Halfway done, no budgets

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The legislature is approaching the midway point of their 2013 Regular Session. They are grappling with the woes that beset the General Fund Budget. The ongoing struggles with the General Fund are a priority. Despite the lean times, most state agencies will receive level funding. Even though there are increased insurance costs for state employees, the administration will not be forced to lay off or furlough any state workers. However, a pay increase is out of the question.

Gov. Bentley’s proposed $5.8 billion Education Budget does allow for a 2.5 percent raise for education employees, as well as $12.5 million in additional funding for voluntary pre-kindergarten programs.

Traveling on a fast track in the super majority Republican legislature is a tough anti-abortion bill that clinic operators say would close them down. The sponsor, Republican Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Pelham, said the new rules would require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as most facilities that perform surgical procedures in the state.

Democrats in the legislature want to place police or resource officers in every school to help protect children and teachers. In addition, they are proposing a statewide referendum to allow voters in the state to decide whether they want a cigarette tax to fund Medicaid.

House Democrats also are strongly supporting a state lottery to raise $250 million a year for education. Lotteries have become so prevalent throughout the nation that we are essentially the only state that does not allow any form of gambling that raises money for state coffers.

Indeed, 45 states have a lottery. Of the five that have no lottery, two, Mississippi and Nevada, have full scale casino gambling that is the lynchpin of their state revenue. That leaves the Mormon State of Utah, the State of Wyoming, which really does not need any revenue because it has very few people, and us as the only three states that derive no income from a lottery or regulated gambling.

Gov. Bentley and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh have reached a compromise deal on a GOP plan to streamline the state’s law enforcement divisions. The governor’s proposal would consolidate all state law enforcement programs into one cabinet level agency called the Alabama State Law Enforcement Agency. It would have two units. One called the Department of Public Safety, which would include the current Department of Public Safety and would contain the present Marine Police and law enforcement units from the PSC and Revenue Department. The second unit would be called the State Bureau of Investigation. This unit would include the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center and law enforcement units from the ABC, Forestry and Agriculture Departments. The legislation approving these consolidations should pass. The governor has chosen former State Rep. Spencer Collier to be the chief law enforcement officer.

The Republican grip on the State Legislature has become tighter in recent months with two more defections. State Sen. Jerry Fielding of Talladega County moved to the Republican ranks. His switch makes the numbers in the State Senate 23 Republicans, 11 Democrats and one Independent.

Veteran State Rep. Richard Laird did not quite go all the way. He left the Democratic ranks but chose to be an Independent, although he will caucus with the Republicans. Laird has been one of the most conservative members of the House during his 35-year tenure. His move makes the House makeup 66 Republicans, 38 Democrats and one Independent.

A significant chairmanship appointment has also occurred this year in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Mike Hubbard appointed Rep. Mac McCutchen (R-Capshaw) to be chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, which sets the daily agenda for all bills. McCutchen succeeds former Rep. Blaine Galliher, who resigned from the legislature in July to become Gov. Bentley’s legislative affairs director.

A war between longtime CEO of the Retirement Systems David Bronner and AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry over appointments to the board that oversees the state’s pension system was won by Bronner.