Legislature Tips Off Today
The AP has a good thumbnail sketch of the issues likely to be confronted over the next few months.
The budget process won't necessarily be as grueling as some years as revenue surpluses negate the need for painful budget cuts. However, how to use the the surplus will no doubt be a source of controversy. How much of it should be spent on schools? How much should be refunded to taxpayers? Legislators might be missing the good ol' days of proration after all.
One of the biggest issues in terms of setting the political landscape for the election year will revolve around property tax appraisals. The issue of the Riley administration's 2003 move to annual appraisals (as opposed to the once every four years method) has already become a political football in the governors race, with Roy Moore and Don Siegelman critical of the annual system. Riley has said the annual appraisal method is required by law and a reversal to the old way would require a change in the law.
Well that is exactly what some in the legislature will try to do. Nobody wants to be seen as pro-tax, especially in an election year. Certainly Bob Riley would appreciate the issue disappearing, Lowell Barron is on board, and according to the AP a majority of legislators (who responded to the question) would back the return to the once every four year standard.
But it won't be that easy. Paul Hubbert doesn't like the idea of losing $170 million in school funding (and an extra $270 in government revenues) by abandoning yearly appraisals and is likely to use his considerable influence to keep the status quo in place. So that will be a showdown to watch that will impact races up and down the 2006 ballot.
There will be no shortage of hot button controversial issues for sure. The GOP plans to submit legislation dealing with immigration (Mickey Hammon), abortion (Spencer Collier), capital punishment (Cam Ward), and super-majority tax increases (Bobby Humphryes).
Democrats have already drawn considerable attention for their Bible literacy bill( Ken Guin) and a bill to put "God Bless America" on state license plates (Steve Hurst). Alabama Democrats obviously are doing all they can to demonstrate their "Alabama values" so they don't suffer the same fate their national brethren did in 2004. But a Democratic led effort to rewrite the Alabama constitution is not likely to go anywhere.
Democrats are content, however, to let Bob Riley make the first step in the budget process and react to his plans instead of introducing their own budget. And that process will start tomorrow evening with the State of the State address.
Let the games begin.