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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Lawmakers laying groundwork for new statehouse

The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would give a legislative panel the authority to sell bonds to build a legislative wing onto the current Capitol in downtown Montgomery.

The House approved the bill 47-36 and the measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Lawmakers have said they do not plan to move forward with building now, but are setting the groundwork for when the economy improves.

"It’s not like we’re saying we’re going to build a new statehouse any time soon," said House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. Hubbard, who is a cosponsor of the bill, is also chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.

Hubbard said he might not even be a member of the Legislature when a facility is built.

"We have to have a new building," he said.

The state spends heavily for maintenance, including hundreds of thousands for regular roof repairs, and there is mildew, Hubbard said.

"It has outlived its usefulness," he said. " … This is not workable."

Hubbard, Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, and some other lawmakers said people are often not able to get into committee meeting rooms when they come to Montgomery to participate in government. Laird, the chairman of the Legislative Building Authority, is the sponsor of the bill.

Most of the opposing votes were members of Hubbard’s party.

"I just thought the timing of this is very poor" with the recession and education spending prorated, said Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka. "It sends a bad signal out to the voters that we’re out of touch."

He said proponents are saying the bill only puts the mechanism in place to build a legislative wing, "but I don’t think we need to be talking about a building."

Laird said the bill gives the authority the ability to start planning. He said the authority evaluated whether it was more cost effective to renovate the current building or build a new one.

Renovating the current facility would cost $183 million while building onto the current Capitol would cost $167 million, Laird said referring to 2008 estimates.

The authority could sell bonds to fund building the facility or enter into an agreement with the Retirement Systems of Alabama, who would build it and lease the building to the Legislature.

Laird said he was a member of the Legislature in 1986 when the members moved from the historic Capitol to the current State House, which was built to house the highway department in 1963.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said he is for the authority moving forward when the economy improves and is against spending more money on the current facility. He said there are problems with the heating and air conditioning, some of the elevators, flooding in the basement, the roof, and mold and mildew.

The bill gives the building authority the power to take control of and close Union Street between Washington and Monroe streets, which separates the State House and the Capitol, and to control surrounding streets and parking lots.


-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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Location: Montgomery, AL, United States

South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.

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