Legislature faces tough choices

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sen. Jimmy Holley (R-Elba) said that in the 28 years he’s been an elected official, he’s never seen anything like what the legislature, which convenes today, faces this year.

“Ei-ghty-six percent of our education funding comes from income tax and sales tax,” he said. “Those two revenue sources are down 8 to 9 percent.”

And that’s a first for modern history. In the past 50 to 60 years, he said, the most those revenue sources have ever declined is 1 to 1.5 percent.

“That’s happened in income tax twice and sales tax only once in all of those years,” Holley said.

The veteran lawmaker served five terms in the Alabama House of Representatives and is beginning his third term in the state Senate.

“The first and foremost thing we’ll be dealing with is going to be budgets,” he said, adding that there will be a slight delay in getting started. Gov. Bentley was waiting until the close of business on Monday to have a complete picture of February revenue before moving forward with finalizing his budget proposals.

In recent weeks, Bentley has warned that the General Fund budget will have to be cut 15 percent, and that some agencies will be cut more than others in an effort to protect medical care for the poor (Medicaid) and public safety. Bentley’s also warned that some programs might be “zeroed out.”

How will those decisions be made?

“I think we’re going to follow the lead of the governor’s task force headed by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey,” Holley said.

Bentley last week named Ivey chairwoman of the 22-member Commission on Improving State Government. Among the members is Andalusia’s Seth Hammett, currently the director of the Alabama Development Office.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to use this as an opportunity to have less government. But we want to come as near as possible to delivering the services children and the elderly need from their government.”

Holley said January’s tax numbers look like a “silver lining,” or at least an indication that things might finally be improving.

“At end of the day, we must remember that our constitution requires a balanced budget,” Holley said. “We’ll do the best we can with the resources we have available.”

Holley said the legislature also will look at illegal immigration, voting and reapportionment.

“We are trying to develop an immigration policy that would stand the test of courts,” Holley said. “The public of this state are looking to us to secure the borders. From our vantage point, it’s hard for states to do it. But we’ll look at legislation dealing with certain amounts of resources going to to illegals, and try to stop it.”

Holley said he’s also hopeful about legislation that would put in place secure procedures that would allow soldiers and civilians serving overseas to vote electronically.

And reapportionment – the process of drawing district lines that’s required after every U.S. Census – will be addressed as well.

“For sure, the reapportionment committee will take up the Congressional lines and there’s a good possibility we’ll get to reapportionment of the Alabama legislature.”

Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) was not available for comment on Monday.