Legislature facing difficult decisions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Lawmakers return to the Alabama Legislature today, striding straight into the teeth of a $475 million shortfall for the Oct. 1 budget year.

Among their challenges are mammoth overcrowding in the state’s correctional facilities and millions of dollars needed for the state’s schools and other programs, including Medicaid.

The $475 million shortfall is divided into basically three categories: education &045;&045; $97 million, general fund &045;&045; $171 million, and pension and insurance increases &045;&045; $207 million.

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Gov. Bob Riley hasn’t stated exactly how he’ll deal with the budget problems. He has refused to paint himself into a corner by setting a specific date for a decision, but we might find out more tonight in his State of the State speech.

Though Riley has yet to announce his legislative agenda &045;&045; would you if you expected to be $475 million in the red? &045;&045; he has thrown his support behind some general proposals.

They include: constitutional reform, income tax reform, sentencing laws, ethics laws, budgeting, voter identification and highway construction.

But with as many as one-third of our state’s 128 school systems near bankruptcy, according to state Superintendent of Education Ed Richardson, and our bulging prison system called by some a &uot;ticking time bomb,&uot; the governor and legislature have more than enough work cut out for them.

Their jobs aren’t easy, even when the state’s in the black. Legislators are routinely pulled this way and that, trying to please their constituents without antagonizing everyone else. Even in the best of times, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

It’s always been easy (and fun, at times) to take pot shots at politicians, but the majority of them really do try to make positive changes. It takes only a few bad apples to ruin the barrel.

But for those of you hearty souls sitting in your legislative seats this morning, we have only one thing to say …

Good luck!