Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - State revenues up as legislature prepares for session

  The governor has been inaugurated and the Alabama Legislature has had its organizational session. The quadrennium has begun. It is time for our state officials to get to work.

  Among the three branches of government, legislative, executive and judicial, our 1901 Alabama Constitution renders our legislative branch as the most powerful.

  Some of you who witnessed the Wallace era may disagree and point to the executive branch. That was a unique era. Wallace had basically become “King” of Alabama politics and reigned from 1963 through 1986 with a couple of interlopers taking a four-year residency in Wallace’s governor’s home on Perry Street. They left all of the wheelchair accessibility modifications and Wallace features designed for his paralysis in the mansion. They probably assumed he would return after his constitutionally mandated hiatus. There will never be another politician that will control the reins of state government for five terms like Wallace did. He essentially established himself as “King of Alabama” in pretty much the same way Franklin Delano Roosevelt did as president from 1932 until his death in 1945. Ironically and coincidentally, both ruled from wheelchairs.

  Wallace simply owned the legislature. He was like a dictator and legislators were his puppets. As a young legislator, I watched as Wallace’s lieutenants simply sent the agenda for the day down from the governor’s office, bypassing the Rules Committee completely. The governor’s budget became the budget. If there was any pork in the budget, it went to lawmakers who were loyal to Wallace. Thankfully, I represented Wallace’s home county of Barbour. Therefore, my district was on the pork list. In essence, during that 20-year Wallace reign, the legislature was simply an appendage of the governor’s office.

  That is not the case today. The Alabama Legislature has assumed its inherent power. That power is derived from the power of the purse. The legislature controls the appropriation of the state’s dollars, the "ways and means" of state government if you will. It is the most powerful branch because it controls the purse strings. Thus the old political Golden Rule: “Those that control the gold make the rules.”

  Governor Kay Ivey and the legislature have a golden opportunity to have a successful four years. They are all of the same party and have a close working relationship. As lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the Senate for over six years, Ivey built an excellent rapport with the Republican leadership in the Senate. She understands the workings and machinations of the legislature, and she has built excellent relationships with members of the House and Senate. She is especially close to Senate leaders like Del Marsh, Jabo Waggoner, and Greg Reed.

  The legislature is overwhelmingly Republican. The Senate has 27 Republicans and only eight Democrats. There is an equally "super" majority in the House. The numbers there are 77 to 28.

  The legislature and governor are also the recipients of outstanding financial news as they begin their first regular legislative session this week. Alabama is seeing the strongest tax growth since the Great Recession a decade ago. 

  The tax dollars that make up the Educational Trust Fund have grown by 6.9 percent over 2017. That is a whopping $428 million more dollars to work with in crafting the next fiscal year’s budget. The primary sources for funding the education budget are income and sales tax. Income taxes, the biggest source of school funding, grew by more than $300 million this past year.

  It appears that President Trump and the Republican Congress’ passage of a tax cut package last year has been the stimulus for the growth in revenue for Alabama’s tax coffers. Even the beleaguered General Fund is in better shape than was first thought. Our General Fund reaps its revenues from different taxes and tends to grow much more slowly than the Education Trust Fund's revenues. However, it grew by $76 million. This is a 2% gain, which puts the General Fund projection close to $2 billion.

  The good news for lawmakers as they prepare the budgets for next year is that both funds' revenues have exceeded projections.

  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.

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