School bond bill seen growing
Lawmakers poised to begin work on plan to borrow money for educational buildings
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — Alabama lawmakers are almost ready to begin work on a plan to borrow as much as $1 billion to build new schools and fix old education buildings across the state.
Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, has introduced a bill calling for a record $850 million bond issue for school construction and said Monday he expects it may grow to $1 billion when it is considered next week by the House Education Appropriations Committee.
Now in the second half of the session, the bond issue bill had been scheduled to be considered by the committee on Wednesday, but Lindsey said the proposal is still being worked on and won't be ready for committee action until the next week. The size of the bond issue — and just how it will be divided between K-12 and the colleges — are being sorted out.
Perry County schools Superintendent John H. Heard III said his Black Belt school district desperately needs the money from the bond issue, mostly because the poor system receives most of it's funding from the state and gets little support from local taxes.
"We have some schools that haven't been painted in 25 years. We've got old carpets on the floors that are giving our kids allergies," Heard said. He said gyms in three schools in the West Alabama county have no air conditioning.
Gov. Bob Riley proposed the bond issue in his State of the State speech to repair crumbling school buildings and to build new schools to keep up with rapid growth in some parts of the state.
The bill calls for the bond issue proceeds to be split, with grades K-12 receiving 70.68 percent and two-year and four-year colleges 29.32 percent. But Lindsey said he expects the split to be about 75 percent to 25 percent when it goes before the committee, which he chairs.
Lindsey said he expects the bond issue proceeds will be distributed to all school systems in the state, using a system where the money would be handed out depending on number of students.
"One thing it does is small districts will know how much money they will bet and they can look for additional ways to match that money," Lindsey said. He said it will cost the state about $79 million a year to repay the bond issue.
With the 2007 regular session almost two-thirds complete, an obstacle to the bond issue could be a fight over rules that has stalled action in the Senate. But Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, predicted senators will find a way to work together to pass the school construction program.
"When we get down to crunch time I don't think there's one senator out of 35 senators who wants to go home without passing a bond issue. I think that's going to be the highlight of session," Mitchem said.
Mitchem said there are schools that are overcrowded or in disrepair across the state that could be helped by a bond issue.
"I've got one school in my district that's got six to eight portable classrooms. Surely we can get rid of these with the bond issue," he said.
With interest rates relatively low, Mitchem said this was a good time to pass a large bond issue.
Riley said Monday he continues to support the bond issue, but doesn't want it to grow too much.
"We certainly feel safe with $850 million, and we would like to keep it as close to that as we can. It's very important we get the bond issue," Riley said.
The bond issue is supported by Democrats and Republicans.
"I don't know of anyone who is opposed to it," said House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.
Hubbard said he expects Republicans in the House to support the bond issue "as long as it's close to what the governor proposed."
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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