MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley on the 2010 campaign trail promised recession-weary voters that he would not take a paycheck until the state reached "full employment."
Twenty-five months after his inauguration Bentley is still working for free. But he said the state's economy has made dramatic improvements.
"We are poised in this state to make tremendous gains," Bentley said.
Sitting in his Capitol office at the midpoint of a term few initially thought he could win, Alabama's unexpected governor looked back at the last two years with pride — and a touch of frustration — and said he is confident what the next two years, or perhaps more, would bring for his administration.
Bentley praised efforts to downsize government, find savings and recruit industry. He also defended his decision not to expand the state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.
Asked to name his greatest accomplishment, Bentley pointed to successes in economic recruitment and keeping the ship of state government afloat in stormy economic waters without going to voters for tax increases.
"We've announced more than 27,000 new, future jobs for the state of Alabama. That's not counting small businesses," Bentley said. Bentley said he has set an ambitious goal to trim $1 billion in spending from Alabama's budgets.
Bentley promised not to take a salary until unemployment hit 5.2 percent. The state's unemployment rate, which spiked to 10.6 percent at the end of 2009, has dropped to a four-year low, 7.1 percent in December. Though lower, it remains above levels from the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Bentley counted the decision of Airbus to build a plant in Mobile after getting a $158 million incentive package as one of the significant moments of his first two years in office.
"When we recruited Airbus, we were the talk of the world," Bentley said.