The 2020 regular legislative session has resumed after a six-week hiatus due to the coronavirus shutdown of the state and nation. The session must end by May 18. The only thing lawmakers will do is pass barebones budgets.
The most important, and actually, the only constitutionally mandated act that must be accomplished is the passage of the state budgets. In our case, we have two state budgets. We have a General Fund like 45 other states, and we have a second budget, the Special Education budget.
Like all states, the power is where the money lies. Therefore, the power in the Legislature rests with the chairmen of the budgetary money committees. The keeper of the purse strings is a powerful position.
Because the Constitution dictates all money bills, taxes and budgets must originate in the House of Representatives, and because the Education budget now dwarfs the General Fund to the tune of a 2-to-1 margin, the most relevant committee chairman in the state Legislature is Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), who chairs the House Ways and Means Education Budget Committee.
He essentially begins crafting of the Education budget. His counterpart in the Senate who helps to slice the education pie is Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur).
The chairman of the General Fund Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives is Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark). He has been chairman of the Ways and Means General Fund close to a decade and has done a yeoman’s job. His counterpart in the Senate is Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Escambia).
The Constitution clearly defines the three branches of government.
The legislative branch makes the laws, the governor is the administrator of the state government, and the judicial branch defines and enforces the laws made by the Legislature.
However, over the course of history, we have had some very powerful governors who have stepped into the legislative budgetary powers and usurped the power granted to the Legislature. The most notable example would be one George C. Wallace. Not only did he usurp the power of legislators, he made the Legislature an appendage of the Governor’s Office.
During my first term in the Legislature, 1982-1986, which was congruently Wallace’s last term as governor, he selected the speaker and the chairmen of all the House committees. His office sent the agenda for each legislative day down to the Rules Committee, which simply rubber stamped the governor’s agenda.
Needless to say, the state budget was written and decided by the governor. Since the Wallace days, the Legislature has taken back its inherent powers.
Gov. Don Siegleman had a partnership and worked congruently with the Legislature. However, Fob James had very little influence with the Legislature. He somewhat looked down on them, and in turn, they left him out of the process. Guy Hunt was left out because he really did not understand the process.
Bob Riley was totally ignored by the Legislature. The partisan divide between the Republican and Democratic parties had set in. Riley was a Republican, and we had a state Senate made up of a veteran smart, crafty and partisan Democrats. They were not about to let Riley into their hen house.
Robert Bentley was completely inept and ineffective with the Legislature. Even though he had been a state representative, he really had no relationship with the House or the Senate leadership and seemed averse to cultivating them.
Our current, Kay Ivey, has significant input into the state budgets. Not in the way that Wallace did, but in a way designed by the constitutional founders.
Kay Ivey is a strong, decisive leader. She works in partnership with the legislative budget chairmen – Poole, Clouse, Orr and Albritton. Kay has a close working relationship with the legislators, built by decades of working within state government as a higher education lobbyist, state treasurer and lieutenant governor.
Kay has taken a no-nonsense approach to being governor. She is making decisions that are right for the state and not with an eye to what is politically expedient. She has a close working partnership with the legislative leadership, especially Bill Poole, who is universally respected.
A loss in the legislative family
State Rep. Dexter Grimsley lost his older sister to the coronavirus. She was a nurse. Big Dexter is cherished and beloved by his legislative colleagues. He is a gentle giant and a true gentleman. Dexter has represented Abbeville and Henry County with distinction for over a decade.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.