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Special session points to needs of existing industry

MONTGOMERY (AP) — The Legislature’s special session to recruit new industries has brought up calls from lawmakers for Alabama to do more to keep existing industries.

Legislators said Wednesday they won’t try to rewrite the governor’s $400 million incentives package for new industries, but they will try to come with legislation to provide financial help for existing industries that want to modernize their plants to protect jobs already in Alabama.

They cited the Goodyear tire plant in Gadsden and its 1,400 jobs as an example. Goodyear considered closing the plant during last year’s contract negotiations, but the company spared it after state and local officials said they would try to find ways to help the aging plant.

“As we work hard to get quality jobs, we don’t need to turn a blind eye toward our quality existing corporate citizens. Some of them have been here since the first of the 20th century, not the 21st century. Some of them came here during the Depression when our people were selling apples on the street,” Rep. Jack Page, D-Gadsden, told the House.

The Legislature’s special session on industrial incentives is expected to end Friday. The lawmakers return Tuesday to start their 31/2-month-long regular session.

Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, said it would have slowed down Gov. Bob Riley’s incentives package to try to address existing industries in the one-week special session.

House budget committee Chairman John Knight, D-Montgomery, and Senate budget committee Chairman Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said that when the Legislature returns next week, they will try to pass a resolution setting up a task force to recommend ways Alabama can help existing industries.

The problem, legislators said, is that Alabama’s industrial incentives apply to industries creating jobs and not to industries trying to protect plants from becoming obsolete. The money spent on modernizing the plants often doesn’t create jobs, but it does secure jobs that have been in the community for generations.

“I won’t quit — starting next week — until we do something to help existing industry,” Means said.

Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, and Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, said the special session has also demonstrated the need to modernize the state constitution.

The $400 million incentives package being considered by the Legislature is a constitutional amendment, and it won’t become effective unless ratified by Alabama voters.

in a statewide referendum on June 5.

Other states competing with Alabama for new industries can offer incentives without having to amend their constitutions, the legislators said.

The governor told reporters Tuesday that the constitution has not been an obstacle in negotiations with companies looking for plant sites.

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

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