Moving forward

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

List after list, year after year, Alabama is at or near the bottom of almost every poll. With the state's constitution acting as an anchor to any advancement, Alabama seems destined to remain in the nation's cellar.

Gov. Bob Riley has staked most of the political capital on recent efforts to revamp the out-dated document. Alabama's constitution contains more than 600 amendments, most dealing with items on a county to county basis and not affecting the state as a whole.

Riley is calling on the Alabama Legislature to make changes that would relinquish some of its control in favor of home rule in individual counties, a move the governor says will free lawmakers' time to spend on broader issues, such as education and tax reform.

But it is doubtful that a legislature clinging to every bit of control it has will give up anything, even if it is for the betterment of Alabama.

Home rule allows counties to better manage themselves and places the responsibility for county government with local - not state - leaders.

However, according to Bailey Thomson, a person some consider the foremost expert on the Alabama Constitution, the passage of such a measure will be a tough sell.

"It's going to have a hard time because legislators are going to be reluctant to give up power to the governor," Thomson said.

Party politics will also be a factor. It is hard to imagine a Republican Alabama governor being given greater powers by a house and senate controlled by Democrats, especially if those powers include a line-item veto.

The line-item veto would go a long way towards instilling a sense of accountability in state government. It would allow a governor to eliminate unnecessary expenditures - commonly known as pork - from a bill.

Riley's appointed constitutional committee will soon recommend its changes to the governor. Those changes will then be presented to the Alabama Legislature.

The battle of wills will be on.

Two camps will be formed: those who feel Alabama residents are capable of governing themselves and those who feel the state's future is best decided in Montgomery.

Bob Riley is working to build people's trust in government. The constitutional battle, however, will come down to government's trust in the people they represent.