As long as so many are out of work, the state cannot recover financially. As long as the state’s roads and bridges are in such sorry shape, Alabama cannot attract the companies and industries that will provide enough jobs for the jobless.
Thus, it makes sense to use available money — if that exists during a recession — to upgrade the state’s infrastructure. In turn, that also could provide jobs for those who need them.
Today, the money is available — if the state Legislature proposes the necessary constitutional amendment and Alabama voters ratify it.
Alabama has approximately $2.5 billion in the Alabama Trust Fund, which was created with revenue from natural gas wells drilled in state waters. House and Senate Democrats have developed a plan to take $1 billion from the fund— $100 million a year for 10 years — and use it to repair and upgrade roads and bridges. Provisions for repayment also are in the bill.
This editorial board’s position on this proposal has not changed. It is a good plan as long as there are clear safeguards to guarantee that the money does not become pork for legislators’ hometown projects.
The Associated Press recently reported that opposition to the plan comes from Republicans, although two GOP candidates for governor — Robert Bentley and Bradley Byrne — like the general idea. The rest of the field has serious reservations or flat opposition. It’s not surprising that among the dissenters are Tim James and Roy Moore, who claim to represent the economically conservative, business-focused wing of the state Republican Party.
Given that claim, it is interesting to note that James agrees that infrastructure improvements are needed, but he told the AP he would rather sell state bonds. That way, the Legislature can avoid deficit spending by assuming a debt that will cost the state dearly in interest in the long run.
Predictably, Moore says if the state had not overspent and withdrew from its rainy-day funds, this problem would not have existed. That’s a leap of logic that ignores the recession and that rainy-day funds were used to save jobs and provide services in areas other than those proposed in the road-and-bridge plan.
Moore also ignores the fact that overspending in Alabama, when it occurs, is more the result of undercapitalized services than overreaching politicians.
That opposition, ill-conceived and unrealistic as it is, will appeal to those who feel the state should sit on its money rather than invest it in economic development and jobs.
That’s shortsighted, bad policy.
With the safeguards we suggest, this measure needs to pass and be presented to Alabama voters.