The fight begins in Montgomery

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

The legislative session (or season) gets underway in Alabama today with what promises to be a showdown for the ages.

As in previous years, Alabama is facing a tremendous budget crisis - from schools to state agencies, to non-essential state agencies to non-state agencies that perform tasks better than the state every dared to.

The questions are, "How do we fund these groups?" "Do these groups get funded?" "Can we cut their budgets?"

All of these are questions that will surely raise heated discussions on the floor of the House and Senate this month.

Unfortunately, we don't think the upper and lower chambers of the Legislature have any answers to give these folks at this time.

What we do think is the Legislature is about to get a dose of their own medicine. And it's going to be coming from the Governor's office and the Business Council of Alabama.

Governor Bob Riley, a Republican, proposed the biggest tax increase in state history last year. It failed miserably.

He has shifted his efforts to calling for more accountability in state government and state agencies.

He's called for eliminating unnecessary funding and making pass-through pork projects punishable by law.

Here's the best part - the BCA is supporting Governor Riley in this.

That doesn't bode well for the Legislature. Especially some senators and representatives used to having their way with the budget.

With the BCA's support, Governor Riley has the means to battle the Legislature to eliminate unnecessary spending.

Despite history, we're going to say the governor's going to win this time around.

But, there is the unknown factor. A factor that could shape up to be the best battle in Alabama since the Battle of Mobile Bay.

The Alabama Education Association, led by Paul Hubbert, vs. the BCA and Governor Riley.

Riley proposes that state workers - including those represented by the AEA - pay more towards their benefits. The BCA agrees with that, and so do many of the legislative members.

However, Hubbert says no way Jos\u00E9.

Again, we're going to go with the governor and BCA on this one. Dollar for dollar, the AEA may have more money, but as far as reputation goes, the BCA is in much better shape than AEA.

Add to that the fact that the majority of Alabama's citizens would like to see state employees pay more for their insurance, and you've got the classic Battle Royale of Alabama.

It's going to be tough, and one of the two sides will walk away with their tail tucked between their legs like an old dog on the front porch beaten with a broom. We just think this time, it's going to be the governor doing the whipping.