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SECA gets companion Senate bill

By By RACHEL BROWN HACKNEY, Executive Editor
Although a bill in the U.S. Senate differs from a version in the House, the mere introduction of the legislation has been called a positive step in the effort to gain major federal assistance for a swath of poverty-stricken counties in the Southeastern United States.
Georgia Sen. Zell Miller last week proposed a new $100 million Southern Regional Commission that would receive $20 million a year for five years to address poverty in 242 eligible counties in North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia.
On Jan. 7, U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre of Lumberton filed a new version of a bill that gained widespread support last year for a similar effort. His legislation would create the SouthEast Crescent Authority, which would receive $40 million a year for five years for 428 counties in the Southeast not covered by the Delta Regional Authority or the Appalachian Regional Commission.
In a telephone interview this week, McIntyre, who represents North Carolina's 7th Congressional District, told the Daily News, "I'm excited about the momentum that is building for a federal focus on economic development in the Southeast."
The SECA counties, he pointed out, represent the "last, vast area of the country" not receiving special federal assistance. "It's imperative that we move forward to help attract as many jobs as possible" to this area.
The SECA legislation was based on a study undertaken in 1999 by the Regional Development Institute at East Carolina University in Greenville. Choosing 1960 as the starting point, the RDI staff compared the economic situations in Western North Carolina and Eastern North Carolina up to 1999. In 1960, "both (areas) were in poor shape," Al Delia, ECU associate vice chancellor and the director of the Regional Development Institute, told the Daily News in an earlier interview.
By 1999, however, "the western counties had improved … while the eastern counties had declined economically, by and large," Delia said.
The answer, the RDI staff found, was the establishment of the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Tennessee Valley Authority. Both federal entities had fostered the addition of billions of dollars to the western counties' economies over the four decades examined.
Miller last year sought and received $250,000 from Congress for a study by the University of Georgia that examined much of the same material RDI had studied. When UGA released its report in mid-December, Delia told the Daily News, "It really confirms what we said. … The numbers are virtually identical."
McIntyre said Thursday that he had received support for his bill from numerous congressmen from the Southeast as well as from those representing other areas of the United States. The bill had 14 co-sponsors, he pointed out.
Referring to Miller's bill and his, McIntyre said, "I think they'll readily be reconciled. … It's too important an issue not to allow (reconciliation)."
McIntyre has support on the Senate side from both members of the North Carolina delegation, Sens. Elizabeth Dole and John Edwards.
Referring to Dole, McIntyre said the SECA legislation was "one of three priority bills I discussed with her" within days after her November election, "and then she came to my hometown during the President's Day recess (in February) … and we had a huge rally" for those bills.
Along with the SECA legislation, Dole and McIntyre are working on a federal tobacco buyout program and on federal recognition of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, many of whose members live in McIntyre's native Robeson County.
Delia told the Daily News Thursday, "The Miller bill is good news for us. … It means that the proposal to create a regional authority is in play in the Senate."
He agreed with McIntyre that the differences "are things that certainly can be worked out."
However, one unrelated factor may have considerable bearing on whether Congress will fund the legislation this year in any form – a possible war with Iraq. Asked how that might affect his efforts to get some version of SECA created this year, McIntyre did not hesitate with his response: "I'm still optimistic."