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Proposed state amendments could help lure industry

By Kristen Bishop 340-2443

TRINITY — The leader of the Rural Alabama Action Commission said a proposed state amendment to increase the capital improvement trust fund would boost Alabama's economy by luring industry.

Executive Director Gerald Dial urged Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday to vote yes on two amendments June 5.

Amendment 1 would increase the state's borrowing limit on the Capital Improvement Trust Fund from $350 million to $750 million.

Dial said the money would be used to offer incentive packages to new and existing businesses.

He said the state currently uses 28 percent of its oil reserve funds to pay off capital improvement debt.

"In order to compete with other states, we've got to raise that amount," he said. "And it doesn't cost you anything."

The state's success at bringing a Mercedes plant to Vance, near Tuscaloosa, in 1993 is proof that, with a high-dollar bargaining chip, Alabama is capable of attracting big business, said Dial.

Alabama beat other states vying for the plant, primarily North Carolina, by offering more financial incentives. Dial said the state's incentive package was the largest investment for a single industry in Alabama's history.

In return, Mercedes has boosted the state's economy by increasing job opportunities and tax revenue, he said.

It also changed the way people see Alabama and renewed other industries' interest in the state, said Dial. "People used to think we were all a bunch of rednecks with no shoes and that we were all making corn whiskey in the other room," he said. "Suddenly, with one initiative, people began to realize that Alabama was different."

The passage of Amendment 1 would keep that momentum going, he said.

The second amendment would establish a permanent trust fund to pay for retirees' health insurance.

Currently, the state has $20 billion in unfunded benefit obligations for retirees.

"By setting money aside now, we'll have a reserve to pay for insurance when people retire. Plus it'll boost our bond (borrowing) rate," said Dial. "If I do nothing else today, I can leave happy if I can get you to go vote for Amendments 1 and 2.

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