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CAPITOL LETTER
Riley celebrating after steel plant announcement

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com· (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Score one for bipartisan unity with Gov. Bob Riley and legislative leaders who helped bring a $3.7 billion German steel plant to South Alabama.

Score question marks about the future of bills awaiting passage in the Legislature because of continued bickering in the Senate.

Never-never land

“Come with me to Never-never land,” invited happy children in a video presentation that introduced German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp as Alabama’s newest multi-billion-dollar industry Friday morning. The atmosphere seemed like Never-never land as corporate officials, smiling politicians, state development officials and others described what is to come in the southern tip of Alabama’s Black Belt in Washington and Mobile counties.

An ebullient Riley said first lady Patsy Riley told him the call from Germany that announced the company was coming to Alabama, not Louisiana, came to the governor’s mansion at 5:37 a.m. on Friday.

“After that, everything was kind of a blur,” Riley said.

To steel company officials at the Montgomery announcement ceremony, Riley was clear in his welcome: “You will look to this moment as a defining moment for your company and you will look to this state as ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ ” Riley said to applause.

Understatement

“Three point seven billion dollars is frankly a lot,” said Robert P. Soulliere, the president and chief executive officer of ThyssenKrupp Steel and Stainless USA. Soulliere made the statement at a Friday news conference to explain that the company’s investment in its new plant, to be built in the Southwest Alabama town of Mount Vernon, was more than the $2.9 billion originally projected. The actual amount, according to wire reports, could reach $4.19 billion.

Riley thanked Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom and Democratic Speaker of the House Seth Hammett for the part they played in recruiting the steelmaker during a trip to Germany with Riley last fall and since.

The trip to Germany sent a unified message to the company that politicians in the state could work together on priority projects.

He also praised the Legislature for putting party differences aside to pass the economic development incentives package last week.

Balance of Senate power

Some observers wonder if the selection of Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, as the chancellor of the two-year college system will alter the balance of party power in the Senate. A Republican leader in the Senate, Byrne will step down from his Senate seat once he ties up loose ends in his Mobile law practice and negotiates his new job contract with the state Board of Education, which hired him.

House Speaker Hammett said he does not think so. “It will just change the numbers from 18 to 17 to 18 to 16. That is still a split,” Hammett said.

Mud-hut sleeping better

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said it looks like the practice he got sleeping in a mud hut in the Himalayas during his time working for international relief organizations would prepare him to sleep anywhere. Not so.

Orr spent Wednesday night camped out on a church bench-style “bed” with a thin pad for a mattress and a beach towel for a blanket. The reason was the all-night session in the Senate intended to pressure Democrats and Republicans in the Senate to resolve their differences. Bleary-eyed but neat the next morning, Orr said he slept for 20 minutes as Republicans stayed near the Senate chamber.

Orr said while Democrats in the Senate knew how long the recess would be, members from the other side were reluctant to leave in case Folsom called them back from the recess, which he did at 5 a.m. But many Democrats, including some in the Senate leadership, said they took catnaps in their offices as well. By mid-day Thursday, many walked the Senate halls looking just as sleepy as their colleagues did.

Pushing pills

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, an organizer of the coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans who want Senate rules changes, headed home Thursday afternoon after a sleepless night in the Senate. Senate war or no Senate war, Butler said he had to get some sleep before his shift as a pharmacist at a Decatur drug chain on Friday.

Butler said his group wants rule changes to make operations in the Senate fairer for Republicans as well as Democrats who hold only a one-person majority. The key is to hang up “sunset bills” authorizing continued operations of many state boards and commissions and usually considered a necessary yawner at the beginning of a legislative session.

“That is the only leverage we have,” Butler said of the group’s decision to stop passage of sunset bills. Once the Senate passes the bills, then legislation, including budgets, can pass with a majority of 18 senators instead of the 21 votes required to that point.

Meanwhile, bills passed by the House, including education and general fund budgets, stack up in Senate “in” baskets and wait.

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