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Governor sets special session
Riley seeking approval for multimillion-dollar incentives to lure industries

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Gov. Bob Riley is calling the Alabama Legislature into a special session to begin Feb. 26 to approve multimillion-dollar incentive measures to lure industries to Mobile County and other areas of the state.

Riley said Friday the special session is necessary to help the state land the new industries, which he said could bring thousands of jobs to the state.

"If we fail to take action immediately, we run the risk of losing these jobs to other states," Riley said.

In the special session, Riley said he will ask the Legislature to increase the state's bond-issuing capacity from $350 million to $750 million. Riley's communications director, Jeff Emerson, has said Alabama needs the extra bonding authority to offer industrial incentives to 10 plants the state is recruiting, including the 2,700-employee ThyssenKrupp steel plant for Mobile County, a plant for the Montgomery area that would employ 500 to 1,000 people, and a plant for the Shoals area in northwest Alabama that would employ 1,500.

Louisiana, Alabama's only competitor for the $2.9 billion ThyssenKrupp plant, had a special session in December where its Legislature approved using $300 million to lure the company.

The special session will also include the creation of two trust funds to save money for paying the health care costs of retired state employees and educators. Creating those trust funds is necessary for the state to keep a good bond rating, and keeping a good bond rating will save the state interest payments on the millions Riley wants to borrow for use in industrial recruitment.

Emerson said a good bond rating will also save the state money if the Legislature approves during the regular session a separate bond issue, proposed by Riley, to finance construction and technology programs in Alabama's public schools.

The Legislature is scheduled to begin its 2007 regular session March 6, eight days after the start of the special session.

Riley said he expects the special session to end March 2, which means it would be completed in five days, the minimum time required for a bill to become law. The announcement of the special session comes just days after Riley returned from an industry-hunting trip to Europe with House Speaker Seth Hammett and Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. Hammett and Folsom, both Democrats, said Friday they agree with the Republican governor that there is a need to move quickly to attract new business to the state.

"To win these economic development projects, the Alabama Legislature must move quickly to approve a financial incentive package that will allow our state to compete for these good paying jobs our prople need and deserve," Hammett said in a statement.

But the speaker cautioned Riley to seek input and support from as many lawmakers as possible before the start of the special session.

The Democratic Party Caucus in the Senate had asked Riley to wait and either deal with the bills in the regular session or call a special session during the regular session. In a letter to Riley, the senators said it would save the state money to wait and debate the bills after the start of the regular session.

One of those senators, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said Friday that Riley needs to explain his industry hunting efforts to Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature before the start of the special session.

"I think before we start moving these bills in the Senate we are going to want to know what are the needs for these projects and will we be successful if we go forward and give the governor this authority. We are not interested in giving him a blank check," Bedford said.

He suggested that the governor might consider calling the special session earlier to give lawmakers more time to pass the bills before the start of the regular session.

Alabama Retirement Systems chief executive officer David Bronner said Friday that it's important for lawmakers to pass the bills before the start of the regular session.

"I can't overemphasize how long it has taken to get these projects down to the where we are the final two or three locations. To lose them now would be just frightful," Bronner said.

Several of the bills are constitutional amendments and must be approved by the voters.

A special session this month would allow a referendum to be held in June. If the bills were approved in the regular session, the vote could not be held until September, which state officials say could be too late to lure the new industries.

Legislators said they hope to put aside political differences during the special session.

"It is a good idea for us to increase incentives to lure business for economic development," said Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, who represents the Shoals area of northwest Alabama which hopes to lure one of the new businesses.

House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard said he supports the governor's decision to call the special session.

"This is too important to leave to chance and hope that we can get it done in the regular session," said Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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