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Outlook remains bleak for next year's state budgets

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–After playing a political version of "Russian Roulette" for several days, the Alabama Legislature finally did what it was called to Montgomery to do–pass operating budgets for education and the General Fund for the 2003-04 fiscal year.
A fierce fight over the felon voting rights bill at one time threatened the entire session, but a compromise was reached, that bill was passed, and very swiftly both budgets were approved and sent to the governor.
Thanks to the availability of some one-time money, the budgets for schools and the General Fund agencies are almost equal to current year spending.
The Education appropriation of $4.2 billion is only $10 million less than the current year, the General Fund appropriation of $1.2 billion is $66 million less than the current year budget.
However some agencies funded by the General Fund will be forced to take horrendous cuts. For example, the state court system and the Department of Health may be forced to lay-off hundreds of employees.
But even now, with this immediate crisis avoided, attention has already turned to the herculean problem that will face state government next year when the shortfall will measure in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The committee was convened to consider the nominees but when the roll was called only six of the 13 members were present and this lack of a quorum meant no action could be taken.
The fact that the missing seven members were all in the Statehouse understandably provoked charges that the lack of a quorum was orchestrated by State Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, who would lose his seat on the AU Board if the new nominees are confirmed.
Barron, with a look of pure innocence on his face, responded with a "who me?" response to the charges.
With so little time remaining in the special session, committee chairman Sen. E. B. McLain, D-Midfield, said in so many words that the nominees should come back next February when the legislature meets in regular session.
Auburn alumni leaders who have been working for new blood on the AU Board for years were particularly incensed that one of the senators missing in action was Hinton Mitchem, D-Albertville. The AU folks had given a substantial contribution to Mitchem's re-election campaign last year with the understanding he was hitched to their wagon. He didn't stay hitched.
The Alabama Legislature was considering a bill to sell $13.5 million in bonds to rebuild two schools destroyed by fire (in Etowah and Walker counties) and two others destroyed by tornados (in Walker and Henry counties.)
However, State Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, the chairman of the committee, quietly amended the bill to add another $1.5 million in bonds to replace the heating systems in two schools in Lowndes County which happens to be in his district.
Sen. Sanders is already challenging Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, as the No. 1 "Pork Producer" in the Legislature.
The Court of the Judiciary will hear the charges that Moore violated judicial ethics when in defied a federal court order to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the State Judicial Building.
The Court of the Judiciary is made up of nine judges (there is presently one vacancy.) This tribunal has the authority to remove Moore from office.