Legislature 2006: Winners and losers

In our opinion

Alabama Legislative Session Update … and where do we go from here?

Back at the beginning of the session, we did a series of editorials on the various agendas the state’s special interests were going to push to have passed. Now, with the session behind us, we can look over what was accomplished and see who won, who lost and who ended up with half a loaf.


• Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform. Aware that legislators routinely hide behind "let the people decide" when a touchy issue arises, ACCR reasoned that even the most shameless opponents of constitutional reform could not deny citizens the right to vote on whether to hold a convention to rewrite the state’s antiquated charter. ACCR was wrong. When local representatives Steve Hurst and Randy Wood helped bottle the bill up in a House committee, ACCR’s schedule was disrupted and it never got back on track. But ACCR leaders vow to be back next year, so stonewalling legislators beware, this issue will not soon go away.

• The citizens of Alabama who lost the opportunity to tell their representatives whether they want to call a constitutional convention. If there is justice in the system, this will come back to haunt those politicians who denied the people this fundamental right.

Now the folks who got HALF A LOAF:

• The Christian Coalition of Alabama. Although the CCA was able to derail constitutional reform and keep anything that smacked of financial disclosure from being considered, it did not get all it wanted in the bill to make it two crimes when a pregnant woman is assaulted or killed, and the legislation banning most abortions never got out of committee. The coalition also failed to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ban electronic bingo and sweepstakes games from bingo halls and dog tracks. Still, half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.

• Alabama Farmers Federation. Willing to trust the people to vote on what it wanted but not to vote on what it didn’t want, ALFA fought to keep a call for a constitutional convention off the ballot, while at the same time pushing for a citizens’ vote on a constitutional amendment placing more restrictions on government’s power of eminent domain. ALFA got half the loaf. Citizens will not vote on whether to hold a convention, but in one of its rare defeats, ALFA’s top legislative priority, the eminent domain amendment, failed to pass. But don’t worry. It will be back.

• Gov. Bob Riley. The governor got a tax cut, but it did not go as far as he wanted. He got more money for education, but not all of it was allocated where he wanted it spent. It was this way most of the session. A lot of the legislation he wanted passed was passed, but with changes and tweaks he would rather not have seen included. Half a loaf.

And now the WINNERS:

• The Alabama Education Association. No doubt about it. Once again AEA leadership was able to get the money put where they wanted it put. Equally significant is the fact that the Education Budget passed with bipartisan support. Republican are going to have a hard time making this look like lobbyist-led Democratic fiscal irresponsibility. Moreover, it is a pretty good budget.

• Alabama Arise. You could put them in the half-a-loaf category, but they got a little more than that and deserve credit for it. After years of fighting to ease the tax burden on the poor and get Realtors to agree on a bill defining landlords’ and tenants’ rights and responsibilities, they got both. It goes to show that, even in Alabama, persistence pays off and that politicians, if pressed, can do the right thing.

• Alabama legislators. It has been a very good session for our senators and representatives. Although not everyone got all that he or she wanted, all can go back home and point with pride to something they accomplished while in Montgomery. Both budgets were passed, a tax-cut bill made it through, a host of lesser issues were resolved, and no one seems to be going home mad. It is remarkable what can be accomplished when there is money in the treasury and an election on the horizon.

• Gov. Bob Riley. That’s right, put him in two categories. Although his legislative record was so-so, he did nothing in the session to alienate any of his core constituency, so he goes into the June primary with little for his opponent to attack. In an election year, mark that up as success.

• And the people of Alabama. Even though they were denied the opportunity to vote on a constitutional convention, on the whole, citizens of the state came out quite well this year. Thanks to a booming economy and record tax receipts, things that needed funding were funded.

More important, Alabamians no longer have to hang their heads in shame over the way we tax our poor. While we are not where we should be, the future for the less fortunate will be brighter. Education improvements were passed, the school year lengthened, and, though some may wish that more money was spent on school construction and upkeep, no one can deny that teachers need and deserve the raises they are getting.

Because of money from Katrina relief, the General Fund budget is in better shape than it might have been, and, though there could be shortfalls next year if the economy slumps, the General Fund and Education budgets are about as responsibly written as one can expect in an election year.

All this should remind us of what our state can accomplish when we have the revenue with which to accomplish it. We can fund services better, we can lift the burden off the poor, we can take steps to reform our legal system, and we can make Alabama more attractive to industries seeking a place to settle and prosper.

Unfortunately, it is only occasionally that we have the resources to do the things that need to be done. And because our tax code is so unbalanced, so dependent on uncertain revenue sources, the chances are good that in a few years we will be cutting back many of the things we so proudly funded this year.

Until Alabama has real tax reform, years like this one will be only a hint of the things we can do and of the state we can be.

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