Shelby lawmakers ready DOT reform, movie incentives among local bills

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Shelby County’s state legislators have said they will wait to see what Gov. Bob Riley proposes to nurse Alabama’s beleaguered budget back to health as the regular legislative session starts this week.

The Legislative Fiscal Office says the General Fund needs $360 million to maintain current services during the 2005 budget year, which begins Oct. 1, 2004; but Riley has said he will oppose property tax increases or any other broad tax boosts.

Without the possibility of raising taxes, lawmakers’ attention has turned once again to a possible statewide lottery, which voters rejected during former governor Don Siegelman’s tenure.

Three local lawmakers voiced stringent opposition to any lottery proposal.

District 41 Rep. Mike Hill (R-Columbiana) said he feels disgusted when he visits neighboring states such as Georgia or Florida and notices state-funded billboards enticing people to play the lottery.

&uot;I don’t like the state in the gambling business,&uot; Hill said.

District 49 Rep. Cam Ward, also a Republican, echoed that opposition.

&uot;That’s a terrible way to run government,&uot;

Ward said.

Sen. Hank Erwin (R-14th District) said he remains opposed to any lottery proposal.

&uot;I’m trying to be alert on the movement of the lottery. I’ll fight it with all my might,&uot; Erwin said Monday.

Still, Erwin said he recognizes that lawmakers must find alternatives to tax increases, considering voters’ strong opposition to Riley’s Amendment One in October and January’s 9-mill property tax increase rejection by Shelby County voters 3-to-1.

&uot;The people have spoke about taxes, so that means we’ve got to look at other options,&uot; Erwin said.

Other lawmakers said they opposed previous lottery proposals, but they remain open to Riley’s suggestions.

&uot;I’m gonna be interested to see what they come with,&uot; said Sen. Steve French (R-15th District) who represents Jefferson and Shelby counties.

&uot;I opposed the last one. If they come with the same plan, I’ll oppose it. Hopefully, if something comes, it will be better.&uot;

French agrees with Shelby County’s other lawmakers that a lottery is not the answer to Alabama’s fiscal problems.

&uot;I don’t think that’s a real answer,&uot; French said.

Accountability is one topic legislators may encounter during the regular session this week.

Ward said he stands behind Riley’s plan to ban PAC-to-PAC transfers, and he called the governor’s call for more disclosure by lobbyists and legislators &uot;a great idea.&uot;

Ward said it’s important for voters to know who buys legislators their lunch.

&uot;That’s good, so people can know who’s trying to influence legislators,&uot; he said.

French said he stands behind the ideas put forth by Riley so far; but he thinks the legislature could best address accountability issues in a special session.

&uot;The legislature ought to recess, go into special session and address those,&uot; French said, adding that it would be easier to get &uot;true votes&uot; from legislators during a special session.

At least a few lawmakers representing Shelby County hope to bring attention to local bills, such as Ward’s plan to reform the Department of Transportation.

Under Ward’s proposal, the Department would be reorganized, including the way local road projects are prioritized.

According to Ward, this administration has been &uot;disappointing&uot; in regard to the Department of Transportation, in particular the way that local road construction projects are awarded money.

&uot;Roads in Shelby County have been neglected,&uot; he said.

Erwin also has ideas about local legislation he will try to bring to the table during the legislative session in Montgomery, expected to last until May.

In particular, Erwin said he hopes to make Shelby County a destination for filmmakers.

Erwin said he has visited Hollywood movie production companies and talked about the possibility of offering incentives to bring movies to the state.

He said he received positive feedback, and he thinks incentives for movie investors, as well as for production companies, could be a draw.

&uot;I’ve been to Hollywood, and I’ve been assured we’d be looked at if we offer incentives,&uot; Erwin said.

Erwin said he envisions a motion picture enterprise zone in Shelby County, featuring tax incentives for motion picture investors and for production companies.

He referred to the recent blockbuster movie Big Fish, which he said pumped $10 million into the state during filming in Wetumpka and other locations near Montgomery.

&uot;We need money, and that’s one way we could do that,&uot; he said.