Session ends with no fights|Column

Published 3:54 pm Wednesday, May 27, 2009

By Staff
Steve Flowers
The 2009 Legislative session is now history. It was basically a carbon copy of the previous two of this quadrennium. It could be rated a little better because it did not end with a fist fight and budgets were passed. Although some legislation actually passed, most high profile issues failed.
The two state budgets were easier to craft because there is very little money. In lean years there is very little discretion and less room for contention. As in the past six years, the Democratic Legislature essentially ignored the Republican Governor’s budget and initiatives.
The Legislature has left Gov. Riley out of the Legislative process during his entire tenure. They throw his budget in the nearest trash can and put all his proposals in a graveyard committee. He has taken the rebuff in stride and with aplomb. His successes as Governor have come outside the Legislative arena.
Federal stimulus funds saved the bacon for the Legislature. Both the Education and General Fund Budgets relied heavily on these one time funds to resolve their budget dilemma. Alabama depends primarily on sales and income taxes to fund our schools. Therefore, when the economy goes south and other states get a cold we get pneumonia. This one time money will not be available in January 2011 when the new Governor will take office. Whoever is elected will be walking onto the deck of the Titanic.
The $2.2 billion General Fund Budget includes $1 billion of federal stimulus funds and is 35 percent larger than this year’s scaled down budget of $1.6 billion. Most state agencies are getting roughly the same amount they are currently receiving because a good portion of the increase is for one time  projects named in the stimulus package.
The $6.2 billion Education Budget includes $513 million in federal stimulus funds. It is about 7 percent higher than this year’s scaled down budget of $5.8 billion. Both budgets take effect Oct. 1.
The Governor made the ethics issue his priority and the entertainment industry spent a fortune advertising the Sweet Home Alabama deal, neither issue got much traction.
On the other hand, the bill to remove the sales tax on groceries got lots of chances. It came to the floor five times. Each time it met with a close loss due to an ironclad solid opposition from Republican legislators. This issue ate up at least half of the House’s allotted time and spurred numerous filibusters.
The political announcements will be forthcoming fast and furiously in the next few weeks. The 2010 campaign will begin in June when the law allows candidates to start raising money. The horses will start entering the gate.  
Steve Flowers is a politicial columnist who served in the state legislature.