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Legislative Session playing out to be uneventful, again

By By Steve Flowers
The 2008 Legislative Session is in its waning days, yet very little has been accomplished. The budgets are still awaiting action. The partisan acrimony persists. It is basically a carbon copy of last year’s wasted session. The Senate’s partisan battle has stymied any legislative progress or achievement for at least two years of this four year quadrennium.
In the four decades that I have observed and participated in the legislative process, there has never been a stalemate or impasse like the one that currently exists in the Alabama Senate. They literally have done nothing. Most House members have become very frustrated and many have remarked that they will be amazed if any Senator from either party is reelected.
The partisan divide, between Republican Gov. Bob Riley and the democratically controlled House and Senate, has become particularly pronounced. There is fault on both sides. However, it should be noted that Riley has turned the proverbial cheek for five years while the Democrats lambasted and ridiculed his proposals. They have basically ignored and pigeonholed his initiatives, thrown his budgets in the nearest waste basket and rendered him irrelevant in the budgeting and legislative process. Therefore, he has taken the gloves off in this sixth year and is fighting back.
Riley kicked off his fight by announcing, only days before the session began, that he was organizing and chairing a Campaign 2010 GOP committee to raise $7 million to replace Democrats in the Legislature with Republicans. He has been on a ubiquitous journey around the state cutting ribbons, denouncing Democratic legislators and making industrial announcements.
Riley’s success at attracting new large high paying industries to Alabama will be the hallmark of his administration. The newest plum he has plucked is the announcement by the European plane manufacturer, Airbus, to locate near Mobile. The Mobile plant will hire around 2000 people in high paying jobs. This, coupled with the gigantic ThyssenKrupp steel plant announcement last year, will be a tremendous boon for southwest Alabama and will reverberate throughout the entire state. It will create a significant short-term and long-term influx of dollars in sales and income taxes that will be a legacy Riley can be proud to have been a part of accomplishing.
This industrial growth and expansion during Riley’s tenure has also boosted the population estimate for Alabama just in time for the 2010 census. It was projected about two years ago that we would probably lose a congressional seat after 2010. That has now changed from a probability to only a possibility. The entire south is by far the fastest growing region in the nation. We are not gaining population as fast as Florida, Georgia or Texas, but we are growing. The losers appear to be in the rustbelt of the northeast. We are also helped by the demise of New Orleans. Louisiana will definitely lose a seat in congress.
Riley has also fought the Democrats on the issue of whether he has the power to appoint vacant county commission seats. He has been in an ongoing battle with Democrats in Mobile and Jefferson counties on this issue. He has made an appointment and the county has ignored his appointee and held an election. His appointee eventually loses the seat in the election. However, in preliminary rulings the U.S. Supreme Court is giving every indication that they will ultimately rule in Riley’s favor. It looks to be apparent that the state constitution supersedes a local act in these cases.
Speaking of Jefferson County, they continue to teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. The prior administration, led by Larry Langford, has placed Alabama’s largest county in a perilous position financially. Unorthodox bond swap transactions during Langford’s term have put the county on the brink of bankruptcy. They owe Wall Street $53 million that they are late in paying. The SEC is investigating whether all the bond swap transactions were illegal. However, the legality of the debacle is not what they are worried about at this time. They are simply hoping to stay afloat and not go under through bankruptcy. The overall county debt is $4.6 billion. The county has been ruined financially for most of our lifetimes. There are third world countries that have better bond ratings.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.