By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Everyone in Montgomery claims that the General Fund (SGF) is in a state of crisis. The Bentley Administration has even threatened to close up to twenty Alabama State Parks, unless the legislature takes hundreds of millions of more dollars from the people of Alabama. That has not stopped Bentley and his allies in the legislature from floating a $50 million bond increase proposal to build a enormously expensive $130 million resort at Gulf State Park catering to the wealthy. That bill was debated on the Senate floor on Thursday, May 28.
Sen. Paul L. Sanford (R-Huntsville) said in a statement on Facebook,
“Friends pay attention to the rhetoric in Montgomery. The Governor is traveling across Alabama threatening the closure of multiple State Parks all while he is pushing a bill creating a $50 Million Bond Issue to build a new Gulf State Park Lodge/Convention Center that is not necessary. Government must prioritize wants verse needs!”
Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocumb) said,
“The Senate Bill to Borrow the 50 million dollars for just one State Park at Gulf Shores was just carried over, Thank you Senator Paul Sanford for filibustering this bill. Because he was filibustering the bill was carried over. We still have the house bill that could come up in the last four days of the session but we will be watching for it. For right now it is dead.”
Sen. Smith said the bill,
“Would give the Governor the right to issue $50 Million dollars in bonds to spend on the Gulf State, State Park down in Gulf Shores. This is the Park that we gave a lot of the BP Money to construct and now they are back for more. There have been 500 bills introduced in the Senate and this bill number is 499. So it was just introduced recently. Now correct me if I am wrong but the Governor has been running around all over the State talking about CLOSING State Parks all over the State but this is his bill to borrow 50 Million dollars for one park while closing all the others. What is wrong with this picture?…Oh, by the way, the amount of BP OIL Money that has already been transferred to the department of conservation to build the park is 85.5 Million dollars and that is not enough so they want another 50 million on top of that while the Governor runs all over the State telling us that they are going to close our parks…..unreal……REMEMBER THIS 50 MILLION DOLLAR BOND ISSUE(BORROWING THE MONEY) is the Governors bill…..UNREAL.”
For years, the Gulf State Park Lodge was the crown jewel of the State Park system. It made far more money than any other state park, while allowing Alabama families to enjoy the Gulf at an extremely affordable rate. It was destroyed a decade ago by a hurricane.
Rather than simply taking the insurance money and rebuilding what we had, Governor Bob Riley (R) Administration wanted to build a grandiose resort for people with bigger budgets. That project got delayed by a lengthy court battle and then the Great Recession. The State has since allocated $85 million of our BP oil spill recovery money to build the monstrous resort which will cater to the higher income tourists.
Sen. Jimmy Holley (R) said that the insurance and the $80 million check from BP are not enough to build what the Bentley Administration wants to build thus they need to be able to write up to $50 million in new bonds. The bonds would be paid backed by revenues from the resort. If that is not enough, the bill authorizes that the bonds be paid back by two small taxes that are currently earmarked for the upkeep of the State parks. No mention was made of how the bonds get paid back if the palace by the beach gets washed away in a future hurricane.
If issued, the bonds would be for 20 years at a 4 percent interest rate, the debt service payments on the bonds would be an estimated $3.65 million annually. Backers claim that the massive project will pay for the bonds; but two existing taxes that are currently earmarked for maintaining Alabama State parks would be diverted to pay for the bonds….in case those rosy forecasts are wrong.
Sen. Sanford said, “Is Alabama really broke or is our handling of our finances broken?”
The Senate version of the bill is dead for this session; but, the House version has already passed the Alabama House and its powerful proponents will likely try to force it through the Senate again while the public’s attention is diverted on the General Fund Budget, tax increases, combining the budgets, et cetera.