Alabama voters to decide on $1 billion roads plan

| 4/27/2010

The Alabama Legislature has given the go-ahead to put before voters a question about spending $1 billion on road and bridge projects throughout the state.

The House voted 86-13 to agree on changes to the bill, which would reroute money from a state savings account for roads and bridges. Senators followed suit on a 25-8 vote. Because it is a proposed amendment to the Alabama Constitution, voters will get the final say on the general election ballot Nov. 2.

The bill – SB121 – seeks to 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.

Critics of the plan question whether the trust fund should be dipped into once again. The fund 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.

Supporters say the bill would help Alabama to continue work on a long list of road and bridge projects after the $514 million the state received in federal stimulus runs dry. Other benefits touted for tapping into the trust fund is it would help lower the state’s 11 percent unemployment rate by putting people to work.

Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, 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.”

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 in the bill calls for annual withdrawals to end if the balance dipped below $2 billion.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Alabama, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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