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Alabama Governor, Senate Differ Over Road Repairs

By Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama's Republican-led Senate and the Republican governor disagree over the best way to borrow money to address the state's road and bridge needs.

The Senate has approved legislation providing for the state to sell up to $650 million in bonds over the next year. Gov. Robert Bentley said he's already working on a plan to pay for road and bridge construction that doesn't need legislative action.

"This bill is just not necessary," he told The Birmingham News.

Republican Sen. Paul Bussman of Cullman is sponsoring the bond issue legislation, which cleared the Senate 27-0 on Thursday. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Either plan would start one of the largest transportation repair projects in Alabama history.

Bussman's bill would create a five-member council to approve distribution of the money. It includes Bentley's state transportation director, John Cooper, and four members appointed by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mike Hubbard - all Republicans.

Bussman's bill would use the state's 13-cents-a-gallon tax on diesel fuel to pay for the bond issue. The tax raises about $87 million a year. The estimated cost of a 20-year bond issue is $47 million annually.

Each project approved by the council would have to be requested by a county, with priority given to bridge and road work that helps education and economic development in rural areas. No county could get more than $32.5 million, and 75 percent of the total money would have to be spent on bridges.

Bentley has created the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program to help cities and counties with road and bridge projects.

Under Bentley's program, the state would sell about $300 million in bonds this year and likely a similar amount next year. The bonds would be issued through the Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles program, which pledges the state's federal highway funding in future years to pay back the borrowed money. Bentley's program has an advisory panel, but he would have the final say on projects funded.

Bentley said the state already has the authority to issue GARVEE bonds and doesn't need legislation.

Under Bentley's plan, a city or county would have to put up 20 percent of the cost of any project. Under Bussman's plan, a county would put up 5 percent. His bill doesn't directly address cities like Bentley's plan does.

Bussman told The Cullman Times that his bill would take "a lot of politics out of the process" of selecting transportation projects because a five-member panel would approve them rather than the governor.

"We're still hoping the governor will negotiate," he said.

Bentley said he will veto Bussman's bill if it passes the House. "We feel like what we have put in place is a good program," he said.
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