State likely to keep seats in 2010 Census

Published 10:17 pm Tuesday, September 30, 2008

MONTGOMERY – Census experts told Alabama legislators Tuesday the state is not expected to gain or lose a Congressional seat in the 2010 U.S. Census and the racial makeup of the state legislature is likely to remain the same.

Alabama legislators received a briefing Tuesday sponsored by the Alabama Law Institute on what to expect after the United States recounts its citizens in 2010 as required by the U.S. Constitution.

Legislators will be required to use data from the 2010 Census to redraw state House and Senate districts, Congressional districts and Alabama Board of Education districts.

John Tanner, a former top official with the U.S. Justice Department, told lawmakers at the Alabama Statehouse the state has grown steadily from 4.4 million residents to about 4.6 million residents since the 2000 Census. He said the growth is not enough to allow the state to gain a Congressional seat, but should allow Alabama to retain its current seven districts.

Following the 2000 Census, each member of the Alabama House represented about 127,000 Alabama residents. Census estimates show each House district currently has about 133,000 residents.

Currently, 27 of the state’s 105 House districts and eight of 35 Senate districts are majority black and Tanner said he doesn’t expect those numbers to change.

While the state’s overall population has remained fairly steady since the last census it has fluctuated greatly in some areas within the state, said Annette Watters, director of the Alabama Data Center at the University of Alabama.

She said suburban counties have shown rapid growth and some rural counties, particularly in the economically disadvantaged Black Belt area, have lost population.

For example, according to census estimates, since 2000 the population in Shelby County in the southern suburbs of Birmingham has grown from about 143,000 to about 182,000, while population has dropped in the southwest Alabama counties of Perry, Dallas, Greene, Wilcox, Washington, Sumter, Monroe, Marengo, Clarke, Butler and Lowndes counties.

Watters said she also expects the 2010 Census to also reflect the state’s growing Hispanic population — although possibly not enough to create a majority Hispanic state House or Senate district.

“But local elections could be affected,” Watters said.

Tanner warned legislators that federal funding is based on Census figures and that the state stands to lose millions of dollars if its population is undercounted. He said it’s believed that about 53,000 Alabama residents were not counted in the 2000 Census — a number which he said could cost the state to lose more than $1.3 billion in federal funding over 10 years.

“That’s a big chunk of revenue the state is missing out on,” Tanner said.

House Speaker Seth Hammett said he wanted Alabama legislators to come to Tuesday’s session, partly so they would understand the importance of making sure all state residents are counted.

“I want the members to be prepared to be involved in the census taking. I wanted them to see what the cost would be of an undercount,” Hammett said.