Mitchell criticizes high court#8217;s decision

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2005

Sen. Wendell Mitchell said the Alabama Supreme Court’s recent decision that ruled community service grants as unconstitutional effectively stops him from funding any future educational projects in his district.

Like many of the state’s lawmakers, Mitchell criticized the ruling.

”I just don’t think it’s the correct legal opinion,“ he said.

For years, the legislature has set aside money in the annual budget for each lawmaker to use in funding public education projects. In September, the court ruled 7-0 in favor of Activist Hugh McInnish of Huntsville, who contended it was the legislature’s job to appropriate the money, but the governor’s to see how the money was spent.

Mark Montiel, attorney for McInnish, called the decision an end to the ”pork palace days“ of the state legislature.

”This puts an end to the practice of the Alabama legislature creating individual slush funds to dole out,“ Montiel told the Birmingham News.

But Mitchell said a committee oversaw all funds appropriated to each lawmaker. Mitchell said he also scrutinized each project and request for funding in his district.

”My main test was –

‘is it a worthwhile project? Will people benefit from it?’” He said. ”The real losers here are anyone who serves an educational purpose. Those are the people I have helped and tried to help in the past. I’ve taken real satisfaction in seeing those projects grow.“

The court’s ruling means that $12.8 million, allocated this year by the legislature for community service grants, sits in limbo until lawmakers can decide how to spend it.

”The governor doesn’t have time for this and why would he want to be involved in it?“ he said. ”Who knows better than a respective district senator or representative what his or her people needs?“

Mitchell, whose appropriation each year was $150,000, said an Alabama Supreme Court ruling on the state constitution cannot be challenged, although the case can be re-heard, which is highly unlikely, he said, considering the unanimous vote.

Mitchell said he has several checks – held over from last fiscal year – to hand out, but no more after Oct. 1.

At least until Jan. 10, when the legislature reconvenes and the grant-oversight committee can address how best to comply with the court order.