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CAPITOL LETTER
Deal or no deal time for session budget will come Tuesday

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

MONTGOMERY — In one panel, a cartoon shows two politicians standing side by side, glaring at each other. In the next, the politicians are shaking hands as they meet for dinner after a day of legislative fireworks.

There is a lot of posturing in the Statehouse, but also a lot of handshaking in the hallways and offices where lawmakers sometimes show they are just as human as the rest of us.

Human but not happy

In the past week, Senate majority and minority leaders met multiple times trying to find common ground.

The week ended with divisions still in place and the pressure of only five legislative days left in the session to pass state budgets, local bills and other legislation.

Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. said he believes senators will find a way to pass the budgets. “Tuesday is a critical day,” he said. If lawmakers cannot work out their differences, he said, the whole Senate loses.

Just tired

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, shook his head as he walked to and from various Senate offices one day last week. “We are just tired of negotiating,” he said.

“If they (the majority) hadn’t changed the rules, we wouldn’t be in this position,” said Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. “We would have passed all the sunset bills and be on the budgets.”

Disenfranchise

Gov. Bob Riley watched the last moments of a House filibuster Thursday on a capital improvements bond issue for education. And he didn’t like what he heard about a group that would decide how the bond money would be spent.

“When you have a developing situation that would disenfranchise 48 percent of the people in the state, I have a problem with it,” Riley said.

The bill, now stuck in the House, would add the chairmen of the House and Senate education budget committees and the lieutenant governor to the group that makes spending decisions about education bond funds. All are Democrats

Bond money control

House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, sent out his own news release about the education bond money after Thursday’s session.

Hubbard said House Republicans opposed discussion of the bond issue because they believe it “creates an expansive legislative ‘slush fund’ controlled by a handful of powerful lawmakers.”

Republicans wanted the Public School and College Authority — composed of the governor; the state finance director, who is appointed by the governor; and the state superintendent of education — to control the funds, as it has other education bonds.

The other side

In a news release Friday, Sens. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said Riley objected the makeup of the board because the governor wants to control discretionary funds that could reach $100 million counting interest.

Bedford, Sanders and Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, met with members of the press that same afternoon.

During negotiations with the Senate minority Tuesday, Bedford said members of the minority want to make sure their home districts don’t suffer if they agree to end the stalemate over Senate rules.

Bedford and Sanders said minority members want $200,000 each from the General Fund and education budgets to go to pork projects in their home districts and the majority agreed. Minority members acknowledged the meeting but denied that part of their request was for “pork.”

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