Jan 09 2007

Shelby touches on issues in Dothan stop

The Dothan Eagle

By Peggy Ussery


U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby wants to revamp how Alabama's universities are funded - try $1 billion in federal money.

If MIT and Cal-Tech can get millions in federal dollars for research and building projects, why can't Alabama? Such a move, Shelby said, could transform the state's economy.

"It will make a difference in our children's lives," said Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.

Shelby spoke before members of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce on Monday morning before flying back to Washington, D.C. The senator has been making stops around the area as part of his practice of holding public meetings in each community he represents. The Dothan stop made 1,349 meetings in 21 years.

The Republican senator returns to Washington under a new Democratic leadership in Congress. Shelby said he believes the ongoing war in Iraq hurt Republicans in the most recent elections.

"We have to work under the circumstances that are there," Shelby said.

Shelby said Alabama and Houston County have come a long way in unemployment rates and replacing lost textile jobs with better jobs in the automotive, aviation and high-tech industries. But, he said, the state needs more skilled workers and federal dollars for university programs.

Shelby touched on the $1-billion economic impact Fort Rucker has on the area, the need for enforcing immigration laws and the war in Iraq. Shelby said he does not know if sending more troops to Iraq will accomplish anything at this point. Shelby said it's important to support the troops and lay out a plan for when they'll be brought home.

"We ought to define victory and decide what it's going to take there," Shelby said.

Shelby took questions from those in attendance at the Holiday Inn South. Questions surrounded U.S. involvement in Somalia, national health care, oil resources and the federal deficit.

Shelby said the country is importing a lot more than it's exporting, and the country overall does not save enough money. A strong economy has helped, but Shelby said he worries about the "out-years." Shelby said his efforts in the past to introduce a constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to adopt a balanced budget have failed because people say it's not needed.

The deficit, he said, proves that such an amendment is needed.

"They do need it," Shelby said of federal leaders. "They need a gun to the head."