Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Legislative session for most part successful, especially for Governor Ivey

  The 2019 Alabama Legislative Session was one of the most controversial yet productive sessions in memory.

  Governor Kay Ivey’s first session of the quadrennial was a roaring success. It’s hard to remember a governor getting everything they wanted since the George Wallace heydays.

  Wallace in his prime simply controlled the legislature. It was more like an appendage of the governor’s office. Kay Ivey has apparently taken a page from the old Wallace playbook. By the way, that is probably apropos as she cut her teeth in Alabama politics working for and learning from the Wallaces.

  Governor Ivey started out the session by passing a gas tax increase that will fund major transportation and highway needs in the state. She ended the last week of the session by garnering legislation that will give the governor control of the Alabama Pardons and Parole Board. Also, legislation was passed that will allow a vote next March to determine if the state will have an appointed state school board rather than an elected one. If this controversial amendment is approved by voters, then the governor will make most of the initial appointments.

  One would have to say that Kay Ivey has a lot of influence on this legislature. Her years of experience, and more importantly, her relationships with legislators, is paying dividends for Alabama’s female Republican governor.

  Any legislative session could be considered a success if both budgets pass. It is, by the way, the only constitutional mandate for a regular annual session.

  The Education Trust Fund budget is record-breaking. It is a $7.1-billion-dollar budget with a $500 million dollar increase over last year’s budget. This largest-in-history budget gives teachers and education employees a four percent cost of living raise. It will also increase funding for the state’s heralded pre-kindergarten program. Alabama community colleges will get a significant increase. Legislators seem to realize the importance of technical training in the state and how it is key to attracting manufacturing jobs. Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Bill Poole (R- Tuscaloosa), the Chairmen of the Education Budget Committees in the Senate and House respectively, did an excellent job of shepherding the school budget through the legislative labyrinth.

  The General Fund Budget, which generally lags behind the Education Budget, was also passed on a positive note. The budget calls for spending $2.2 billion dollars. It includes a two percent cost of living increase for state employees as well as an eight percent increase for the state’s understaffed prison system. Rep. Steve Clouse (R – Ozark) is the veteran chairman of the House General Fund Committee.

  One of the downsides of the session was the legislature’s inability to pass a Constitutional Amendment to allow Alabamians to vote to have a lottery like 45 other states, including all of our neighboring states.

  It would pass overwhelmingly if put to a vote. Alabamians are simply tired of seeing their money going into the state coffers of Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Florida.

  Sen. Jim McLendon (R-St. Clair) offered the best opportunity and most modern and profitable lottery proposal. However, his bill was ignored in deference to the Poarch Creek-related legislation that was overtly written to continue to give these tribal casinos a monopoly on electronic gaming in the state. These casinos arrogantly flaunted their influence in the legislature by offering a watered-down, archaic, paper-only lottery that would be obsolete within five years. 

  McLendon’s bill would have generated $250 million. The Poarch Creek lottery would have given the state a paltry $100 million at best for a few years. The House Democrats boldly and wisely killed the bill, reasoning that if they are going to approve a lottery, it should be one that benefits the state as a whole and not the Poarch Creek gambling syndicate.

  In essence, the Choctaw tribal casinos in Mississippi killed a proposed lottery 20 years ago with last-minute campaign spending before the balloting. The Poarch Creek casinos beat it this time before it could get out of the gate. The power that the Poarch Creek casinos are building in the Alabama Legislature is dangerous.

  CBS 42 in Birmingham took a poll the last week of the session asking how their viewers rated the legislature and the legislative session. It was 86 percent negative. However, this is nothing new. Alabamians have always rated the legislature negatively. But if you ask them about their own legislators, they will either not know who they are, or they like them.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment