The legislative session is at the midway point and it has started out as a halfway decent session. There has been some good and some bad.

The bad part is that there is still a stalemate between the Governor and Legislature over the resolution as to what to do with the beleaguered General Fund. It is a Mexican standoff. They are playing Russian roulette with the funding of Medicaid and the other General Fund agencies.

There has been discord between the Democratic dominated Legislature and the Republican Governor for his first two years, but this third year has brought full acrimony. Riley has been pushed around and treated with disrespect for his first two years in office. This year he has begun to fight back and has learned to play the political game a little better. The Legislature will basically ignore his budgets and write their own. They wanted to bait Riley into proposing new taxes, but he carefully avoided that trap. Therefore, the monkey is on the Legislature’s back to balance the budgets.

Knowing that they will have to craft a budget without new taxes, there is a movement by the Legislature to find sources of revenue. They are looking at tapping sacred revenue veins such as the national tobacco settlement money. Also the oil and gas royalties that are designed to be used for economic development are on the table. These two trust funds may be raided to balance the General Fund.

The Education Trust Fund will be easy because it has a surplus this year. Dr. Paul Hubbert will win a sizable pay raise for teachers, although not the 7% he initially asked for, and Gov. Riley will get expanded funding of his pet project, the Alabama Reading Initiative, which by the way is a winning program. Dr. Hubbert and Gov. Riley will both win in the final budget. However, Riley will be unable to raid the Education Trust Fund to pay for General Fund programs as he originally proposed. Therefore, the real victor again is Hubbert, but he has graciously allowed Riley to save face.

Gov. Riley has done an excellent job of administering state government. He has cut every conceivable ounce of waste from the machinations of state operations. He is a good manager and has an exemplary cabinet. It is stock full of proven businessmen who know how to squeeze a penny.

On a positive note, the Legislature has given final approval and the Governor has signed into law a new open meetings law. The old law was 90 years old and extremely vague and ambiguous. This new writing clearly defines how government meetings should be held in order to allow the sun to shine on public meetings in Alabama. The legislation clarifies the circumstances under which public boards are allowed to hold meetings behind closed doors. It also specifies how much public notice must be given before a public meeting. It was a much needed revision of the law and the Legislature should be applauded for passing it unanimously. The Alabama Press Association should take a bow for the diligent work they put in to win its passage.

An issue which has been flying under the radar screen, but might yet surface is the issue of annual property tax reappraisals. After Gov. Riley took office in January of 2003 his administration quickly changed the rules for doing property reappraisals from once every four years to annually. Many lawmakers, especially Republicans, want to pass legislation to put it back like it was to every four years. They call it a backdoor tax increase by Gov. Riley. In 2004 it created an extra $5 million for the state, hardly a windfall. However, it raised about $38 million for city and county governments in the nine counties phased in first. It created an extra $20 million for Jefferson County alone. By 2010 it is projected to generate $55 million for the state and $350 million for cities and counties. Therefore the real winners in the deal are the local governments. As you might expect the lobbyist for the counties and municipalities are fighting to thwart the repeal of Riley’s administ! rative property tax increase.