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Compromise Approved on $1B Ala. Roads Plan

Tue April 27, 2010 - Southeast Edition
Phillip Rawls - ASSOCIATED PRESS



MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) The Alabama Legislature has approved a $1 billion compromise that would start the largest road building program in state history and create construction jobs during the recession.

The Senate approved the compromise 25-8 April 21 and the House agreed 86-13 the same night.

The spending plan won’t take effect unless passed by Alabama voters in a statewide referendum on the general election ballot Nov. 2. That’s when legislators also will be standing for election.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, is optimistic voters will embrace the plan because it would generate thousands of jobs to help lower the state’s 11 percent unemployment rate.

“There is nothing more we need in the state today than jobs,” Barron said.

The Alabama Road Builders Association, which pushed Barron’s legislation, said it would kick in about the time Alabama finishes using the $513.7 million it received for road projects from the federal stimulus program.

Earlier in the legislative session, the House and Senate passed different versions of Barron’s bill. A conference committee worked out the compromise April 21.

The bill provides $100 million a year for 10 years from natural gas revenue in a state savings account called the Alabama Trust Fund. The trust fund keeps getting revenue each year from natural gas wells drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast. The bill contains a provision that will suspend the $100 million allocation if the trust fund drops below $2 billion.

The bill allocates money to every congressional district and every county.

The House version originally contained many special projects, but the compromise trimmed it back to a few, including $20 million for mass transit in Jefferson County, $2 million for an Interstate 59-U.S. 280 connector in Birmingham, $5 million for the State Docks in Mobile and $1 million for an Interstate 10 connector at Dothan.

Some House members complained about the trimming, but Barron said he was pleased. “It’s not a Christmas tree,” he said.

Opponents in the House and Senate questioned taking money out of the Alabama Trust Fund because its interest earnings help fund state agencies, and reducing the size of the trust fund makes less money available for the services those agencies provide.

“The savings account may be needed for more essential functions of government,” said Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne.

But House budget committee Chairman John Knight, D-Montgomery, said the spending plan is good. “You can’t neglect the infrastructure of this state,” he said.