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SUNDAY, JUNE 17, 2007

Campaign promises perish during legislative session

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Four months ago it would have seemed like a safe bet that the Alabama Legislature would return to a system of reappraising property every four years, ban PAC-to-PAC transfers and stop lobbyists from spending more than $25 a day on legislators.

After all, going into the 2007 session of the Legislature, action on those items and others was promised by both the Democratic and Republican caucuses in the Legislature and Gov. Bob Riley. Many lawmakers campaigned on those issues when they ran for office.

But it was a bad year for promises in the Legislature. Those issues and some others promised by Democrats, Republicans and the governor all died during the 2007 session, some without ever coming out of committees.

“All of us were singing off the same page on these proposals. I was assured that we would at least get them to the floor so people could see where there representatives and senators stand,” Riley said.

Property taxes

Rep Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, has introduced bills every year since 2004 to reappraise property for taxes every four years instead of annually. During last year’s campaign, the bill was listed as a top priority by Democratic leaders in the Legislature who included it on their “Covenant with Alabama.” The bill was also a top priority on the “Republican Handshake with Alabama” put out by GOP legislators. And it was part of Riley’s Plan 2010, a 91-page booklet of issues he hoped to address during his second four-year term as governor.

Allen said he feels his bill was included on the lists of promises because it’s an issue that’s popular with voters. But again the bill died in committee without coming to the House floor for a vote. A similar bill came out of a Senate committee, but never came up for a vote in the full Senate.

The bill was opposed by education interests and county governments because it would reduce funds flowing to schools and county coffers.

Allen said he was disappointed again “that the wills and wishes of the hard-working citizens of Alabama have not been met.”

Of the 21 priorities listed in the Democratic plan before the start of the session, 15 went unfulfilled.

The Republicans didn’t fare any better. Of the six priorities on the GOP “handshake with Alabama” only one became law — a bond issue to fund school construction across the state.

The numerous pledges in Riley’s Plan 2010 are harder to quantify since some are generic and don’t involve specific actions of the Legislature. But under the headings “state government” and “ethics reform,” most items died without coming up for a vote.

Jess Brown, a political scientist at Athens State University, said it’s easy for legislators to make promises on the campaign trail, but hard to fulfill those pledges at the Statehouse when it would mean going against lobbyists for special interest groups.

“It is those special interest groups and contract lobbyists who pay for the election campaigns,” Brown said. “Legislators may say certain things when interviewed by local editorial boards or in TV campaigns, but when it comes time to vote against the lobbyists who watch them in Montgomery, it’s hard.”

One bill that died on the final day of the session was a proposal to ban the process of transferring campaign contributions from one political action committee to another, a process critics say is used to hide the source of campaign money. The bill passed the House early in the session, but died when it did not come up on the Senate agenda on the final day.

Republicans blamed Democratic leaders for not putting the bill on the work agenda for the last day. Democrats blamed Republicans for using delaying tactics throughout the session in a protest over Senate rules — a protest they say caused a number of bills to die.

Assigning blame

Brown said when promises are not fulfilled, it’s easy for lawmakers to find someone else to blame — such as the other party or lobbyists.

“A legislator will always be able to find some other force in the Legislature and say ‘they killed it,’ ” Brown said.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said some of the promises on the Democratic list passed the House, but died because of the delays in the Senate. He said the proposed ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers was one of the first issues the House dealt with at the start of the session.

“We didn’t get to everything on the list. We got some of it done,” Hammett said.

He said House leaders changed their mind about the bill to end annual property reappraisals when they became concerned it would reduce the amount of money going to local school systems, which receive some of their funding through property taxes.

“Sometimes you have to make choices. We decided education was our top priority,” Hammett said.


Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, sponsored the bill to reduce the amount of money lobbyists can spend on lawmakers from $250 to $25 a day.

Before the election, Republicans, Democrats and the governor supported different proposals to limit the influence of lobbyists on legislators. Gipson’s bill never came out of committee.

Gipson said the failure of the legislation shows how difficult it is to get bills through the Legislature. According to legislative records, Gipson introduced 25 bills this session and one received final passage. He said he will try again with many of those bills, including the lobbyist measure.

“It’s just pure dog lucky when you can get a bill out the first session it’s introduced. You just keep banging away,” he said.

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

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