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Legislators still guessing on budgets

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Gov. Bob Riley kept the Legislature guessing until its last meeting day Thursday about what he will do with the state budgets approved by lawmakers.

Riley’s communications director, Jeff Emerson, said Wednesday evening the governor was considering objecting to some parts of the education and General Fund budgets. But he cautioned that no decision had been made. “It’s an option he is exploring,” Emerson said.

If Riley does object to some parts of one or both of the budgets, the Legislature can accept his changes Thursday, or a majority can vote to reject the changes and approve the budgets as originally written by the Legislature.

The Legislature passed the two budgets and accompanying pay raise bills for state employees and school workers on May 29. Riley announced that day he would sign the pay raises — 7 percent for school workers on Oct. 1 and 3.5 percent for state employees on Oct. 1, plus another 3.5 percent a year later.

Riley’s concern

But he has been reviewing the budgets during the ensuing week, while the Legislature has been away. The Legislature’s return on Thursday will wrap up the three-month-long regular session.

Riley has expressed concern that the Legislature rewrote the $1.8 billion General Fund budget for non-education functions of government to add more than $1 million for festivals, including UFO Days in Fyffe, and other special projects.

Sen. Roger Bedford, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee, said he talked with Riley on Wednesday and the governor said he was still reviewing a few things in the General Fund budget.

Bedford, D-Russellville, said he encouraged the Republican governor to sign the budget because it passed with bipartisan support and is balanced, but he said if Riley proposes changes, he expects the Legislature to reject them.

The Legislature has shown it knows how to do that. Riley vetoed the education budgets passed by the Legislature in 2005 and 2006, and both times the Legislature voted to override his vetoes.

The new education budget would provide a nearly 12 percent increase for K-12 schools and two-year colleges and 15 percent for universities when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

It would double the funding for distance learning programs, where a teacher in one location leads classes in several schools, to $20 million. And it would increase the budget for the state’s Math, Science and Technology Initiative by nearly two-thirds, from $22 million to $35.8 million.

After the budget passed last week, Riley’s spokesman said it had 98 percent of what the governor had recommended at the start of the session.

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

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