Road bill could boost state jobs

Published 9:20 pm Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Alabama Senate on Thursday did its part to stimulate the economy through passage of a $1 billion road program bill.

Citing efforts to save jobs and offset what will eventually become an end to federal stimulus funds in Alabama, Democratic senators pushed through a 10-year plan that would more than double the amount of federal funds the state originally received.

The measure passed the Senate 25-10, with opposition coming primarily from Republicans. Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, who represents Pike County voted to support the package. If it passes the House of Representatives, which is likely, Alabama voters will have the final say in the Nov. 2 general election.

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Key to the plan is the $2.5 billion Alabama Trust Fund, which holds the royalties the state receives from natural gas wells drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast. Those royalties usually average $100 million per year and would roughly offset the annual outlay in the road and bridge proposal.

More important, bill supporters say, is the opportunity to boost employment numbers in the state. With 11.1 percent unemployment, state leaders say this bill could recoup some of the 12,000 construction jobs lost in 2009, as well as retain or grow new jobs in the future. Not surprisingly, it’s heavily supported by the road, bridge and construction industry leaders.

Ultimately, voters in Alabama will have to decide if they are comfortable pulling from cash reserves to fund an infrastructure program and, ultimately, what is a stimulus package that mimics what the federal government attempted to do in 2009. And, if so, will the law as written effective allocate those funds so they will do the most good in our state?

Alabama’s senators certainly say it’s a wise investment.