Aprils’ peril to state, bud­get

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

The last two Aprils have not been good to Alabama.

On April 20, 2010, the in­fa­mous BP Deep­wa­ter oil spill disas­ter oc­curred. The mas­sive erup­tion off the Louisiana coast sent crude oil into the Gulf of Mex­ico con­tin­u­ously for 85 days. We are still try­ing to cal­cu­late the dam­age. In just one ex­am­ple, Alabama’s beach rental rev­enue fell from $133 mil­lion in 2009 to $70 mil­lion last year. The eco­log­i­cal dam­age prob­a­bly can­not be prop­erly as­sessed for decades.

On April 27, 2011, Alabama was struck by the worst nat­u­ral disas­ter in our his­tory. Over 30 tor­na­dos swept through the state de­stroy­ing en­tire neigh­bor­hoods and towns killing over 250 Alabami­ans. The dev­as­ta­tion is un­be­liev­able. The loss of lives is un­par­al­leled and the cost in­cal­cu­la­ble. It will be years be­fore the re­cov­ery is com­plete.

Al­most prophet­i­cally the Leg­is­la­ture was pre­par­ing to re­cess in or­der to put the fi­nal stamp to the bud­gets and gather pub­lic in­put on con­gres­sional redistricting. The law re­quires con­gres­sional lines to be re­drawn af­ter each 10-year cen­sus to en­sure equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion based on pop­u­la­tion.

Most states re­quire an en­tire Spe­cial Session. How­ever, our new Repub­li­can House and Se­nate have cho­sen to save time and money by sand­wich­ing the reap­por­tion­ment is­sue within the Reg­u­lar Session. They have used the two week re­cess to hold pub­lic hear­ings and as­sess cit­i­zen in­put from around the state and then act on a plan.

There­fore, both the bud­gets and con­gres­sional redistricting will be put to bed at the close of the Reg­u­lar Session by the 9th of June.

Craft­ing the bud­gets has been dif­fi­cult to say the least. Al­though the Ed­u­ca­tion and Gen­eral Fund Bud­gets have been passed by both houses, there are slight dif­fer­ences be­tween the Se­nate and House ver­sions. There­fore, con­fer­ence com­mit­tees have been ap­pointed to iron out the de­tails.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Bud­get will cut the av­er­age teacher’s take home pay by close to $1,000 per year and in­crease class sizes by cut­ting over 1,000 teach­ing po­si­tions statewide.

The Gen­eral Fund is even more aus­tere. If the econ­omy were not dev­as­tat­ing enough the tor­nado tragedy has cre­ated havoc with the bud­get.

The Gov­er­nor rec­om­mended and the Leg­is­la­ture agreed to cut all ex­tra agen­cies and all his­toric al­lo­ca­tions from the bud­get. The sa­cred cows were Med­i­caid and pris­ons. All other state agen­cies were slashed by at least 20 per­cent. Many are tak­ing a 30 per­cent re­duc­tion or more.

One of the few or­ga­ni­za­tions to sur­vive was the revered Re­tired Se­nior Vol­un­teer Pro­gram (“RSVP”).

This group also sur­vived a 1980’s bare­bones bud­get crunch dur­ing the last Wal­lace ad­min­is­tra­tion. Leg­is­la­tors who re­ally know their dis­tricts re­al­ize the mag­ni­tude of pop­u­lar­ity that RSVP en­joys through­out the state. Each week 12,000 re­tired se­nior cit­i­zen vol­un­teers go to work for state and lo­cal agen­cies, de­part­ments, and ed­u­ca­tional venues. In fact, last year over 5,000 vol­un­teers worked nearly 2 mil­lion hours at state agen­cies. The cost to the state for these vol­un­teer work­ers was 20 cents per hour.

This new group of GOP leg­is­la­tors has been fo­cused. It is the most dis­ci­plined par­ti­san body in mem­ory. They have been like a well or­ga­nized army, es­pe­cially the Se­nate, which has voted lock­step with party or­ders. They very rarely get out of line.

In one rare in­stance Sen­a­tor Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, of­fered an amend­ment to the Ed­u­ca­tion Bud­get that was ex­tem­po­ra­ne­ous. Se­nate Pro Tem Del Marsh pub­licly chas­tised Orr by go­ing to the mi­cro­phone and an­grily say­ing Orr must not have been lis­ten­ing in the cau­cus meet­ing.

The same loy­alty has not been shown to the Gov­er­nor.

While in most cases they have all been on the same page, there is a def­i­nite un­der­cur­rent or shadow cam­paign be­ing or­ches­trated by Bob Ri­ley’s friends. It ap­pears they do not want to give up the ship.

Ri­ley’s pri­mary sur­ro­gate is fresh­man Sen­a­tor Bryan Tay­lor of Prattville. Tay­lor has not only stepped on most of his col­leagues’ toes but also the Gov­er­nor’s with grand­stand­ing dis­plays dur­ing the Session.

Dur­ing the height of Gov. Bent­ley’s mis­sion to re­spond to the state’s great­est nat­u­ral disas­ter, Tay­lor brazenly in­tro­duced a bill to trans­fer the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety away from the Gov­er­nor and to the At­tor­ney Gen­eral.

Bent­ley, as ex­pected, re­buked Tay­lor in a sharply worded letter. In his de­fense, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Luther Strange said he did not re­quest the pro­posal nor did he en­dorse it. Strange’s spokesper­son said the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Of­fice was not even con­sulted on the bill be­fore it was in­tro­duced.

Tay­lor, who was on Gov. Ri­ley’s staff this time last year, was left stand­ing alone. Gov. Bent­ley has enough on his plate with­out hav­ing to fight off stealth ma­neu­vers to un­der­mine his ad­min­is­tra­tion from within his own party.

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 reached at www.steve­flow­ers.us.

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