Legislature finally OKs budget
Published 10:03 pm Wednesday, June 13, 2007
The Alabama Constitution calls for the Legislature to meet every year. The session is to last for 105 days, about three and a half months. It commences the first Tuesday in February of each year, except in the first year of the quadrennium when it meets later. An organizational session precedes the regular session that year. It occurs in January and it is important because the president pro tem of the Senate and other leadership positions are selected and the rules are set for the four years ahead.
It was vitally important this year. The emergence of the Republican party in Alabama has made it dominant in all areas of state politics except in the state Legislature, and especially in the state Senate.
This year's organizational session was a bloodbath. The final result was that a majority of 18 Democratic senators won control leaving a frustrated minority of 17 Senators, comprised of the 12 Republicans and five renegade Democrats, fuming. They reacted like school kids who lost a game in the schoolyard and decided to take their ball and go home. They stuck their tongues out at the victors and vowed that they would not allow anything to pass.
They only came off of their threat for a fleeting instance early in the session and then only for self-serving reasons. To give themselves a 62 percent pay raise and to give one of their members, Jimmy Holley, a chance to get emergency relief for the tornado ravaged Enterprise school system. After this short hiatus they reverted back to their avowed shutdown. They were good on their word.
The Constitution allows for 30 session meeting days out of the 105 calendar days. In 26 out of the 30 the Senate was absolutely shutdown and did no work. The 17 minority senators protest was based on the rules of the senate enacted by the majority in the organizational session. In defense of the minority the rules were punitive and allowed for the majority to have an ironclad filibuster-proof control over the Senate.
The division in the Senate is more than political. It is the deepest divide ever seen on Capitol Hill. The acrimony and bitterness is so deep that neither side seems to even talk with the other. It has created a rancor and lack of action in the legislative process never before seen. The animosity is so severe that it culminated with one of the minority Senators, Charles Bishop, actually punching Rules Chairman, Lowell Barron, in the face on the floor of the Senate Chamber on the last day of the session.
The House of Representatives is affected by partisan politics, but it worked through the partisanship and progressed slowly but functionally. It is frustrating to House members who dutifully passed necessary legislation only to see it languish in the Senate.
This Senate stalemate almost lost Alabama the largest industrial plum in decades. Gov. Bob Riley had to plead and maneuver with the Republican Senators to stop their strike long enough to pass the necessary incentives to lure the German steel maker ThyssenKrupp to Alabama.
The only thing the state Constitution requires of the Legislature in a session is to pass the budgets. In the final days, the Senate minority blinked at their game of Russian roulette and allowed the budgets to pass. They figured that their constituents would not understand or appreciate that their juvenile pouting was more important than at least passing a budget.