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Local TVA bills await Riley’s mark
Lawmakers expect Morgan’s to get governor’s approval

By M.J. Ellington · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — All eyes in the Legislature may be on the Capitol until lawmakers learn Thursday which bills Gov. Bob Riley will veto, amend or sign.

In the Morgan County legislative delegation, lawmakers were confident but cautious Thursday that the governor would approve their local bill regarding of the county’s increased Tennessee Valley Authority in-lieu-of-tax revenue.

Thursday is the last day of the Legislature’s 2007 regular session and the last opportunity for lawmakers and Riley to negotiate changes in bills that the governor otherwise would veto. It’s also the last chance for lawmakers to override any vetoes.

For North Alabama, the biggest question marks are bills specifying how each TVA-served county can spend a 3 percent increase in its TVA in-lieu-of-tax revenue. At least 12 counties have local bills setting up distribution plans for the money, but Riley objected to those measures that channel the revenue through economic development commissions controlled only by those county’s legislators. Riley already has vetoed a bill for DeKalb County that would set up an economic development commission appointed by the county’s legislative delegation.

The governor called the bill a tool “purely for political purposes.”

A similar bill for Lawrence County, by Rep. Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro, drew fire from that county’s local officials, who said it would be a source of legislative pork. Letson, however, said funds are for economic development, not pork.

Late Thursday, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said feedback from the governor’s staff toward Morgan’s bill was positive and he had hope that Riley would sign it. That bill would use part of the 3 percent increase in funding to set up a local office for the county’s legislative delegation. The rest of the funding increase would go to governmental bodies in the county.

Rep. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, who sponsored the bill, said Morgan delegation members hope that area residents will soon have a better way to reach their elected officials. Dukes said the delegation was careful to require documentation of expenses for the revenue.

Not everyone may understand why the delegation wants a local office, but Orr, whose Senate district also includes part of Madison County, said the need is real.

Orr said Morgan County is home to the state’s second-largest number of legislators but currently has no one back home to answer questions, research bills or help solve problems, as do many other local delegations.

He said the lack of a local office lengthens the delegation’s response time to constituents’ concerns.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said he and Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, helped persuade Riley in 2006 not to veto the legislation that returned the additional 3 percent of TVA revenue to the counties the utility serves.

A portion of TVA money also goes to the state and to dry counties where the utility does not operate.

Hammon said Riley initially opposed the 2006 legislation because of concerns that legislators would use the revenue as a source of political pork.

On Thursday, Hammon said he believes the governor looks favorably on Morgan’s bill, partly because he likes the idea of a local legislative office.

Butler said Madison County’s local office “has worked well for about 40 years.”

Model for others

“It can help with communications between legislators and people back home,” Butler said. “I believe Morgan’s bill could be a model for other counties.”

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