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Mixed reaction to a raise
Local lawmakers divided on pay increase; Orr sought recorded vote

By M.J. Ellington (334)-262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Sen. Arthur Orr was on the floor of the Senate yelling for a roll call vote when his colleagues approved a 61 percent pay raise for themselves in a Thursday surprise voice vote.

The idea of a voice vote on such an issue galls Orr, R-Decatur. If the increase stands, Orr said he plans to donate his to Habitat for Humanity and other charities.

"If you want a pay raise, at least be man enough or woman enough to admit it," Orr said, after the Legislature adjourned for the week.

Thursday, Gov. Bob Riley said he will veto the measure, but acknowledged that the Legislature has enough votes to override his veto.

"At least they will have to do that by roll call vote," he said.

In a roll call vote, there is a permanent record of which lawmakers voted for and against a bill. On a voice vote, there is no record of how lawmakers voted.

Area lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, were mixed in their opinions about the expense allowance increase.

The raise first came up in a House resolution that increases the monthly expense allowance of legislators from $2,280 per month to $3,850 per month, a $19,000 per year raise.

The House first passed the resolution on a voice vote and sent it to the Senate where Orr, Sens. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, and Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, tried to push for a roll call vote. Orr said there were at least six senators calling for a roll call vote, more than the minimum number required. Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. recognized the voice vote.

Orr said he wants his colleagues to explain how they can vote themselves a raise and object to voters getting a tax cut. Riley's economic package includes tax cuts or deductions for families with income up to $100,000. Teacher lobbyist Paul Hubbert and many lawmakers say the cuts would hurt education revenue.

Grantland voted yes

Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, said he supports the increase and voted, "Yes," when the measure passed the House. Grantland said the Legislature has not had an expense increase since 1990. It did not take effect until 1991.

"Divide that raise by 17 years and it will not seem like so much," Grantland said.

Grantland said his opinion might be different if legislators got paid sufficient mileage for Legislature-related trips.

Legislators get 10 cents per mile for one trip each session from home to Montgomery and one trip back home. For Grantland, that adds up to $36 per session.

The amount dates to 1901 when members of the Legislature came to Montgomery by train and stayed in the capital city until the session was over.

Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said most House members did not know the resolution was coming up.

But Hammon said he voted against it because of the method used to present it, however, he is not totally against an increase.

"A lot of expenses come out of your pocket," Hammon said. "In reality, people who live close to Montgomery and can go home every night get to keep most of the money." Hotel rooms and other expenses eat up the stipend for people farther away.

"This is a job that any citizen should be able to do, but right now, it is restricted to double-dippers and independently wealthy people who can afford to come here," Hammon said. "It should not be that way."

Hammon said he became aware of just how big a problem the stipend is when he tried to recruit Republicans to run for the House before the 2006 elections. "A lot of them could not afford to come here," he said. Hammon said he will vote against overriding the veto when the measure comes back to the Legislature because he supports the governor. He wishes the state could at least increase mileage allowance.

Rep. Henry White, D-Athens, said he did not support the resolution, but he probably would vote with his colleagues to override the veto. "If you vote with your colleagues, they help you on measures that you need passed," White said.

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