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Most area House members vote against override

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Most area House members voted against the override of Gov. Bob Riley’s veto of their pay increase, and at least one area senator said he plans to donate the raise to charity.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, voted against the override. He said he will accept the raise but donate it to Habitat for Humanity and other charities. “I definitely object more to the way the raise was handled than the raise itself,” Orr said. He said the increase puts Alabama lawmakers’ pay ahead of their peers in surrounding states.

Each legislator could have decided not to accept the expense-allowance increase for himself even after the Legislature approved it, but no area lawmakers did so.

Orr said legislators have expenses but he knew what his legislative pay would be when he decided to run. He also said he took a cut in pay as a corporate attorney for Cook’s Pest Control.

“This is supposed to be public service,” Orr said.

Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, also voted against overriding the veto. Sens. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, voted for it.

“It is a terrible thing for anybody to be in a position where they vote on their own pay,” Butler said. “This clouds the whole issue of compensation for the Legislature.”

Butler said some raise is warranted but voters don’t understand the expenses legislators incur. He said, for example, that people are unaware that lawmakers get only 10 cents per mile for one round trip to and from Montgomery per session.

Rep. Ronald Grantland, D-Hartselle, who voted for the override, said House members start out making $31,000 but pay for expenses from that money. “The governor could have reduced the amount of the increase down if he wanted, and he did not,” Grantland said.

While some voters argue that lobbyists pay lawmakers up to $250 per day during a session, Grantland said he doesn’t get that kind of money. “I may let a lobbyist buy me a meal sometimes, but that kind of money is reserved for people more powerful than me, I guess,” he said.

Dukes: ‘It was justified’

Reps. Bill Dukes, D-Decatur, and Henry White, D-Athens, also voted for the override. Dukes said he studied the issue and believes the increase is justified. Dukes said voters did not contact him to complain about the increase. “I do not hide from the vote,” Dukes said. “I believe it was justified.”

Another House Democrat did vote against the increase because of the number of calls he received back home.

“I think it was too much at one time,” said Rep. Jody Letson, D-Hillsboro. “It has been a long time since the last increase, but when you vote a 61 percent increase, people do not understand.”

Reps. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, voted against the override.

Hammon said while he did not want to go against the governor’s veto, he still believes a raise is justified. Hammon said he clears less than $5,000 per year in legislative pay after expenses. He also remembers the difficulty he had in 2006 finding other Republicans willing to run for the Legislature. The pay was part of the reason, he said.

Oden wants a commission to study legislative compensation and take the decision out of lawmakers’ hands.

Butler said the Legislature tried to form such a body in 1999 but the commission was abolished without meeting.

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