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November 7, 2012

Statewide Amendment 2 clears way for economic incentives

Local officials react favorably to vote; disappointment expressed over Amendment 4 failure

Alabama voters approved a measure that Gov. Robert Bentley touted as crucial to continued private-sector job growth.

Amendment 2 allows the state to sell more bonds to get money to offer industries to build or expand plants in Alabama. The constitution already allows the state to sell up to $750 million in bonds to offer as industrial incentives, and the state has issued $720 million.

Amendment 2 doesn’t raise the $750 million cap. But it does provide that bonds that have been paid off and that bonds refinanced at lower interest rates will no longer count toward the $750 million total. That will allow the state to sell about $130 million in bonds in addition to the $30 million that is still available.

Local lawmakers — Reps. Mac Buttram and Jeremy Oden and Sen. Paul Bussman — also backed the amendment because of its importance in economic development.

“When the governor campaigned on television for Amendment 2 we saw the polling numbers go up. Passage of this amendment was needed to enable us to increase incentives for economic development,” Oden said.

Bussman said Alabama has been projected as one of the top five states in the nation for economic growth potential, which made passage of the amendment even more urgent.

“This will be important for new industries as well as expansions of those already operating in Alabama,” Bussman added.

Dale Greer, assistant director of Cullman Economic Development Agency, said approval of Amendment 2 was welcome news.

“That’s a great positive for us. It makes us real competitive among other states,” Greer said. “The governor called it a deal closer for economic development. I certainly hope we’ll see a lot of benefits in our area.”

Alabama voters also approved statewide Amendment 1, which reauthorized the Forever Wild program. Forever Wild has secured lands across the state and opened them to the public for hunting, fishing and family recreation.

“The program has been run well for the last several years,” Bussman said. “I hope everybody understands benefit of what this program offers.”

While the passage of Amendments 1 and 2 were met with positive responses, the failure of Alabama voters to approve Amendment 4 did not settle well with lawmakers.

Voters defeated the measure which proposed to remove racist language from Alabama’s Constitution. With more than 70 percent of the votes counted Tuesday, results show about 62 percent of voters opposing Amendment 4 with a “no” vote.

The amendment would have removed language mandating poll taxes and separate black and white schools. A similar amendment failed within the last decade.

Black legislators and the Alabama Education Association opposed the amendment because it left in a 1956 amendment that declared that Alabama children did not have a right to a public education.

Proponents of the amendment said the AEA and others took the measure out of context.

“It’s inexcusable. I think it’s a sad day in Alabama when we can’t get racist language out of the state constitution,” Bussman said. “As a Republican senator I’m tired of hearing that we don’t support education. I support public education and I think the argument against this amendment was just ridiculous.”

Bussman said the vote concerning Amendment 4 shows why the idea of a constitutional convention in Alabama would be difficult.

Oden also said the argument against the amendment was unnecessary when so many laws require tax receipts go directly to public education.

“The amendment may have failed, but we still need to come back in the session and do something about it. If there is something else that can be done, we’ll try to do it and get the language cleared up.” Oden said.

Concerning other statewide amendments, Alabama voters  decided to cut the Legislature’s pay. With 80 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday night, Amendment 8 passed with 67 percent of the vote.

The constitutional amendment undoes the pay raise the Legislature gave itself in 2007. It bases the Legislature’s pay on Alabama’s median household income and will reduce a legislator’s compensation from $55,022 to $46,921. The measure also eliminates the Legislature’s annual cost-of-living raises.

David Palmer may be contacted at dpalmer@cullmantimes.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.

Portions of this story were contributed from the Associated Press.

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