MADISON, Ala. — The Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has informed north Alabama officials that multiple major road projects totaling roughly $100 million have been shut down in the wake of their senator publicly opposing Gov. Bentley’s $700 million tax hike plan.
Highway 72 and Jeff Road in Limestone County were both in the process of being widened by the ALDOT. Other projects were ongoing as well.
However, in response to Sen. Bill Holtzclaw taking out a billboard expressing his opposition to Gov. Bentley’s impending tax proposal, ALDOT Director John Cooper, a Bentley Administration cabinet member, told local officials that the projects have now been shuttered.
“They were put on hold because of the billboard Senator Holtzclaw put up,” Cooper told Yellowhammer on Thursday. “The governor is aware that I did it.”
Holtzclaw, a retired U.S. Marine, earlier this week rented space on a billboard in Madison saying, “Governor Bentley wants to raise your taxes. I will not let that happen. Semper Fi – Senator Bill Holtzclaw.”
Talk radio host Dale Jackson tweeted a picture of the billboard the following day.
— Dale Jackson (@TheDaleJackson) February 23, 2015
Yellowhammer asked Cooper if playing politics with infrastructure funding sets a dangerous precedent, when projects are presumed to be funded on the basis of need.
“It’s not something we’ve made a habit of doing, but in this case we felt like the billboard was simply a step too far,” Cooper replied. “If Sen. Holtzclaw feels that strongly about taxes, we felt certain he would not like a lot of tax money being spent in his District.”
The Bentley Administration’s decision to place the road projects on hold appears to be follow though on a threat the governor made to members of the legislature during a closed door meeting last week. According to numerous sources who were in the meeting, Bentley told lawmakers he would take infrastructure and community development funding away from the District of any legislator who does not back his tax increase.
Past governors have undoubtedly used road and bridge projects to coax legislators into supporting their proposals. However, that tactic was typically employed one-on-one in a proverbial “smoke-filled back room” and did not play out in public, the obvious concern being that local residents feel victimized because of a disagreement between politicians.
Yellowhammer has reached out to the governor and to multiple north Alabama officials for comment and will update this story as it develops.
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— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) December 3, 2014