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'Put up or shut up' time for reform

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–Outgoing Secretary of State Jim Bennett is of the opinion that 2003 is "put up or shut up time" for those interested in making a major overhaul of Alabama's 102-year-old Constitution.
"If we don't get it (constitutional reform) in '03 I think the movement will lose steam," Bennett said.
Bennett is chairman of a commission created to suggest changes in the voluminous document. He said that group's report would be submitted to the legislature and Gov.-elect Bob Riley early in January.
Whether Riley will act on the recommendations with any gusto remains to be seen. One of his chief supporters in his successful race for governor…the Alabama Farmers Federation…is firmly on record in opposition to a new constitution.
His dire warning provoked a loud "amen" from Dr. Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, head of the Alabama Association of School Boards.
All of which suggests that Gov.-elect Riley better enjoy his Christmas holiday because it will not be a happy New Year.
The No. 1 goal of many Auburn alums is to remove State Sen. Lowell Barron, D-DeKalb, from the board. His term expires in January.
However street talk has it that Barron has already locked up enough votes in the Senate to block the confirmation of any one appointed by Gov.-elect Riley to succeed him, and under state law, Barron would continue to serve until his successor is confirmed.
This is precisely what happened a number of years ago during the second Fob James Administration when the Senate refused to confirm a replacement for Montgomery banker Bobby Lowder. James wanted Phil Richardson, a retired Alfa Insurance executive, to fill Lowder's seat but it never happened.
It is expected that as much as $1 million will be spent on the event.
This comes at a time when incoming governors in several other states have announced very low-key inaugurals because of the plight of the nation's economy.
State Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, who is coordinating the inauguration, defending the expense of the event, and he emphasized that it would not cost the taxpayers a penny.
Who will pick up the tab? For one, many individuals and groups who were big contributors to Siegelman will be given the opportunity to make a public confession of their sins and become born again Riley supporters, and be sure every lobbyist worthy of the name will be given a similar opportunity to contribute to the expenses.
In fact, a flier was circulated among lobbyist last week which includes what might be called a rate card: Platinum Level: $50,000; Gold Level: $25,000; Silver Level: $15,000; Bronze Level: $10,000; and Inaugural Sponsor: $5,000.
Dr. Bronner has reported that the assets of RSA dropped by $2.7 billion last year and at the end of the fiscal year totalled $22.3 billion.
This is simply more bad news for a state already in dire financial straits. What this means is that the state will have to contribute more toward the pensions of of workers in public schools, state and local government.
It is estimated that because of the drop in RSA investment earnings an additional $82 million will have to be made to the system by the state.