Legislators optimistic as session enters second week

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 10, 2007

Charles Newton and Wendell Mitchell admit to a touch of optimism as the Alabama legislature moves into its second full week of activity.

Rep. Newton of Greenville and Sen. Mitchell of Luverne suggest a successful special session that paved the way for a sweeping statewide economic development financial package and established procedures for funding previous commitments to state employees on health care benefits not only generated good decisions, it helped all legislators share in the credit and set aside, temporarily at least, some of the contentious spirit created by partisan elections.

&#8220There will always been a difference of opinion,” Newton said, &#8220and the regular session won't be as smooth as the special session, but I feel good about our start. We've already had some significant accomplishments and the door is certainly open for more success as we move ahead.”

Mitchell agreed.

&#8220When everybody was talking about split votes and saying we were all at each other's throats, I said that time heals all wounds and when really important issues arise, we'll do the right things. The special session made something of a prophet out of me and I feel good about our good beginning. I've seen a lot of camaraderie so far”

By unanimous vote of both House and Senate, lawmakers approved a proposal that will increase the state's borrowing limit from $350 million to $750 million, hoping to lure quality industries and high paying jobs to the state with deeper incentive packages.

The primary target is attracting the $2.9 billion, 3,000-emplpoyee ThyssenKrupp steel plant to the Mobile area, but Newton says Gov. Bob Riley and state development leaders are also working at least 10 other big projects.

&#8220We should feel good,” Newton said after returning from Montgomery where he listened to Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, address the legislators. &#8220Our economy is good. Revenue is coming in nicely. Our unemployment rate is low. And the perception is that Alabama is doing something right. That we have 10 major companies looking at us is a clear indicator of that.”

Nothing, he said, is more important than the development of new jobs. Putting people to work puts money into statewide circulation. It pays taxes. It, indirectly, funds education and all other programs. And it generates pride in both the individual and in the worker's community.

&#8220A person with a job is less likely to be a problem, to commit a crime,” Newton explained.

He also said the optimistic spirit could be linked to the governor's state of the state address that outlined a broad, diverse plan for Alabama's future with key elements including an $850 million bond issue for school construction, a 7 percent pay raise for teachers, a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers, repeal of the state sales tax on prescription drugs, an income tax reduction, expansion of the Alabama Reading Initiative, more accountability of lobbyist spending, removal of the first $10,000 from state income taxes and tax credits for small employers who provide health insurance for their employees.

&#8220I don't think be believes all of his programs will pass,” Newton admitted, &#8220but he has put some ideas out for discussion that have merit. I believe ethics reform will pass. I think the PAC-to-PAC legislation will pass this time. And I am hopeful other key issues will also be fairly addressed.

He figures Greenville and Butler County might receive between $700,000 and $1 million in school renovation funds if the bond issue is ratified, noting there is obvious need for those funds.

And while he sees some controversy ahead - cutting taxes while existing agencies remain under funded will be a challenge - he hopes the state program will expand to include judicial election reform and prison system staffing expansion.

&#8220Time will tell how things develop,” Mitchell said from Washington where he completed a term as chair of the national energy council, &#8220but I believe we have some fresh, new, good leadership in place and that will make a difference.”

He is part of that new leadership. As deputy pro tem of the senate, he sits on all committees and can make an impact on critical issues, gaining leverage for his six District 30 counties.

In his sixth term as representative from District 90, Newton serves as vice chairman of the House judiciary committee. He is also on the government appropriations committee.