Alabama Lawmakers "Fight" Over Budget

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The current session of the Alabama Legislature could be described as the "battle of the budgets." Action in both the House and Senate has been stalled by filibusters and delay tactics.

But some lawmakers say they are growing weary of the partisan fight that is blocking consideration of meaningful legislation. It could be resolved, according to lawmakers, if leaders of the two sides would sit down and talk it out.

State Rep. Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa says differences between the budgets submitted by Gov. Bob Riley and those pushed by Democratic leaders are very small and come down to whether Alabama teachers will receive a six percent pay raise or a four percent raise. Bentley, a Republican, says that comes to about one percent of the entire budget.

If the Legislature can't pass budgets to fund education and general government services, like prisons and state troopers, lawmakers would have to return to Montgomery for a special session this summer.

Bentley says if lawmakers can't get a budget and have to go into special session, "all of us should be fired."

A political scientist, David Lanoue of the University of Alabama, says the budget fight seems to be more about next year's governor and legislative elections than about differences in how the state spends its money.

Lanoue says in a conservative state like Alabama, Republicans and Democrats tend to agree on many social issues, so the budgets gives them something to fight about going into next year's elections.

The Republican governor and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate budget-writing committees are at odds over about $55 million that the governor wants to use in the education budget to fund programs traditionally funded out of the General Fund.

House Speaker Seth Hammett of Andalusia, a Democrat, says the general fund budget that passed is almost identical to what the governor recommended.

Hammett says he doesn't know why Riley opposes it, saying the real hang-up is how much the governor's budget takes from education and spends on the General Fund.

Mississippi lawmakers already face a special session this year because it could not agree on a compromise budget for FY 2006.