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Shelby: Some Alabama local governments 'have no money' for Trump infrastructure plan

Richard Shelby

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby speaks at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)

Rural counties in Alabama may not have enough money to start projects under President Donald Trump’s proposed $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said in a stop in Anniston Wednesday.

“You’ve generally got to pay for what you get,” Shelby said, in remarks to a crowd of about 60 people at the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Shelby spent the better part of an hour with chamber members in a simple question-and-answer session, part of a series of appearances he made across the state this week.

The first question from the audience was about the plan Trump unveiled earlier this week to funnel more than $1 trillion into building of roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure. Trump’s promises of a road-building plan were popular on the campaign trail, and were generally welcomed by state officials from both parties.

When Trump finally unveiled the plan a year after his inauguration, state officials were less impressed. Trump’s plan would have the federal government picking up 20 percent of the tap for new building projects, with state governments or private entities picking up the other 80 percent. That’s a reverse image of current funding formulas, which have the federal government paying most of the cost.

“A lot of communities, a lot of the counties in this state have no money, let’s be honest,” Shelby said.

Trump’s plan does include a set-aside of money – without a need for matching funds – for rural counties, though the plan doesn’t lay out clearly what qualifies as a rural area. Shelby on Wednesday pointed out the tentative nature of the proposal, which hasn’t been through either house as a bill yet.

“We haven’t got any details of that,” he said. “We don’t know if it will go anywhere in its present form, but it’s a start.”

In a speech in Huntsville earlier this week, Shelby said the government should “tighten up” on guns in the wake of the school shooting in Florida, according to Huntsville-area TV stations. Asked what “tighten up” means, Shelby seemed to walk back any suggestion he wanted more restrictions on firearms.

“Some people rush in and say let’s pass gun control,” he said. “I’m not for that.”

The Florida shooting sparked protest in Tallahassee Wednesday, where shooting survivors urged Florida state lawmakers to pass gun restrictions. Trump on Tuesday and Wednesday signaled willingness to work on gun restrictions, tweeting support for background checks for gun buyers and ordering Attorney General Jeff Session to look into restrictions on bump stocks, which can give semi-automatic rifles an automatic-like rate of fire

Mischa White, owner of a ranch in Piedmont, told Shelby she had guns, but didn’t think everyone needed some kinds of guns that are now legal.

“Who needs these high-powered guns besides the military?” she said.

Shelby said the country may need to look closely at violent video games and better mental health treatment.

“It is an all-encompassing thing,” he said. “It’s not simple.”

Asked about the investigation into possible collusion with the Russian government by members of the Trump presidential campaign, Shelby said he couldn’t predict where the investigation would go.

“I can’t defend anything because I don’t know,” he said. “But I can’t indict anybody, because that’s not my job.”

Shelby said he didn’t believe Russian meddling affected the result of the 2016 presidential election. But the senator, who isn’t on the ballot in the midterms, said he couldn’t rule out the possibility that the Russian government will try to manipulate the 2018 election.

“Could they manipulate the voting tallies? Could they do this? I don’t know.” He said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.