MONTGOMERY, Ala. — An ambitious plan to pump $1 billion over 10 years into building new roads and bridges and repairing old ones moved a step closer to passing the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday.
The bill by Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron, of Fyffe, was approved Wednesday on a voice vote by the House Government Appropriations Committee. It has already passed the Senate and goes to the full House for debate.
The vote was contested with some lawmakers saying “yes” while others yelled out “no.”
The bill is a proposed constitutional amendment and must be approved by Alabama voters if it passes the House and Senate.
Under Barron’s plan, $100 million a year would be taken from oil and gas revenue in a state savings account. The money would be divided using a formula that ensures some will be spent in every Congressional district and every county.
The oil and gas savings account now contains about $2.5 billion. The bill contains a provision that if the balance drops below $2 billion the program will stop until the balance recovers.
Barron told the House committee that the bill will help put people to work at a time when jobs are badly needed because of the recession.
“It will create and maintain 30,000 jobs. At no time in history have we needed that like we need it now,” Barron said.
After Wednesday’s committee meeting, it was apparent two of the biggest hurdles facing the road and bridge plan will be efforts to add specific projects to the plan and concerns that the state should save the oil and gas funds for a “rainy day” emergency.
Rep. Charles Newton, D-Greenville, said the best thing to do with the oil and gas money is to not touch it.
“If we’ll leave it alone for 10 or 12 years we’ll have $4 billion in it and after that $5 billion,” Newton said.
But Barron said the money is needed now to fix deteriorating roads and bridges across Alabama and to add jobs in a recession.
“If that’s truly a rainy day fund, it’s raining now,” Barron said.
Efforts to earmark specific projects started at Thursday’s meeting.
The committee approved an amendment by Rep. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, to spend some of the money on the U.S. 280 and Interstate 459 interchange south of Birmingham.
Rep. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, warned that adding the I-459 interchange would open the door to similar projects.
“Every member is now going to come forward with the same type of argument,” Beasley said.
The committee rejected a proposed amendment by Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, to add money for the Alabama Port Authority in Mobile.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow The Trucker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/truckertalk.