Disputes delay school bond issue
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — A more than $1 billion bond issue for education construction ran into trouble on the House floor Thursday as some lawmakers objected to a provision of the bill that they said would give Democratic legislative leaders too much control over how the money is spent.
Other lawmakers complained that the bill does not provide enough money for UAB.
Some legislators predicted there may be too many obstacles to get the bill passed in the current regular session and that it might be the subject of a future special session.
Gov. Bob Riley initially proposed the bond issue, which would be the largest school construction program in the state's history.
But on Thursday Riley urged Republican lawmakers to vote against the plan because of language that changes the makeup of a committee that would approve spending of the bond money.
That committee currently includes Riley, a Republican, his finance director, Jim Main, and state Schools Superintendent Joe Morton.
The proposed bond issue would add the chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees and Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., all Democrats.
"I am not willing to let education dollars become a political football to be doled out to certain legislators," Riley said.
The bond issue bill stalled on the House floor Thursday, as some representatives loyal to the governor used stalling tactics to delay a vote, while some Birmingham area lawmakers staged a separate slowdown to get more money for UAB.
The House adjourned Thursday evening without taking a vote on the measure. Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said he expects to bring it back up for debate next week.
Some Republicans said they were concerned about giving Democrats too much control over spending of the bond issue, particularly a $44 million fund that is to be used for emergencies and special needs. Some lawmakers said that fund could be as high as $100 million when interest earned off the funds from the bond issue is added.
"It's obvious that Christmas has come early," said Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, as he put a small Christmas tree on the podium at the front of the House chamber. "There's something in here for everybody."
Mask said the bond issue includes what could be a $100 million slush fund, which he said would ruin the construction program.
He then put a giant ornament on a top branch and the tree crumbled.
But the sponsor of the bond issue and chairman of the House education budget committee, Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, said it's only fair that legislators be part of the committee that decides how the money is spent.
"The governor is making a huge mistake if he's trying to kill the bond issue over petty politics," Lindsey said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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