State to get $3 billion despite opposition

Published 8:37 pm Saturday, February 14, 2009

MONTGOMERY — Alabama stands to get about $3 billion from a federal economic stimulus package that was opposed by eight of nine members of the state’s delegation in Washington.

Congress wrapped up work on the $787 billion package Friday night. Democratic Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham cast the lone yes vote from Alabama.

The state’s two new Democratic representatives, Bobby Bright of Montgomery and Parker Griffith of Huntsville, were among seven Democrats in the House who opposed the package. Alabama’s four Republican representatives and two Republican senators voted against it.

President Barack Obama said Saturday he will sign the legislation quickly.

Davis, who is running for governor, said he voted for the plan because it would alleviate dramatic cuts in the two state budgets.

“Our state government is facing a billion dollar shortfall even with the fiscally conservative choices we have made in Alabama. So, I have voted to act,” he said.

Griffith questioned whether the package would jump start the economy.

“This bill adds a burden of debt to an already overburdened treasury and will eventually lead to higher interest rates for consumers and businesses with very little chance of achieving its original intent,” he said.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the package was hastily designed and poorly crafted. He said he fears passage of the stimulus “will mark the day when our generation decided that we were not capable of enduring the consequences of our own actions, and therefore future generations must shoulder the burden that we could not find the courage to bear ourselves.”

The National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures estimate the package will provide Alabama about $3 billion over two years. That includes $850 million for Medicaid to provide health care to the poor, $597 million to help schools, $524 million for roads and bridges, $190 million for special education, and $133 million in largely discretionary money the governor can use to help state agencies during the recession.

More than a dozen other programs are included for smaller amounts, including $38 million for child care and $20 million for drinking water improvements.

Gov. Bob Riley, who was critical of the package’s design, has hired his former state finance director, Birmingham attorney Drayton Nabers, to oversee the money. Riley said some of the money is in the form of grants, which require applications and other paperwork to be filed quickly or Alabama will miss out.