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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2007
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Riley targets
6,000 jobs

Governor considers special session
to help industrial recruiting

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Industrial projects that could bring up to 6,000 jobs to Alabama may hinge on a proposed special session of the state Legislature, the state's finance director said Monday.

Word leaked last week that Gov. Bob Riley may call the Legislature into special session over two measures. The first would increase the state's borrowing limit to fund industrial recruiting. It also could affect interest rates for school construction projects.

ThyssenKrup, a German steel company, already has announced that Mobile is a contender for a plant that could generate 1,000 jobs.

Finance Director Jim Main said an unnamed company considering building a plant in Northwest Alabama also is talking to Mississippi, and a company considering a Central Alabama site is in discussions with Georgia.

"The stars are all in line now," Main said. "People all over the world are talking about coming to Alabama. We need to act while we are hot right now. It will not always be that way."

The second measure would enable the state to establish trust funds for future retiree health costs, helping the state to meet new federal accounting requirements, Main said.

Riley, who returns Wednesday from an industrial recruiting trip to Europe, could announce the special session by Friday, with Feb. 26 as a potential start date.

The governor's communications director, Jeff Emerson, told The Associated Press that waiting to address the measures in the Legislature's regular session would leave them competing with other legislation for attention.

The urgency for a special session involves Alabama's competition with surrounding states for at least three new industrial projects "from northwest Alabama to Central Alabama to the Gulf Coast," Main said. The three industrial projects require increases in the amount of money the state can borrow through bond sales, and the state needs to be able to act on the projects by summer, Main said.

The Legislature must first pass legislation increasing the state's debt ceiling. Then, in a special election, voters must approve amending the state constitution to allow the increase. By law, the election cannot take place until at least 90 days after the end of the session in which lawmakers approved the increase.

Main said studies conducted over the past two years indicate the state's offshore oil and natural gas reserves are larger than previously thought. The figures show that the state should be able to pay back the bonds from its oil and gas revenue without a problem, he said.

"When the oil and gas board experts explain the new studies, I think people will think we are conservative in proposing $750 million," Main said.

A special session held before the regular session, which begins March 6, would isolate the topics from all other issues going on in the Legislature, Main added.

Area lawmakers endorse raising the borrowing limit from its current $350 million to the proposed $750 million, and they approve of the retiree trust funds. But not all agree that a special session is necessary.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he thinks the special session before the regular session is likely to happen. "Governor Riley has been there before, and if he says it is necessary to get a vote of the people in June, I say let's do it," Orr said.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, shares Orr's opinion.

Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, said he is for the measures if they help bring industry to the state and help set up programs to stabilize future state retiree benefits. But he wants the special session to be within the regular session.

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, said the state needs the measures, "But I think it is wasting $100,000 to call an early special session before the regular session." He wants the Legislature to recess the regular session soon after it begins, go into special session, then resume the regular session.

"There is very little done the first week except introducing bills and assigning them to committee," Butler said.

Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, agreed with Butler on the session's timing. He said it is important not to rush study of complicated bills involving bond and trust funds. "I have never seen a complicated bill that did not have errors, and these will be complicated," Little said. "If (the governor) wanted a special session, he should have called it for December or January. Now, I think it is just too late."

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