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Chalk one up for the rascals

By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
The antics of Alabama legislators may be unsurpassed in the annals of history…physical assaults on the Senate floor…sex after midnight in the old House chamber…smoking pot in the capitol dome…driving drunk on the wrong side of I-65…packing pistols during House debate…all those nasty DUIs and traffic infractions…and the list could continue ad infinitum.
Last week another of those pesky DUI charges surfaced, this time tagging the Senate’s Democratic Majority Leader, Sen. Zeb Little of Cullman. I thought he had a driver. If that’s the case I suggest he start using those services. If not he should get one.
Sen. Little has not been convicted and is due his day in court. He did refuse to submit to the sobriety test which automatically suspends his already expired driver’s license for 90 days. However, he was also charged with violating the open container law and failure to stop for an emergency vehicle. All but the expired license, probably the most important document people carry, fall under the phrase many could express… “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” The license…well, I can’t explain that one.
Little apologized for his actions and said he takes full responsibility for what he did. “What I did was wrong, dangerous and irresponsible. I am prepared to accept the consequences. I apologize to the people of my district, but most of all, I apologize to my wife and children, who deserve so much better from me than this.”
He should have added an apology to the legislative institution of government he represents as should those in the past who have damaged its reputation. But despite all the imperfect people who make their way into its halls, the legislature remains the branch which is truly representative of the people.
Court rejects governor’s power play
Last week the Alabama Supreme Court rejected an intrusion against the people’s power by Gov. Bob Riley. The governor had sought to expand the very limited line item veto power he has in the budgeting process to include the authority to veto much larger chunks of state appropriations. Here’s how our constitution reads: “The governor shall have power to approve or disapprove any item or items of any appropriation bill embracing distinct items, and the part or the parts of the bill approved shall be the law, and the item or items disapproved shall be void, unless re-passed according to the rules and limitations prescribed for the passage of bills over the executive veto; and he shall in writing state specifically the item or items he disapproves, setting the same out in full in his message.”
Last year lawmakers used Riley’s numbers to draft the budgets even though their own money crunches projected less revenue. They put in some protection against cuts in the funding for six social service agencies if the governor’s projections fell short. The legislature then provided full appropriations for those agencies but reduced other agency budgets by17.5 percent, the projected shortfall if the revenue didn’t add up to what the governor had predicted.
Riley then attempted to use the line-item veto to strike the 17.5 percent language. Saying “we used your numbers governor,” legislators sued and at the trial court level Montgomery County Circuit Judge Truman Hobbs Jr. agreed with the lawmakers. Riley appealed and the Supreme Court affirmed Hobbs’ ruling 9-0. The high court said Riley did not meet the constitutional requirements for a line-item veto and rejected his argument that the bill undermined his authority to deal with funding shortages.
Riley may not be a lawyer, but he has plenty of them on board and they should have advised him of the unlikely success of this futile effort. Perhaps someone should check on just how much this little episode cost the taxpayers.
Riley told the AP last week that the ruling could have had a crippling impact on prisons and other programs if they had to lose 17.5 percent of their budgets. But alas, the governor is saved by a fairy godfather in the form of …guess what…the Obama stimulus package and suddenly his inflated budget numbers are forgotten as federal money flows freely throughout the government in BamaLand.
Look out though. Drayton Nabers has already commandeered a million of it and there are other lawyers and lobbyists standing in line.