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Legislature faces full plate during tumultuous session

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–I have lost track of the number of stories and columns I have written on the eve of legislation sessions…since 1953 I have written dozens of them about impending regular and special sessions.
Invariably the stories had a similar vein…how tempestuous, stormy, controversial the upcoming session would be.
I used lots of descriptive adjectives. I could use all of them and a few I don't even know to try to describe the 2004 Regular Session which kicks off Feb. 3.
Certainly at no time in my experience…perhaps at no time in state history…has the Alabama Legislature faced such a plate full of problems. And most of them can be traced to the worst financial crisis facing state government since the Depression.
The cause of this crisis? Certainly it is due in part to a downturn in the economy with a corresponding downturn in tax collections. The economy has hit schools especially hard because their two major sources of revenue–the income and sales taxes–are so sensitive to the economy.
But another major contributing factor has been the reckless spending done by past governors and legislatures.
Saddled with the challenge to address and resolve this crisis is Gov. Bob Riley. After his sweeping Amendment No. 1 proposal of last fall went down in flames in a statewide referendum, Riley will come to the Legislature this week with plans not to raise taxes but to cut spending.
To drastically cut spending.
Because the biggest expense in both the education and General Fund budgets are "people costs"–salaries and benefits, Riley is expected to ask that teachers, state employees and retirees pay dramatically more for their health insurance, a slight increase in their contribution to the retirement plan, and a reduction in the number of state holidays.
His pitch will be simple: Either they pay more or thousands of them must be laid off.
Predictably, Riley's plan has drawn fierce opposition from the unions that represent teachers (the AEA) and state employees (ASEA).
Dr. Paul Hubbert of the AEA and Mac McArthur of ASEA have promised a fight to death to protect their constituents.
While there is little or no interest in any major tax increases it will not be a surprise if several are proposed–a boost in the so-called "sin taxes" on beer, liquor and cigarettes…maybe a shot at taxing what has been an "untouchable" product for years…soft drinks…and certainly a strong move to legalize a lottery.
None or even all of these proposals would generate enough money to make up the shortfall in the two funds, but they would help.
Cindy Samford Cannon of Opelika, a real estate executive in that city, said she had already made known her interest in the vacancy to Gov. Riley, who is one of five members of the trustee nominating committee.
Mrs. Cannon, 56, earned her bachelors degree from Auburn in 1969 and later earned a masters degree in education as well from AU.
The seat she is seeking must be filled by a resident of Lee County.
Jimmy Samford, a long-time AU trustee, died a few weeks ago after an extended illness.
Mrs. Thacker will retire on Feb. 13 after working in the House of Representatives since 1967. During her long tenure she served as secretary to three House speakers–Sage Lyons, Joe McCorquodale and Tom Drake.
Her retirement comes on her birthday…Big Eight Oh.
In recent years Mrs. Thacker has served as the House Historian. She was well qualified for that job…she has been an eyewitness to a lot of House history.
The House without Beth won't be quite the same.

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