ATLANTA -- In a busy finale to Alabama's 1991 legislative session, lawmakers set state spending for fiscal 1992 at bare-bones levels and approved the state's first international airport authority, which could eventually issue up to $1.6 billion in tax-exempt bonds.
A spokesman for Gov. Guy Hunt said the governor is examining the two budgets passed yesterday -- one appropriating $2.65 billion for education and the other allocating $805.4 million to the general fund, which covers other functions of the state government -- and has not yet decided whether to approve them. The two budgets are separate in Alabama.
The spending package for education in 1992 is slightly higher than the $2.5 billion that officials say will be spent by the state by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 1991. General fund spending, however, will slip from the $840 million expected this fiscal year.
According to one legislative staffer, Gov. Hunt is likely to pass the education budget, but may well veto the general fund budget because he is displaced with spending cuts that slash appropriations for the departments of public safety and corrections.
In enacting the education budget, the lawmakers failed to provide the approximately $300 million in funding necessary to implement a wide-ranging education reform package it had approved earlier in the session and that Gov. Hunt signed into law last Tuesday. The education bill seeks to extend local authority over education, set new curriculum guidelines, tighten graduation requirements, and establish a mechanism to evaluate the performance of students and teachers.
Gov. Hunt's spokesman said, however, that the governor would sign the airport bill, which the two-term Republican has strongly supported. Under Alabama law, the governor has 10 days to sign or veto bills.
The legislation establishing the Alabama International Airport Authority was passed despite a lobbying campaign against it by the cities of Huntsville and Mobile, which have their own airport authorities and feared a decrease in state and federal aid if an international airport is built.
As it is now envisioned, the authority would construct its airport on a yet-to-be-determined 6,000-to 10,000-acre site within an 11-county area south east of Birmingham.
The bill allows the authority to issue revenue bonds, but forbids it from backing such borrowings with the state's general obligation pledge.
The legislation also establishes a seven-member board for the authority, with three appointments made by the governor, and one each by the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the Birmingham airport authority, and the local county in which the airport is located.
In addition, the bill designates the state treasurer as both the custodian of the authority's funds as well as the paying agent for debt service due on any of its bond issues.
But even with the establishment of the new authority, development of an international airport in Alabama is still contingent on its receiving the blessing of the Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner, who oversees the FAA, has declared his intention to help fund the building of at least five major airports nationwide in the next decade.
So far the federal government has allocated $560,000 in federal grant money to Alabama to develop its international airport.
State officials expect that the facility, if built, would bring 66,000 new jobs, and pump more than $3.3 billion a year, into the state's economy for a cumulative economic impact of $105 billion by 2030.
In other legislative action, lawmakers let die a bill to equalize the tax placed on in-state and out-of-state toxic waste at $85 a ton. The bill would have abolished the $72 per ton difference between the $40 per ton rate on waste originating within Alabama and the $112 per ton rate on waste from outside the state imposed by the state legislature in 1990.
That difference has been the subject of a year-long court battle. Last month Alabama's Supreme Court endorsed the legislature's toxic waste fee structure, reversing a state circuit court ruling in February.