The 2019 Legislative session was one of the most controversial yet productive sessions in memory.
Gov. 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 Kay cut her teeth in Alabama politics working for and learning from the Wallaces.
Gov. Ivey started out the session by passing a gas tax increase which will fund major transportation/highway needs in the state. She ended the last week of the session by garnering legislation to give the governor control of the Pardons and Parole Board and then topping that off with legislation that will allow a vote next March on Alabama having 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 pretty much got a lot of influence with this Legislature. Kay’s years of experience and probably more importantly, her relationships with legislators, are 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 Budget is record breaking. It is a $7.1 billion budget with a $500 million increase over last year’s budget. This largest in history budget gives teachers and education employees a 4 percent cost of living raise. It will also increase funding to 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 in attracting manufacturing jobs. State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Bill Poole (R- Tuscaloosa), chairmen of the Education Budget Committees in the Senate and House, 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. It includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for state employees as well as an 8 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.
State 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 Indian casinos legislation which was overtly written to continue to give these Indian casinos a monopoly on electronic gaming in the state. The Indian 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 Indian casinos’ 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 in the hope that if you are going to approve a lottery, that it would be one that would benefit the state and not the Indian gambling syndicate.
In essence, the Choctaw Indian casinos in Mississippi killed the lottery 20 years ago with last-minute money before balloting. The Poarch Creek Casinos beat it this time before it could get out of the gate. The power that the Poarch Creek Indian 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 legislative session. It was 86 percent negative. However, this is nothing new. Alabamians have always rated the Legislature negatively. However, if you ask them about their own legislators they will either not know who they are or they like them.
See you next week.
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 www.steveflowers.us.