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2 lawmakers spend more than $19,500 to redecorate offices

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Two veteran state legislators who voted to give themselves a 62 percent pay raise have in the past two months spent more than $19,500 in taxpayer money to redecorate their offices at the Alabama Statehouse.

Items purchased to redecorate the offices of House Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, and Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, include a French urn lamp for $455 and a pencil pedestal table for $463, The Huntsville Times reported Sunday.

Newton and Black have offices across the hall from each other. As president pro tem, Newton is the second highest ranking elected official in the House, while Black is chairman of a key House panel, the Judiciary Committee.

Newton was the sponsor earlier this year of a resolution giving lawmakers the 62 percent pay hike. Both Newton and Black voted with a majority of lawmakers to override Gov. Bob Riley's veto of the pay raise measure.

The invoices for the work on Newton's office were dated March 3, March 21 and April 2 and the payments were made to B. Barganier Interior Accents in Montgomery, the Times reported.

Some of the more expensive items for Newton's office included six chairs, four of them leather, totaling $2,782; artwork totaling $2,165; three mirrors for $759; a settee for $495; a Manhattan table for $480; and a nickel-plated table for $373.

Black spent $7,707.25 on 44 items to redecorate his office. The major expenditures for Black's office included $2,227 for artwork, $463 for a pencil pedestal table, $900 for two armchairs, $608 for two lamps, $463 for a cart wheel, $173 for a tea caddy, $120 for two terra cotta urns and $98 for bookends.

Newton, a Birmingham attorney, said he didn't know the cost of the redecoration of his 360-square-foot office, but he began thinking about redoing his office after Black began redecorating his office across the hall.

"My secretary asked me if she could try to do something here, and I told her, 'Yes,' and she did the decorating," Newton said. "I wouldn't know what anything cost. I have no idea, but we have to stay within our little budget and that was done."

Black, also an attorney, said it was the first money he had spent to redecorate his office in the 16 years he has been in the Legislature. Previously, he said, his only purchases were for a copy machine and a fax machine.

"I don't think it (the amount) is unheard of," he said. "I updated it to make it look nice for people."

House Clerk Greg Pappas said Newton and Black have annual budgets between $25,000 and $30,000 for the operation of their offices.

"They can't buy coffee or food with it, but they can buy office supplies and furniture," said Pappas.

Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party and the House minority leader, said he was "shocked" at the expenditures.

"I don't think the taxpayers are going to look too kindly on it," he said. "It doesn't give the taxpayers much confidence that the Legislature is spending its money wisely."

Hubbard said all the furnishings in his office are simple desks and chairs provided by the state for all lawmakers.

"I'm just shocked that taxpayer dollars are used for such things," he said. "I provide my own stuff and all the decorations in my office."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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