The Mobile area State Senator who has been fighting for a year to bring the bulk of Alabama’s BP Oil Spill settlement funds to the gulf coast says a revised House version of his bill is better than nothing.
“I think the bill we have today is a good bill,” said Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile on Friday. “We need to move it forward. We need to close this.”
That said, Hightower is still puzzled at the opposition statewide to sending the majority of BP funds to the coastal areas where the entirety of the environmental damage, and the bulk of the economic damage, from the 2010 oil spill took place.
“It’s amazing to me that my legislators in the north think we’ve been made whole out of this bill,” said an exasperated Hightower. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”
Hightower’s bill that passed in the Senate earlier this month, would have sent $260 million to Mobile and Baldwin Counties for major road projects, sent 230 million elsewhere in the state for roads, and would have contributed $161 million to pay off money the state owes itself – the bulk raided over the years from the Alabama Trust Fund – a collection of oil and gas royalties. Funds coming to the coast would have focused on completing the new Highway-98 project in Mobile County and extending the Beach Express in Baldwin County from I-10 to I-65.
But significant changes to the bill took place in the house that passed a revised version Thursday night. Coastal Alabama now gets $191 million for roads. The rest of the state gets shut out. The bulk of the funds in the House bill, $450 million, go to pay off debt. Medicare gets $55 million.
This revised bill now goes back to the Senate for approval.
Hightower says it will be interesting to see how his fellow Senators react.
“Now we have to take the prospective of the Senate which is let’s spend $500 million on roads and bridges throughout Alabama against the House perspective which is let’s solve our internal debt issues.”
Hightower, however, says the revised bill is better than nothing.
Governor Robert Bentley says paying off the debt is the right move.
“We borrowed 437 million-dollars in 2012, 2013, and 2014 just to keep the General Fund operating,” Bentley said. “So I want to pay off as much of that as we can.”
Hightower says the revised bill might revive efforts to pass a gasoline tax increase before the session ends on Wednesday.
“If the original bill would have passed, we could have funded roads and bridges, 500 million-dollars, no gas tax needed,” said Hightower. “But if that element is taken out, we have to think seriously, long term, what are we going to do for our roads and bridges?”