Look for little to be accomplished in regular session
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–Gov. Bob Riley is an Alabama graduate and a big-time Crimson Tide football fan, but he must have a new-found empathy for the early-season plight of the Auburn football team last fall.
The Tigers had gone into the season will high expectations, but it was in their third game before they finally scored a touchdown.
That pretty much sums up Riley's record to date in the regular session of the Legislature. He hasn't come close to scoring a touchdown, in fact he hasn't even made a first down.
Riley kicked off the session by offering a myriad of accountability and cost-saving bills but thus far they have been almost routinely killed or put on the back burner.
Take the case of what seemed like a harmless proposal to require teachers and state employees to work for 30 years (instead of 25) in order to qualify for full retirement benefits. Understand, this measure would not apply to any current teachers or employees, only on future hires. It would not provide any savings to the state until the year 2029.
Most of the legislators will be dead of old age before that proposal would kick in…yet it was killed in committee by a 14-0 vote. Go figure.
Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, thinks he knows what is going on.
He says the Democrat majority in the Legislature is determined to pass their own versions of accountability bills and block any and all such measures offered by the governor.
State Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, all but confirmed this.
"I think we are going to accomplish many of the goals the governor has set out," Lindsey said. "They just may not be through bills sponsored by his people." While the legislation Riley wants was faring poorly, two bills aimed at stripping him of his power were moving forward. One of them had far-reaching consequences–it would create a seven-member commission to oversee the State Transportation Department, which means it would have the authority to determine what road and bridge projects are approved. Currently that authority–and the enormous political clout that goes with it–is in the hands of the governor and his appointed Transportation Director.
The bottom line of all this: The current regular session could be a major disaster in which little or nothing is accomplished.
There is a bill now pending in the Legislature which would require all private organizations to disclose the sources of their money. While the Christian Coalition is not mentioned by name in the bill, it is clearly aimed primarily at that group. The Coalition played a major role in the defeat of a state lottery several years ago, and it was no less active in opposing Gov. Riley's tax-accountability proposal (Amendment No. 1) last fall. It was that campaign which provoked the current controversy. Many critics wondered why the Coalition felt it should become involved in that issue. The bill has created an unusual coalition of legislators…one that crosses party lines. Some Democrats oppose the measure, some Republicans support it.
The Birmingham City Council…at the urging of Mayor Bernard Kincaid…has approved a proposal to send 250 neighborhood association officers in that city to a convention in Florida which will cost the taxpayers more than $200,000. This comes at a time when the city is facing serious budget shortfalls. At last years convention of this organization in Chattanooga more than 225 delegates were in attendance from Birmingham–they made up more than one-fourth of all the delegates at the national convention. Worse, the conduct of some of the Birmingham delegates–rowdy parties, fist fights–brought much unfavorable publicity to Birmingham.