By STEVE FLOWERS, political columnist
Gov. Kay Ivey made infrastructure improvement in the state her cornerstone issue for this year, and more importantly for her term as governor. Within less than three months in office she and the Legislature have successfully accomplished this mission.
Last Friday the Alabama House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed monumental legislation on an 84-20 vote. It was a remarkable victory for the Governor and the House leadership. It was a bipartisan coalition of support. Only 18 of the 77 Republicans voted against the bills and only 2 of the 28 Democrats voted no. It is expected to pass in the Senate this week.
The leaders in the House were the sponsor, Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), Speaker Mac McCutchen (R-Madison), Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), and Rep. Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville).
The Senate leaders are Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville), who is the Senate leader-sponsor, Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia), Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro), and Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper).
These legislative leaders, along with Gov. Kay Ivey, threw down the gauntlet and clearly dug in to make this Infrastructure Initiative their number one priority. These leaders recognized the need to improve our roads and bridges and the long-term economic expansion of our state. They are truly thinking about the next generation, not the next election.
Huntsville is projected to grow faster than any city in America over the next decade. The job growth will continue to be in high paying, high tech jobs. The new Toyota-Mazda plant there will be the largest in the world. They were promised roads and highways as part of their incentive to locate in North Alabama.
Our port city, Mobile, could be as large as Houston, Texas but our Mobile docks are outdated and need widening and deepening, as well as proper facilities built to handle large vessels and transport barges. It is geographically better located than Houston or New Orleans. If the port was deepened and widened, it could accommodate exponentially more cargo ships. Currently it is too small and shallow for the Mercedes vehicles manufactured in Tuscaloosa to be shipped out of our Alabama port.
The primary reason that the Legislature needs to act now is because there is more than likely a federal infrastructure program on the horizon. If we are to participate in garnering federal funds, we undoubtedly will have to have state revenues to match and draw down the federal funds.
Twenty-eight states have already raised their fuel tax to match the anticipated federal money. Let me tell you a little secret, ain’t any of those 28 states going to get to the federal trough ahead of us. None of them have the Chairman of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee.
Our Senior Senator, Richard Shelby, chairs the Appropriations Committee. He writes the federal budget. Therefore, he controls the United States federal checkbook. If we become the 29th state to get the ability to match federal funds, we don’t become the 29th state in line. We move to number one on the list.
Alabama has a treasure in Richard Shelby. He has not only been the longest serving U.S. Senator in Alabama history, he is also the most powerful U.S. Senator in Alabama history. His prowess and adroitness at bringing home the bacon to Alabama is legendary.
In my book, Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories, I have a Chapter entitled “Alabama’s Three Greatest U.S. Senators.” My suggestion was that U.S. Senators Lister Hill, John Sparkman, and Richard Shelby have been Alabama’s greatest. However, if I was writing that Chapter today, Shelby would be in a league of his own as the most powerful Senator in Alabama history.
Senators Hill and Sparkman were powerful and left a legacy, Hill in medical research and rural hospitals throughout the nation and Alabama. Sparkman was the Father of the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville and delivered hallmark legislation that afforded housing for Americans as Chairman of the Banking Committee.
Senator Shelby over his 32 plus years in the Senate has chaired the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, Intelligence Committee and Rules Committee. However, his current perch as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is unparalleled. Alabama has never had a Chairman of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee and more than likely never will again.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is a political columnist appearing in over more than Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the Alabama Legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.