And the 2002 session begins…

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 16, 2002

The first full week of the 2002 Regular Legislative Session has come and gone and nothing particularly eventful took place.

In fact, except for the governor's opening joint session address, things were pretty quiet around the capitol and statehouse.

The most interesting thing that happened during this first week was watching Lt. Gov. Steve Windom applaud when Gov. Don Siegelman was talking about constitutional reform during his address to the legislature.

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For the most part, Windom and Siegelman have not agreed on issues or policies that have surfaced during this quadrennium.

Just a year ago neither Windom nor Siegelman were doing anything but giving lip service to constitutional reform, and now it appears that it is a cornerstone issue in both of their platforms in the governor's race.

I have tried to analyze why the gubernatorial candidates have so strongly embraced this issue after avoiding it for the first three years of this term of office.

I think a lot of the interest in constitutional reform has been brought about by the education money crisis that began last spring.

Critics of the current Alabama Constitution say it enshrines extremely low property tax rates, robbing education of a more secure tax source than the volatile sales and income taxes the state must now rely on for money.

Forced cuts in the education budget last year, and the threat of more this year, helped turn what had been just an abstract idea to most voters into something they now see affecting their children's future.

In my opinion, for constitutional reform to be successful, the reform effort must embody specific reforms and not just be an abstract issue.

A constitutional convention in the hands of the "wrong people" could result in a more liberal constitution as it relates to taxes, gambling and other issues which generally concern all Alabamians.

The goal of constitutional reform, in my opinion, should be to decentralize power in the Alabama legislature so counties and municipalities can act on ordinary issues which affect only one city or one county without having to submit their proposals to the legislature and subsequently to a vote of the entire Alabama electorate.

I think this can be accomplished without making it easier to pass taxes or allow gambling.

Constitutional reform is a "feel good issue" at this time, but it is not going to be as easy as it might at first appear to get a good balance with respect to the reforms that need to be enacted.

This issue must be followed very carefully and all actions that are taken need to be thoroughly debated.

Budget hearings will begin next week and as deputy chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee, I will be very much involved in the hearings and actions taken on these budgets.

We will need to be real efficient in our appropriations, so I suspect that the next year's budgets will be very lean.

Remember, "I'll go with you or I'll go for you" to help you solve any problem related to state government.

During the regular session, I can be reached at 334-242-7883, or you can write me at 11 South Union Street, Room 735, Alabama Statehouse, Montgomery, Alabama 36130.