INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
When compared to the other three years of the quadrennium the 2010 Legislative Session should be considered a success. First of all, anytime the legislature passes the budgets on time it should be considered an accomplishment.
This year they passed the Education and General Fund Budgets with days to spare but very little time or effort was expended in crafting and drafting these budgets. The documents have no rhyme of reason when compared to the actual fiscal needs.
The legislature simply passed something knowing full well that the wheels are going to come off about the same time that the budgets go into effect in October.
However, you cannot blame legislators for passing the buck.
Governor Bob Riley takes the cake for kicking the can down the road. He wins the Pollyanna award for proposing a budget based on federal stimulus money that might or might not come down the road.
Whoever inherits this ship of state is walking onto the deck of the Titanic. The gubernatorial aspirants should be required to undergo extensive mental examinations to evaluate their sanity for wanting the job of governor.
If ignoring the state’s financial dilemma was not bad enough, Riley has spent his entire last year in office with an obsessive mission to make electronic bingo the paramount focus of the state. He is determined that before he leaves office he will give the Indian gambling interests a monopoly in Alabama.
After three months of relentless and warrantless raids on state sanctioned tax paying Alabama operations the legislature was forced to act on the issue. They came forth with a simple bill to allow Alabamians to vote on whether to allow bingo at our state facilities, similar to what the Indians are allowed under federal law.
Riley then focused all of his attention and efforts on defeating and disallowing Alabamians the opportunity to vote on and help clear up and clean up the mess he had created. He used every advantage and leverage that the office of governor has to defeat the bingo vote by the people.
This issue will continue to fester, probably after Riley is gone from the scene. Riley’s actions this year have given new meaning to the old political adage that in politics “you dance with the one who brung you to the dance.” The Indian gambling interests’ investment in Riley’s 2002 campaign was massive but it was a good investment.
The legislature’s salvaging the state’s Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program (“PACT”) was the crowning achievement of the year. The program, which began in 1990, has been successful over the years.
However, it was destined for death with 44,000 Alabamians stranded and their college savings gone. The legislative solution revives the plan and makes it solvent. It is shored up with $547 million over the next 17 years from proceeds from savings the state realizes as it pays off bond issues.
The legislative champions who spearheaded the efforts were Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, in the House and Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, in the Senate. Dr. Paul Hubbert was the power behind the throne that suggested and gave his blessings to the solution to PACT’s salvation.
It is the most important accomplishment of the session.
The surprise movement of the session was the passage of a $1 billion road program, which will be on the ballot in November. If you vote to approve this measure it will take $100 million a year out of the state oil and gas savings account to pay for this massive road building project.
Once again, the House passed legislation to ban the PAC to PAC political campaign transfer money laundering system. However, the Senate once again refused to address the matter. Therefore, we are operating this year’s campaign with essentially no campaign finance law. There is no way to tell who is giving to which candidate under the current flawed law.
The removal of the state sales tax on groceries with the accompanying raise on upper income Alabamians’ income tax once again failed. The Governor’s charter school proposal was also rejected.
Neither Body seriously considered wrestling with revising our 1901 Constitution.
The session ended with the retirement of the revered Speaker of the House Seth Hammett. Seth represented Covington County for 32 years, the last 12 of which he has been Speaker of the House. The battle to succeed Seth for Speaker will be a donnybrook.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.