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Lawrence economic development board bill faces House vote

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

MONTGOMERY — A Lawrence County lawmaker's bill setting up an economic development commission for the county could come up for a final vote in the state House on Tuesday.

If the bill does come up, Rep. Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro, said he plans to amend it. His amendment, he said, would remove language giving a set percentage of new Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax revenue to each of the districts of the state lawmakers who represent the county.

Letson and Sens. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Zeb Little, D-Cullman, represent Lawrence County. Letson said he hopes taking out that provision will help remove questions about how the revenue will be used.

Earlier, when required legal advertisements for the bill began running in a Moulton newspaper, officials in the county termed the new TVA revenue a slush fund for lawmakers. Letson denied the charge but said his amendment would be one way to help assure people in the county that the use of the money will be above board.

The new TVA revenue came about because of a 2006 law that increased TVA-in-lieu-of-tax funds to counties where TVA supplies power by 3 percent to a total of 78 percent. The increase for Lawrence County amounted to about $85,000 in 2006.

Letson's legislation would set up the commission to decide the use of the TVA revenue. He believes the commission would help spur economic development in the county.

One example is a proposed rail spur to connect to a proposed expansion of Lockheed Martin Corp. in Courtland. Letson said the expansion depends on the spur's construction.

The lawmaker said project could bring 125 jobs to the county. He hopes the TVA revenue will help the county find other economic development projects as well.

Letson said he hopes an effective economic development program and seed money from the TVA revenue could help the county come up with grants to pay almost $969,000 for the county's cost in extending the rail spur 3,250 feet. The federal government would pay another $643,000 for the 3,475 feet of track to be built on Lockheed's property.

If Letson's bill clears the House, it then goes to the Senate. There, the measure would join a backlog of bills passed by the House but not yet considered by the Senate.

The Senate has been deadlocked in a power struggle over operating rules most of the session and has passed little legislation since the session began in March.

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