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A bipartisan effort
Governor, legislators lay aside differences to compete for plant

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Senate Democrats and the Republican governor put aside their differences Wednesday to make sure the Alabama Legislature will pass an industrial incentive package that will allow the state to compete with Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana for major factories.

The question for lawmakers is whether the truce over one issue — jobs — can be extended from this week’s special session into next week, when the Legislature begins its longer regular session with the state budgets and hundreds of bills awaiting consideration.

“I’m going to remain optimistic,” Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. said Wednesday.

Fragile truce

The special session truce is so fragile that the chairman of the Senate Confirmations Committee said he won’t ask the Senate to consider the governor’s reappointment of a former state senator to the Troy University board of trustees because it could ignite debate that might stall the incentive package.

But with issues like that off the agenda for now, Folsom predicted the incentive package will win final approval on Friday, which is the first day possible under state law.

“Hopefully that will send the right message to industries looking to locate here,” said Folsom, who presides over the Senate.

Republican Gov. Bob Riley called the Democrat-controlled Legislature into special session Monday to consider raising the state’s borrowing limit by $400 million.

That would allow Riley’s administration to offer incentives to several major industries considering Alabama and its neighbors.

Battling other states

Alabama is using a site about 25 miles north of Mobile to compete with Louisiana for a $2.9 billion ThyssenKrupp steel plant that will employ 2,700 people. Colbert County in northwest Alabama is up against Mississippi for a railroad car plant employing 1,500. And the Montgomery area of central Alabama is competing with Georgia for an engine plant that will provide 500 to 1,000 jobs.

The governor’s incentives legislation could be used for those projects or any others pursued by the state in the future.

On Wednesday, the House unanimously passed its version of the governor’s incentives legislation, and the Senate approved its identical version unanimously.

Then the two houses swapped bills, and they expect to complete work on each other’s bills on Friday.

“Economic development is the key to success for everything we are doing in Alabama,” House budget committee Chairman John Knight, D-Montgomery, said.

When the session began, Senate Democratic leaders complained that Riley had traveled across the state to promote the incentive package, but hadn’t bothered to explain it to them. The complaints followed a legislative organizational session in January, where Riley’s allies tried, but failed by one vote, to oust the Senate’s Democratic leadership.

Riley dashed back from a governors’ conference in Washington on Monday afternoon and spent the rest of the evening plus Tuesday talking with Democratic legislators to make sure they were behind his proposal.

Riley said he told legislators that “total united Democrat, Republican, House, Senate support is certain to be noted by all the prospects we are dealing with.”

Senate budget committee Chairman Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said Riley apologized to Democrats for the lack of communication. “We stressed to him these were the kind of meetings we should have had before the special session started, not afterward,” Bedford said.

Hard feelings over Dial

At the start of the session Monday, Riley sent to the Senate several appointments he had made that require the Senate’s approval to become effective.

Senate Confirmations Committee Chairman Myron Penn, D-Union Springs, said the appointments were a surprise to him, and his committee won’t send any of them to the Senate for approval because they include former state Sen. Gerald Dial, D-Lineville. Dial, a Riley ally, often feuded with the Senate’s Democratic leaders, who united to help get him defeated in last year’s Democratic primary.

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

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