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Riley seeks millions to lure firms

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — ThyssenKrupp AG is not a well-known corporate name in Alabama, but it will be after this week.

Gov. Bob Riley summoned the state Legislature into special session Monday to give him $400 million in borrowing power to offer incentives to the German steelmaker and other industries looking at locating plants in Alabama.

Riley visited Germany and scheduled the special session after ThyssenKrupp announced it had narrowed its search for a plant site to an area in north Mobile County and a location in Louisiana between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The $2.9 billion plant, employing 2,700 people, would be the largest private industrial project ever in Alabama.

Alabama is running behind Louisiana in putting together an incentive package. The Louisiana Legislature met in special session in December to approve $300 million.

Riley is hoping the Alabama Legislature will wrap up its special session in close to five days — the minimum time needed to pass his legislation — and then be ready for its regular session starting March 6.

“This is relatively simple,” he said in an interview.

Not so, said state Sen. Roger Bedford, whose Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee will handle Riley’s legislation.

“We are not going to give a blank check for $400 million with no accountability,” he said.

No details

Bedford said the governor has not communicated with legislators about the details of his plan or about what industries he hopes to attract other than ThyssenKrupp.

“He’s the only governor I’ve known to operate that way,” the veteran legislator said.

In speeches across the state, Riley says Alabama is competing for 10 major industrial projects that could provide 10,000 jobs.

They include a plant in the Muscle Shoals and Tuscumbia area that would employ 1,500 and another in the Montgomery area with 500 to 1,000 jobs.

Riley’s speeches have apparently had an impact. Capital Survey Research Center, the polling arm of the Alabama Education Association, surveyed 634 Alabamians between Feb. 19-22 about the special session.

The polling firm found 60 percent in favor of Riley’s proposal, 25 percent against and 15 percent unsure. The poll had a sampling error margin of 4 percentage points, director Gerald Johnson said.

The Republican governor has also garnered support from Democratic House Speaker Seth Hammett and Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., who lured Mercedes-Benz to Alabama in 1993 while serving as governor.

“Alabama can’t afford to miss this chance to pass this incentive package. I’m fully supportive of the special session,” said Folsom, who accompanied Riley to Germany to visit ThyssenKrupp officials.

Folsom, who presides over the state Senate, said a special session was necessary because “we are on a very short time frame with these projects.”

Under Alabama’s constitution, the Legislature’s approval of $400 million in bond selling authority won’t be enough. Alabama voters will have to approve it, too. But the constitution won’t allow a statewide referendum until 90 days after the session ends.

By isolating the issue in a special session, Riley can get a vote in June. Waiting for the regular session to end would put the referendum in September.

Amendment

In the special session, Riley is also asking the Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment creating two trust funds. They would hold money set aside to pay the future health insurance costs of retired state workers and education employees.

Passage of the legislation is necessary to protect Alabama’s bond rating and make sure the state gets a good interest rate on the $400 million it plans to borrow, Riley said.

Some have used the special session to argue that Alabama should rewrite its 1901 constitution and make it easier for state officials to address economic opportunities. But Riley disagrees.

“I don’t think we’ve run into any impediments that are unwieldy,” he said.

Special session begins Monday

What’s new: Gov. Bob Riley summoned the Alabama Legislature into special session at 5 p.m. Monday.

The reason: Riley wants $400 million in borrowing authority to offer incentives to companies interested in locating plants in Alabama.

The big prize: Alabama is competing with Louisiana for a ThyssenKrupp steel plant employing 2,700 workers.

The Associated Press

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

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