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Big backing for bonds
AP survey shows overwhelming majority of Legislature supports school construction issue

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — An Associated Press survey of the Alabama Legislature found overwhelming support for a bond issue for school construction projects. The debate is simply over how big to make it.

During Gov. Bob Riley's re-election campaign, he said he would propose a bond issue of at least $500 million to pay for construction and technology projects in public schools and colleges.

In a survey of the Legislature, 19 percent of the House and 20 percent of the Senate said they would support $500 million.

The majority — 44 percent of the House and 61 percent of the Senate — said they favor more than $500 million.

The remaining were largely undecided, with a few opposed to a bond issue or favoring a smaller size.

The Associated Press has been conducting surveys of the Legislature before each regular session for 11 years. The surveys have traditionally forecast what the Legislature will accomplish during its regular session. This year's survey was answered by 76 percent of the House and 89 percent of the Senate.

It's clear from Riley that he's adding his voice to those debating the proper size for the bond issue. In an interview Wednesday, he said education tax dollars are continuing to come in at record levels, and he now feels comfortable seeking a bond issue larger than $500 million. But he will wait until closer to the start of the Legislature's regular session on March 6 to say how much.

Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, said he will push for at least $750 million.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Education budget committees, Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, and Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, are recommending $850 million.

The State Board of Education is pushing for $1 billion.

"I don't think $1 billion is too much, but $850 million is more reasonable," Sanders said.

He said the state is close to paying off some older bonds, and the state could afford to issue $850 million in new bonds without a major impact on the amount it has been paying each year for bonded indebtedness.

State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said Alabama's public schools have $4.3 billion in building needs. And that doesn't count the needs of two-year and four-year colleges. But he said education officials will be grateful for a bond issue, no matter what the size.

'K-12 people excited'

"All of these numbers are bigger than any bond issue that's ever been adopted in Alabama, so it's got K-12 people excited," he said.

The Legislature approved the state's last education bond issue in 1998. The bond issue, for a record $550 million, was largely used by schools to replace portable classrooms with traditional buildings.

The state currently has $4.4 billion in bond debt. That equates to $957 per capita, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

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

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