The 2014 legislative session began this week. Speculation is that it will be short and may not last the full four months allotted.

The super majority Republican legislature will put their final touch on their four-year march to the right. They have made an indelible conservative mark on state government in both fiscal and social measures.

The GOP House will emphasize financial incentives for job expansion. They are calling their agenda “Common Sense Conservative.” It will include a bill to raise the threshold where small businesses have to pay a monthly estimated income tax from $1,000 to $2,500. They will also make filing state business taxes easier by creating an online tax filing system for all taxes.

Other bills in their conservative agenda will include a tax credit to encourage adoptions. They will address the issue of legislators exiting their terms early to lobby. They will tighten the current law that prohibits legislators from lobbying for two years after they leave office.

Speaking of those legislators who left early, their replacements are ready to go after winning special elections last year. Margie Wilcox won the seat of Jim Barton in Mobile. Dimitri Polizos will replace Jay Love in Montgomery. The Elmore County seat held by Barry Mask will be filled in a special election Republican runoff on January 28th.

Several lawmakers have announced they will not seek reelection this year. These open seats will create lively contests. Veteran lawmaker Richard Laird of Roanoke has served in the House since 1978. Laird was always an archconservative although he ran as a Democrat.

Arthur Payne of Trussville will end his 36-year tenure in the House. Arthur was a very conservative legislator like Laird.

Another powerful and respected House member, Mary Sue McClurkin, will not run for reelection. Mary Sue served successfully for 16 years. Another conservative will replace her. In fact, another conservative female will likely take McClurkin’s North Shelby seat.

DuWayne Bridges will step down from his Chambers County seat. Like Laird, Payne and McClurkin, DuWayne had a very conservative voting record.

Two freshman Republicans have chosen to serve only one term. State Senator Bryan Taylor of Prattville and Wes Long of Guntersville will not run for a second term.

Steve Clouse of Ozark will assume chairmanship of the House General Fund Budget Committee. Rep. Lesley Vance of Phenix City becomes chair of the House Financial Services Committee for the second time.

The AEA fired their first salvo of the campaign year. They gave $150,000 to Gareth Moore to challenge Senator Jimmy Holley. It will be wasted PAC money. They will not defeat the popular and effective veteran South Alabama State Senator.

Gov. Bentley has said that funding for prekindergarten programs and pay raises for teachers will be among his highest priorities during the legislative session.

Speaking of Gov. Bentley, he seems determined to get to the bottom of the Alabama State University issue. He spearheaded and called for a complete audit of the university over a year ago. His report has come back and he is on the warpath. He recently released a report on a forensic audit of finances on Alabama State University, which alleges that family and friends of at least three current or former university board members benefitted financially from their ties to the university.

This 36-page audit was done by Forensic Strategic Solutions of Birmingham. This audit revealed significant discrepancies. Indeed, the audit in its conclusion calls for a further investigation to allow a jury or trier of fact to investigate multiple acts of fraud, waste and abuse that may have occurred and may be occurring currently at ASU. The audit lists numerous conflicts of interest, financial waste, inappropriate relationships, payments to family and friends of university board members, intentional obscuring of inappropriate payments circumventing policies and procedures and ASU’s practice of charging administration fees to fund a reserve account for the Center for Leadership and Public Policy. However, Gov. Bentley’s ire seems focused on allegations of fiscal mismanagement of a Medicaid contract that ended up costing the university approximately $1 million. This saga is just beginning. You have not heard the end of this story.

See you next week.