But few programs excel with lackluster funding. That often can be a deal-breaker.
Using that logic, it’s good that the state Legislature passed a bill that guarantees proper funding for the Alabama Ethics Commission. Gov. Robert Bentley signed that bill into law earlier this week.
Consider this a pat on the back for both the governor and the legislators who supported the bill. Its passage will be a highlight of this historic session of the state’s first Republican-controlled Legislature since Reconstruction.
Consider this, too, a refresher on why empowering the ethics commission was so important.
It’s unfortunate that Alabama politics still carries the scars from the many misdeeds of the past. Last year’s indictment of four state legislators on a high-profile, vote-buying scandal related to a bingo bill in the Legislature is a fresh reminder of the lawmakers and power-brokers who have abused their power and taken the wrong path.
Those indictments brought the state shame. So, too, have the publicized legal troubles of former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, former Gov. Don Siegelman and a host of others. In that vein, the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 ranking of Alabama as the fourth most-corrupt state based on the number of convictions of state politicians was no surprise.
Alabama has long needed a strong ethics commission that could strike fear in unsavory public officials. Without subpoena power, the commission was a paper tiger whose attempts to create transparency and ethical government could be thwarted by the disobedient.
The Legislature gave the commission subpoena power in a special session held late last year. And thanks to legislators like state Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, the bill’s sponsor, it no longer has to worry about influential Montgomery lawmakers pulling the plug on its funding because commission agents were making life uncomfortable for those skirting the rules.
“Protecting its budget from political retaliation will help the ethics commission be the independent agency it needs to be to keep state and local governments accountable,” Jones told the Associated Press.
The bill Bentley signed gives the commission one-tenth of 1 percent of the state’s General Fund budget, and — importantly — it requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to overturn the commission’s budget. If the governor signs into law the budget passed by the Legislature this week, that would give the commission $1.8 million for fiscal 2011.
That money won’t ensure that Alabama’s public officials eschew the mistakes of the past. But it does move Alabama one step closer to what it should become: a state where rebellious public servants are punished strongly for their misdeeds.