Clouds loom over session

Published 4:07 am Wednesday, February 4, 2009

By Staff
The 2009 Regular Legislative Session begins this week under the most ominous economic cloud ever seen. As legislators gather for their conclave, the budget is their priority. Goat Hill observers, who have been around the Legislature for a while, say it is the worst situation they have ever seen.
The fiscal year was only two months into its term when Gov. Bob Riley was forced to declare proration in mid-December. The amount of proration is staggering. Education is facing a 12.5 percent cut in its current budget, despite the fact that voters graciously voted to allow legislators to take a bigger slice of the rainy day savings fund for this year.
Proration of the Educa-tion Budget has occurred seven times since 1980. It was last declared in 2003. Since the Great Depression Era, proration has ranged from 2.76 to 14.4 percent. This 12.5 percent declaration is the worst in 50 years.
This financial dilemma will be tackled by a State Senate that has been in constant turmoil for the past two years. They basically have done nothing for 25 of the 30 days of each Session, and then hastily passed the budgets in the last five days or during a Special Session.
There is no sign that the dissidence has subsided. Instead there appears to be even more intense quarreling on the horizon.
When the Democratic majority organized in 2007, there was an agreement that white Democrat Hinton Mitchem would be Presi-dent Pro Tem for two years and black Democrat Rodger Smitherman would be Pro Tem from 2009-2010. The time has arrived and it is Smitherman's turn with the gavel. Even though Sen. Mitchem agreed publicly to the deal, Mitchem first has to resign before the Smith-erman can take on the job.
Mitchem and Sen. Lowell Barron have thrust the responsibility of getting the Democratic Senators necessary to make the change on Smitherman's back.
Further complications lie in the path of the Democra-tic efforts to wield control because they have lost three of their members since last Session. Veteran Democra-tic Senator Pat Lindsey died unexpectedly last month. Senator Parker Griffith has gone to Congress and E.B. McClain has gone to jail.
Under Alabama law, Senators must be elected. Gov. Riley adroitly set the election for Griffith's seat so that the seat will not be filled until after the Session ends. The Lindsey and McClain seats will also be impossible to fill during this Session. Therefore, the Senate will be playing with 32 instead of its usual 35.
Since all three vacancies were members of the Democratic majority, this makes their coalition very fragile and vulnerable. They may not want to open up the Pro Tem can of worms.
It will be interesting to watch and see who, if anybody, is in charge of the Senate. It would almost be comical if we were not in such a serious financial situation. The Goat Hill Show has just begun.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at <> .

Email newsletter signup