Bills to improve rural Alabama, including road and bridge projects and a revised irrigation tax credit law, are among those moving through the Alabama Legislature this session.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, and Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Capshaw, would establish the Rural Assistance Match Program (RAMP) to fund rural road and bridge projects. RAMP would help counties that are either unable to or choose not to fund the 20-percent match required for the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP).
”I think (ATRIP and RAMP) will do more to benefit the state in repairing roads and bridges than anything we’ve seen in the history of Alabama,” Bussman said. “These are creating jobs and opportunities for people in Alabama.”
Through RAMP, participating counties can receive $1 million from the state to get $4 million in federal money for bridge and road projects. Priority is given to repairing bridges used by school buses. The program would be funded through $25 million bonds sold by Alabama Highway Finance Corp.
“In many rural areas, the low weight restriction on bridges means school buses, farm trucks, logging trucks and tractor-trailers have to find alternate routes,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Soybean, Cotton and Wheat and Feed Grains Division Director Buddy Adamson. “The projects will provide safer roads for students on school buses and more reliable farm-to-market roads for our farmers. Our members should contact their county commissioners and engineers to discuss bridges and roads in greatest need of repair.”
Twenty-two counties have asked to participate in RAMP. They are Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Crenshaw, Dale, Fayette, Geneva, Hale, Henry, Lawrence, Lowndes, Marengo, Marion, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Wilcox and Winston.
Since 2012, ATRIP has funded 439 road and bridge projects totaling $613 million.
Lawmakers also are considering improvements to the irrigation tax credit legislation, which became law in 2012.
Currently, farmers must claim the $10,000 tax credit in the year an irrigation, reservoir or well-building project is completed. Bills sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, would allow farmers to claim the one-time tax credit over five years.
“If we’re able to increase agriculture (in Alabama), we will greatly increase tax dollars for education and the state as a whole through an increased yield seen through irrigation,” Orr said.
The bills would open more portions of the state’s largest rivers for farmers to use direct withdrawal irrigation techniques and qualify for the tax credit. Those areas include parts of the Tombigbee, Alabama and Coosa rivers, according to University of Alabama in Huntsville atmospheric science professor Dr. Dick McNider. Farmers using water from smaller rivers, like the Pea and Conecuh, must store the water in a reservoir to claim the tax credit, he said.
The bills also clarify the process for multiple farm-owners claiming the tax credit.