Senate was rudderless without Hubbert
The just completed Regular Session of the Legislature frankly was a failure. The only thing the Constitution requires the Legislature to do is pass the budget. They were in session three and a half months and failed to pass the General Fund Budget. The Senate, which is where the blame rests, never even took up the budget. Now because there is no General Fund Budget Gov. Riley must call the Legislature into a Special Session costing taxpayers more than $400,000, an expense which must come out of a woefully broke General Fund, a fund that is so underfunded that the budget passed by the House was strapped together with $250 million dollars of one-time money. It is a train wreck waiting to happen and the wreck will occur next year as elections are ongoing.
The House worked diligently and put together a budget that passed early in the session, again evidencing that all fault lies on the heads of the Senate. Even mild-mannered Speaker of the House Seth Hammett could not restrain his frustration. During a wasted three-week period while the Senate was filibustering and the Republican senators refused to show up for work, the Speaker while giving the customary recognition to a group in the gallery commented, "I'm glad you are here today to observe the House and not the Senate because if you were here to observe the Senate you would find, as usual, they are not doing anything."
An internal war in the Senate is the reason for the chaos. Although it has been ongoing for three years, the acrimony reached a zenith this session causing all reason and responsibility to end. The Senate is divided into two teams: a minority team consisting of 10 Republicans and four Democrats and a 15-member solid majority Democratic team. This leaves about six Democrats who move in and out of teams from day to day. Therefore, you never know who is on first base.
But for Dr. Paul Hubbert's omnipotent power, the education budget would have met the same fate as the General Fund. Problems in the Senate escalated one month into the session when Dr. Hubbert entered UAB for open heart surgery. Hubbert made it clear he wanted the Senate to stand strong and pass his education budget with a 6 percent teacher salary increase. The governor made an issue out of the raise only being 4 percent. However, he is basically ignored in the budget process. Riley knows he is irrelevant in the legislature, but he realized that publicly staking out his position was good politics. Riley was right. It was a masterful political move that will do wonders for his political stock, especially among Republican Primary voters.
Back to the Senate, they simply did not know how to operate without Hubbert around telling them what to do. With Hubbert recuperating in the hospital, the ship of state became rudderless. The Republicans began filibustering and Goat Hill's most powerful hired gun lobbyist, Joe Fine, came into the picture. The University of Alabama and Auburn University hired Fine for a hefty fee to get them more money. If Dr. Hubbert had not been away on sick leave, no one would have dared to try to bother his education dollars. However, under the circumstances Fine was able to slip in and "while the cat is away the mice will play." Finally Dr. Hubbert got out of bed, summoned the senators down to his office, and told them to get their act together, quit wasting time, and pass his budget. Fine was included in the meeting. The next day the education budget passed. Fine got $13 million extra for colleges and universities and teachers got their 6 percent raise. That, my friends, is how the education budget passed. Lest you have any doubt that AEA and to some extent other special interest groups control the Senate, the above scenario should dispel any uncertainty. The Senate can play their silly games as to "who's on first," but when the real game begins the majority of the senators are on Dr. Hubbert's team.
Gov. Riley vetoed Hubbert's budget the last day of the session, but was embarrassingly overridden. The Senate voted 26 -9 for Hubbert over Riley. The vote in the House was 69 for Hubbert and 19 for Riley. Out of the 105 members of the House, 42 are Republicans. Therefore, Riley was beaten within his own party.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.