Aug 03 2006

Delta Regional Authority budget gets $12 million boost in U.S. Senate

Grassroots Caucus Alabama coordinator Mayor Sheldon Day credited for success

The Clarke County Democrat

The Delta Regional Authority budget won an increase up to $12 million in a key US Senate Committee for promoting economic development in the eight-state DRA region, which includes 20 counties in Alabama.

Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day, the Grassroots Caucus coordinator for Alabama, commended the Senate action as "an excellent step forward in improving economic opportunities for our region."

"The Grassroots Caucus is fortunate to have great leadership from Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day, who did a great job as an advocate for the region again at our recent initiative in Washington, DC this year, as well as other local leaders in Alabama," said Caucus director Lee Powell. "We wholeheartedly praise Sen. Richard Shelby, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Rep. Artur Davis and other Members of Congress for their support of the DRA, which does a good job in promoting economic growth throughout the region and deserves a much larger budget," said Powell.

The $12 million level was included in the energy and water appropriations bill, and prospects are good for approval by the full Senate, which has led the way in recent years in supporting a larger budget for the DRA.

The DRA also made progress in gaining some additional funding through USDA Rural Development, with the Senate approving $2.5 million and the House $3 million for rural economic development projects such as Rural Communities Advancement Program in the region. The differences between the Senate and House versions will have to be resolved in conference. The administration had not requested any funding through USDA Rural Development, so both Houses of Congress should be commended for including funding through this source, as well as the energy and water appropriations.

"Thomasville is a stellar example of how a city can promote economic development from the grassroots level and Mayor Day gave a dynamic presentation about economic growth at our session at the US Senate Dirksen building, where we had several Bush administration appointees and Members of Congress taking part," Powell said. The annual three-day initiative in Washington included 122 grassroots leaders from the region, 22 Members of Congress, six Bush administration appointees, and national economic development as well as faith-based organizations.

The House had earlier approved $5.94 million for the energy and water appropriations bill, but the Senate committee increased that amount to $12 million. The difference will have to be resolved in conference, but the Caucus urges Congress to follow the pattern of last year, when the full amount approved by the Senate became law. Funding from USDA Rural Development through DRA was at approximately the level of $2.5 million in the Senate and $3 million in the House. The differences between the Senate and House will have to be resolved in conference.

These overall figures are much higher than the DRA budget figures that were being discussed in Washington, DC in 2004, when the administration had requested only $2 million and some budget-cutters wanted even deeper cuts. The Bush administration stopped that trend by increasing the President's request to about $6 million in 2005, and the Senate doubled that amount to $12 million last year, and also appears to be on the verge of doing so again this year. The Delta Grassroots Caucus commends Senators Shelby and Sessions in Alabama, Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott of Mississippi, Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Senator Mary Landrieu and others in Louisiana, and the rest of the Senate for this progress.

"We urge the Congress to vote the full $12 million figure in the final energy and water appropriations bill, as well as $3 million for USDA Rural Development funding through DRA," Powell said.

The Grassroots Caucus supports a wide variety of initiatives to promote economic growth in the entire Delta region, which stretches from New Orleans to southern Illinois and east to include 20 counties in Alabama.