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Timing is right

There won’t be time in this week’s special session of the Legislature for lawmakers to focus much on government reform measures, even if they had a mind to. Lawmakers will be concentrating on passing General Fund and education budgets before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

However, the overwhelming margin of defeat that Gov. Bob Riley’s tax reform and government accountability program suffered last week is a clear signal that Alabama citizens are tired of business as usual in government.

No doubt Riley will have accountability proposals to suggest for the regular session of the Legislature that begins in February. Riley shouldn’t stop at only those things that were included in the plan voters soundly rejected - such as tenure reform and banning pass-through pork.

Riley should push for some dramatic changes, in both ethics laws and campaign finance laws. Among those changes:

Don’t just ban pass-through pork. End community service grants - legislative pork - altogether. If a project deserves funding with taxpayers’ dollars, make sure that project is a line item in the budget. That’s how federal budgets are passed. There’s still pork, but citizens know exactly where it’s going and at least lawmakers have technically &uot;debated&uot; the worth of a particular project before it gets state funding.

End transfers between political action committees. Alabama has strong laws about reporting campaign contributions and spending. The problem is that PACs can transfer money between themselves over and over again, with no limits, meaning contributions are thoroughly laundered before getting to a candidate. Voters deserve to know which special interests own which lawmakers. Ending PAC-to-PAC transfers will help voters know that.

Lobbyists must be prohibited from giving anything of value to lawmakers. Currently, a lobbyist can spend up to $249.99 a day on lawmakers for entertainment, meals and drinks, and never have to report the spending to the public. Lawmakers are paid a fair wage for their public service, and they receive daily expenses for meals and hotels while they’re in Montgomery.

Groups such as the Christian Coalition of Alabama that ask for donations to oppose initiatives like tax reform must be compelled to release their donors. Who, exactly, pays the Christian Coalition’s bills? Voters deserve to know.

The people of Alabama want meaningful accountability. Riley and lawmakers owe it to them to provide it.

The Birmingham News

Sept. 15, 2003