agrees that some degree of optimism is surfacing around the state.

“One thing I’m seeing, especially around Cullman, is that a good deal of the tornado cleanup is done and business owners have gotten through the red tape. They’re starting to rebuild. I think that’s a factor at this time, which shows a lot of optimism. I think a lot of people in our area believe there is a bright future and are eager to get started,” Bussman said.

Bussman, who noted that any attempt to take money from education would not settle well with most lawmakers, said the condition of the General Fund will be a major concern in the next legislative session. But he also said looking at more incentives for business growth will continue to be a priority for lawmakers.

“Small business is important for restarting the economy. But to hire people they have to feel confident that there is business is poised to take off, or know that business is increasing,” Bussman said. “No one thought the economy would struggle for this long, and with the federal government being so contentious it affects the confidence of business leaders and the public. That’s why in the Legislature we have to show that we’re here for the public’s needs, to restore confidence in government.”

* David Palmer may be contacted at 256-734-2131, Ext. 213, or dpalmer@cullmantimes.com.

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