News from the Tennessee Valley State, Local and National news
FRIDAY, JUNE 1, 2007

Largest education bond issue OK’d

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The largest education bond issue in state history, approved by the Alabama Legislature on Thursday, is designed to spur a school building boom in every county.

The Senate approved a revised version of the $1.07 billion bond issue 29-2 and the House agreed 100-4. The bond issue now goes to Gov. Bob Riley, who approved all the changes made Thursday, his press secretary, Tara Hutchison, said.

The bond issue will be the state’s first for school construction since 1998.

Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, said some had predicted that stalling tactics that shut down the Senate for most of the spring would kill the bond issue, but the compromise breezed through on the next-to-last day of the session.

“This Senate is coming together to do the will of the people,” Mitchem said.

The passage of the bond issue came two days after the Legislature wrapped up work on the state education budget and General Fund budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

Riley said Thursday the budgets finance his major priorities, but he hasn’t decided whether to sign them.

“There are some things that cause me some concern in both budgets, but we’ll do a thorough review of both budgets and make our decision after that’s been accomplished,” Riley said at a news conference.

The Legislature has one more meeting day left in its 2007 regular session: June 7. But unlike many sessions, there are no state budgets or high-dollar pieces of legislation awaiting action on the final day.

The bond issue passed after two changes:

  • Adding $7.2 million for the University of Alabama System, which Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said boosts the bond funding for a cancer center at the Birmingham campus to nearly $50 million.

  • Compromising with the governor for two pools of discretionary money, one overseen by the governor and the other by a committee where legislative leaders hold half the seats. The legislative committee would have $55 million and the governor as much as $100 million, depending on how much interest the bonds earn after they are sold and before the money is paid out.

    The 20-year bond issue will cost the state an estimated $81.2 million per year, according to legislative fiscal experts.

    The bond issue will provide money to every city and county K-12 school system, ranging from $51.5 million in Mobile County to $618,908 in Linden.

    It also will fund construction projects at every public four-year and two-year college in the state.

    It will provide $13 million for school systems that have lost school buildings to fires, storms or other catastrophes in recent years, and $15 million in additional funds for schools in Alabama’s financially struggling Black Belt.

    In addition, it will provide $24 million to build a new training center for state troopers and correctional officers at Wallace Community College in Selma, which is the hub of the Black Belt.

    There is also money to improve the facilities of the state Department of Forensic Sciences: $7 million at Auburn University and $4 million at the University of South Alabama.

    Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, objected to the bond issue, saying the state should set aside some of the extra tax revenue during the current economic good times for school construction because paying for the bonds will be difficult if an economic downturn occurs.

    “I’m afraid we are going to have buyer’s remorse,” Beason said.

    Senate budget committee Chairman Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said the state can afford to pay for the bonds in future years and continue to make progress in its public schools.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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