Senate leader to push school bond
MONTGOMERY (AP) — The new Democratic leader of the Alabama Senate said Thursday he will propose a record $750 million bond issue for school construction projects, which is 50 percent larger than the bond issue recommended by Republican Gov. Bob Riley.
Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, said he will push the largest bond issue in state history because schools need money to replace worn-out buildings and portable classrooms.
While the bond issue could grow to $1 billion, Riley has signaled he may go along with an amount larger than the $500 million issue he proposed. The political fight may be about how the money is distributed between K-12 and colleges and universities.
Mitchem said the state's economy is growing fast enough and producing enough new tax revenue for the state to afford the bond payments and give education employees a pay raise without raising taxes.
When the Legislature convenes March 6, Mitchem said he will be flexible about the $750 million figure. "I anticipate it would go somewhat higher, possibly as much as $1 billion," he said.
"It's clear to me that the people of Alabama want their children to attend modern and safe schools," Mitchem said.
Riley's bond proposal
Riley proposed a bond issue of at least $500 million in his Plan 2010 campaign platform last fall.
Riley's communications director, Jeff Emerson, said Thursday the $500 million bond issue was based on cost estimates at that time, and the administration is now determining whether to propose a larger bond issue based on the most recent budget numbers.
"If legislators now want to join Governor Riley in this effort, then today's announcement is a good, positive step forward," Emerson said.
With the governor being Republican and the Legislature being controlled by Democrats, Mitchem said having a Democratic leader push the bond issue "will help."
Last year, the Legislature rejected the governor's proposal to appropriate $500 million for school construction.
The Legislature last approved a school bond issue in 1998, a record $550 million in bonds to help replace portable classrooms with permanent structures.
State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said Alabama's public schools estimate their construction needs at $4.3 billion, with local school funds able to cover only about half that amount.
A state bond issue "would be the best present of all if it comes through," he said.
With any education bond issue approved by the Legislature, there is always a fight over distribution.
Mitchem said he will recommend 75 percent for K-12 schools and 25 percent for two-year and four-year colleges.
Morton said the State Board of Education favors a $1 billion bond issue, with 85 percent of it going to K-12 schools.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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