The Alabama Senate has voted in favor of a bill that would spend $1 billion on road and bridge projects throughout the state.
The Senate voted 25-10 Thursday, March 11, to forward to the House a bill that would reroute money from a state savings account for roads and bridges. Because it is a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution, voters would get the final say as early as this November.
Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, led the charge among members of the Senate Democratic Caucus for the new funding option. It would remove $100 million annually for 10 years from the Alabama Trust Fund. The fund has about $2.6 billion accumulated from natural gas wells drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast.
Barron tried to get the legislation through the statehouse during the 2009 regular session, but he failed by two votes to get the bill out of the Senate. As was the case this week, the vote was largely along party lines.
Supporters say the bill would help Alabama continue work on a long list of road and bridge projects after the $500 million the state received in federal stimulus runs dry. With growing unemployment in the state, another benefit touted for tapping into the trust fund is the estimated 29,000 jobs that would be created with the money.
The state would divide $25 million annually among its 67 counties and their cities for road and bridge work. Another $75 million each year would be routed to the Alabama Department of Transportation.
The current balance of the trust fund is $2.5 billion. A provision added to the bill calls for annual withdrawals to end if the balance dipped below $2 billion.
Critics of the plan question whether lawmakers should once again put their hands into the trust fund, which pays for various functions of state government, including the General Fund. The Legislature previously has tapped the trust fund to lure new industries and to benefit education.
Barron said the trust fund serves as Alabama’s “rainy day” fund, and it is time to tap into it.
“With experts telling us that our current economic condition is as close to the Great Depression as we’ve seen in our lifetime, I would say it is definitely raining,” Barron said in a statement. “It is time to use that money and use it wisely.”
To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama in 2010, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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