Gov. Kay Ivey has been inaugurated and the legislature had its organizational session. Now it’s time for our state officials to get to work.
Among the three branches of government — legislative, executive and judicial — the 1901 Alabama Constitution renders the legislative branch as the most powerful.
Some who witnessed the George Wallace era may disagree and point to the executive branch but that was a unique era. Gov. Wallace had basically become king of Alabama politics from 1963 through 1986 with a couple of interlopers taking four-year residency in the Governor’s Mansion on Perry Street. They left all of the wheelchair accessibility aspects, Wallace features designed for his paralysis and his cigar-smoking bedroom in the mansion alone. They probably assumed he would return after his constitutionally mandated hiatus. There will never be another politician who will control the reins of state government for five terms like Wallace did. He essentially established himself as king of Alabama in pretty much the same way as Franklin Delano Roosevelt did as president from 1932 until his death in 1945. Ironically and coincidentally, both ruled from wheelchairs.
Wallace simply owned the legislature. He was like a dictator and legislators were his puppets. As a young legislator, I watched as Wallace’s lieutenants simply sent the agenda for the day down from the governor’s office, bypassing the rules committee completely. The governor’s budget became the budget. If there was any pork in the budget, it went to Wallace’s loyal legislators. Thankfully, I represented Wallace’s home county of Barbour, therefore my district was on the pork list. In essence during that 20-year Wallace reign, the legislature was simply an appendage of the governor’s office.
Today, the legislature has assumed its inherent power which is derived from the power of the purse. The legislature controls the appropriation of the state’s dollars, the ways and means of state government if you will. It is the most powerful branch because it controls the purse strings. Thus the old political Golden Rule, “Those that control the gold make the rules.”
Ivey and the legislature have a golden opportunity to have a successful four years. They are all of the same party and have a close working relationship. As lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the Senate for over six years, Ivey built an excellent rapport with and understands the workings and machinations of the legislature. She is especially close to the Senate leaders such as Del Marsh, Jabo Waggoner and Greg Reed.
The legislature is overwhelmingly Republican; in the Senate it’s 27-8 and in the House it’s 77-28.
Ivey and the legislature are also the recipients of outstanding financial news as they begin their first regular legislative session this week — Alabama is seeing the strongest tax growth since the Great Recession a decade ago.
The tax dollars that make up the Educational Trust Fund have grown by 6.9 percent over 2017. That is a whopping $428 million more dollars to work with in the crafting of the next fiscal year’s budget. The primary sources for funding the education budget are income and sales tax. Income taxes, the biggest source of school funding, grew by more than $300 million this past year.
It appears President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress’ passage of a tax-cut package last year has been the stimulus for the growth in revenue for Alabama’s tax coffers. Even the beleaguered General Fund Budget is in better shape than was first thought. Our General Fund reaps its revenues from different taxes and tends to grow much more slowly than the education fund revenues but it grew by $76 million, putting the projection close to $2 billion.
Steve Flowers served 16 years in the legislature and may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.