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Budgets and ethics should be legislative priorities

By Staff
Sen. Arthur Orr, Guest Columnist
The Alabama Legislature convenes for its annual session the first week of February, and lawmakers will be presented with a lengthy list of challenges to tackle, including serious shortfalls in the Education and General Fund budgets. It is my hope that both parties in the House and Senate will come together and put our state’s priorities before personal politics.
Because of sluggish collections in both corporate and personal taxes, our Education Trust Fund budget, which funds public schools, community colleges and four-year public universities, faces a half-billion dollar shortfall, and our General Fund budget, which funds all other non-education state agencies, is confronted with a $230 million deficit. Hard choices will have to be made, especially in areas like Medicaid and K-12 education.
As a member of the General Fund budget-writing committee, I realize we must adequately fund our state agencies, but I also believe strongly that tax increases and similar revenue measures are not the solution to our state’s ills, especially at a time when our national economy appears so uncertain.
Aside from our primary responsibility of crafting budgets, it is my hope that the Legislature will focus its attention on the area of transparency and accountability in government, and, more specifically, a package of legislation that I am sponsoring with state Rep. Mike Ball (R – Madison).
A public interest group based in Washington, D.C. recently awarded Alabama an “F” grade for its lack of disclosures by public officials and candidates. Public officials simply cannot create trust with the people of Alabama by denying them access to important disclosure information.
Rep. Ball and I believe that if our leaders will not voluntarily disclose their business relationships and sources of outside income, then we must pass stronger laws that compel them to disclose. To that end, among the bills in our package is legislation that requires state, county and city elected officials and their spouses to publicly disclose any contracts or working relationships they hold with public government entities.
The bill, which also applies to candidates for public office, would have, for example, required public disclosure of many of the questionable relationships that have come to light in the ongoing two-year college investigation. Other bills in this package tighten our campaign laws so the public will know who is funding the candidates.
Currently, our public disclosure laws are a patchwork quilt of loopholes and conflicting legal opinions. Passage of this package will finally put some teeth into the disclosures we demand from public officials and candidates for office.
I also hope to legislatively address the very serious issue of illegal immigration this session. Illegal aliens must be stopped from abusing our tax dollars, bankrupting our healthcare system and threatening our public safety and homeland security by remaining undocumented. I will introduce several bills that attempt to tackle this continuing problem and serve to counter federal inaction on this subject.
One bill I am sponsoring has a particular local impact and will help provide quality healthcare to the working poor without the need for another expensive social program. The legislation provides retired physicians volunteering in free clinics with liability coverage at an overall estimated cost to the state of less than $20,000.
Community Free Clinics serve a vital mission throughout the state; consequently, we must do everything we can to protect these valuable volunteers who donate their time, energy and talents to improving the lives of others. Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little (D – Cullman) is reaching across the aisle to join me in sponsoring this much needed, bi-partisan legislation.
In conclusion, it is an honor to represent the citizens of District 3 in Montgomery, and I am humbled by the opportunity. I look forward to a productive legislative session in which many of the issues facing our great state are addressed and resolved.
Sen. Arthur Orr represents Alabama’s 3rd District, which includes Morgan, Madison and Limestone counties. He is employed as an attorney with Cook’s Pest Control in Decatur.

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