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Adam Thompson casts his vote at Flowers Elementary School in Montgomery. The turnout was light statewide.
AP photo by Rob Carr
Adam Thompson casts his vote at Flowers Elementary School in Montgomery. The turnout was light statewide.

Voters OK economic, trust fund measures
Constitutional amendments overwhelmingly approved

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Alabama voters decided overwhelmingly Tuesday they want to keep the state's multimillion-dollar economic promises that are luring German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp and other foreign manufacturers to the state.

Amendment 1, allowing the state to sell $400 million in bonds to pay industrial incentives, won by a nearly 4-to-1 margin, with more than 90 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday night in the unofficial count.

Voters provided a slightly larger victory for Amendment 2, which secures constitutional protection for two new trust funds created by the Legislature to save money for the future health insurance costs of retired state workers and school employees.

With 94 percent of the precincts reporting on Amendment One, 173,966 voters, or 79 percent, supported the constitutional amendment and 46,163 voters, or 21 percent, opposed it.

On Amendment Two, 182,707 voters, or 84 percent, supported it, and 35,826 voters, or 16 percent, opposed it.

Gov. Bob Riley, who campaigned for both amendments, said the results will sustain Alabama's economic growth and keep the state in competition for thousands more jobs.

"The future has never looked brighter for Alabama," Riley said Tuesday night.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who opposed both amendments, said the descriptions on the amendments on the ballot did not fully inform voters. "I don't think the people understood what was behind the amendments," he said.

Moore, who ran against Riley last year in the Republican primary, said Amendment One gives ThyssenKrupp an unfair advantage over existing Alabama steel mills. "It will lead to the loss of jobs at Alabama industries," Moore predicted Tuesday night.

The campaign over the amendments was low key. Riley's side staged a last-minute ad campaign and speaking tour, while opponents, including Moore and former Republican lieutenant governor candidate Mo Brooks, used interviews and e-mails to motivate their side.

Election officials said turnout was light across the state, with poll workers often waiting for the next voter to enter.

Under Amendment One, Alabama will use about half of the $400 million in bond sales to help provide $811 million in financial incentives and tax breaks the state promised to ThyssenKrupp when it picked a site 25 miles north of Mobile for its first steel mill in the United States. The $3.7 billion project will employ 2,700 workers.

The governor said the remainder of the bond sales will provide economic incentives for several other industrial projects. They include plans by Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai to build a second engine plant in Montgomery that will employ 520 and tentative plans by a Canadian company to build a railroad car plant in Barton in northwest Alabama that would hire 1,500.

The bonds won't require new taxes. Instead, they will be paid off with revenue from natural gas wells drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast, Riley said.

Amendment Two is the result of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board requiring governments to account for the future health care costs of their retired workers. For Alabama, consultants have put that figure at about $20 billion.

At Riley's suggestion, the Legislature voted in February to create two trust funds to start saving money toward that expense, much like the state does with pension costs. Amendment Two prevents the Legislature from raiding those trust funds without a statewide referendum.

Riley said Amendment Two would show Wall Street that Alabama is addressing the cost and would help keep interest rates low on state bond sales, including the $400 million for industrial incentives and a state record $1 billion bond sale approved by the Legislature last week for school construction projects.

Before the referendum, the only TV ads were run by Citizens for Economic Progress, a political action committee headed by former state Republican Party Chairman Winton Blount III. It reported raising $524,819 from a diverse group, including $150,000 from Alabama Power, $100,000 from the Alabama Education Association, and $50,000 from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.

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

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