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Riley increasing size of education bond to at least $750 million

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Gov. Bob Riley, who talked about a $500 million education bond issue during his re-election campaign, now says the state can afford at least $750 million for school construction projects statewide.

The Republican governor will unveil his specific recommendation during his State of the State speech Tuesday, when the new Legislature begins its first regular session.

But in an interview Friday, Riley said, “Based on all the numbers and all the estimates that we’ve looked at so far, we can conservatively have in excess of $750 million in the bond issue.”

When campaigning for re-election last year, Riley called for a bond issue of at least $500 million for school construction and technology projects. After winning re-election in November, he said he was re-examining the figures based on the state’s strong economic picture.

Riley said the state’s economic performance is causing tax collections for education to grow fast enough to support a larger bond issue than he originally proposed.

“The numbers are growing almost exponentially and have for a while,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville, has called for a bond issue of $750 million. The chairmen of the House and Senate education budget committees, Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, and Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, have proposed $850 million. The State Board of Education has called for $1 billion.

Mitchem said he’s confident the figure will end up between $750 million and $1 billion.

At that amount, it would be the state’s largest bond issue ever for improving schools. The state’s last education bond issue — and the previous record — was $550 million in 1998. That bond issue was used largely to replace portable classrooms with traditional school buildings.

Whenever the Legislature approves an education bond issue, size is not the only big issue of debate. There are also fights over how to divide the money between K-12 schools and two-year and four-year colleges.

Riley said he will recommend the same division that’s found in the annual state education budget: 71 percent for K-12 and 29 percent for higher education.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said he favors the same split.

“That’s reasonable, but it will be the real contentious part of the process,” he said.

PAC transfers

For the speaker, his top priority for the regular session is passing a bill to ban the transfer of money between political action committees, which hides the original source of money before it is given to candidates.

“PAC-to-PAC will be the very first bill,” Hammett said.

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

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