Lawmakers will go into the final three days of a special session Tuesday to address the use of money from the settlement of an oil spill lawsuit against British Petroleum.

There is, however, little optimism of any agreement among legislators. Much of the split is along geographical lines.

At stake is road construction, debt payment and filling a funding gap in Medicaid.

"The people most affected by the BP oil spill feel they need to get a generous portion of it," said Bill Stewart, retired professor of political science at the University of Alabama. "But Medicaid, as we all know, helps the sick and poor among us. They need money.

"The only thing about this issue that is different from the lottery is there are not as many interests involved," he said. "Maybe they can come to a compromise."

Lawmakers are less optimistic. Differences in House and Senate bills during the regular session remain unresolved.

Lawmakers from Baldwin and Mobile counties, which were directly affected by the oil spill, believe their districts should claim the lion's share of the settlement. In the north, lawmakers want to spread the money for road projects there, and use more of it to pay off debt from borrowing money for the General Fund the past few years.

"I would like to pass a BP bill, but I don't feel good about it," said Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville. "I talked to the chairmen in the House and Senate (Friday), and it was not good. We just can't compromise."

Lawmakers return Tuesday for three days of work. Greer said if a compromise has not been reached by Wednesday, there is no point in continuing the session.

"We just need to come on home" if there is no agreement by then, he said.

Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, wants a compromise, as well, but is skeptical one can be reached.

"It would be absolutely a failure in leadership and membership if we don't," he said.

Black said a conference committee should be appointed in an effort to reach a compromise on how to spend the money.

Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said the Baldwin and Mobile delegations appear to be steadfast in their positions.

"I can't see why we should continue to give the lion's share of the money to them," he said, "but they are fighting for their districts, just like we are."

The argument from the south is that Highway 98, the main route from the Gulf Coast north, needs to be expanded to better handle heavy vacation and hurricane evacuation traffic. It has earned the unenviable nickname "Bloody 98."

Their argument is that earmarking money to expand the highway would free money for road projects in other parts of the state because Highway 98 is atop the state's priority list.

Melson isn't buying that argument.

"If that was true, it would already have been started," he said. "They money does not exist for it.

"Every district has a highway like that," he said. "There are 29 bridges in Lauderdale County that need work or replacement, so we all have projects that need to be done."

Melson said the money currently in dispute is from the settlement of the lawsuit filed by the state.

"They already have $3 billion from the settlement of their lawsuits," he said of the Gulf counties. "The lawsuit is for the entire state."

Robert Palmer may be reached at 256-740-5720, or Follow on Twitter @TD_RobertPalmer.


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