Session only a lead in to vote

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2003

If you keep up with Alabama politics through larger newspapers and TV news outlets, you know that Gov. Bob Riley has called a special session for May 19 to tackle the fiscal crisis facing this state.

In all, Riley projects the state will fall short of its budget by nearly $600 million next year (though the numbers vary), and he has already indicated to numerous groups that he will ask legislators and voters to increase taxes and raise new revenues close to $1 billion.

As a newspaper, we feel it is important that readers understand the process of a special session, what the legislature will attempt to accomplish, and how prospective legislation will affect our readers.

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Over the past month, The Times has given readers a glimpse of the problems through a series called "Alabama Forward." Riley’s special session next week is the culmination of his administration’s careful deliberation over the problems facing Alabama, and it follows the same path the "Alabama Forward" series explained.

Demopolis attorney Rick Manley, who served in the state legislature for a number of years, helped explain that a special session forces legislators to focus on a specific agenda laid out by the governor.

At that point, the legislature debates the issues presented by Riley and makes a decision on whether to pass ensuing legislation.

During a special session, which can last 12 legislative days or 30 calendar days, the legislature can reject the governor’s proposal, or they can pass it, Manley said. In this case, both the House and Senate will be asked to deliberate whether or not Alabama citizens should be able to vote on a tax increase.

In other words, the legislature cannot pass a new tax on the people of Alabama just because they’re meeting in a special session. Imposing a new tax will take the vote of the people, and the legislature simply has to decide whether or not the people should vote on a tax increase.

Manley believes the burden of generating new revenues for the state has been placed solely on the shoulders of the legislature. For years, he said, there has been a call to solve a looming economic crisis, and Manley believes Riley has answered the call.

Riley, obviously, isn’t the first governor to call a special session. Just a year ago, former Gov. Don Siegelman called a special session to address some of the same funding needs &045;&045; though his call to the legislature did not compare to the depth of Riley’s soon-to-be-announced proposals.

During Siegelman’s special session, the legislature passed nothing.

Whether or not Riley and the legislature find a common ground on the financial crisis facing Alabama is up for debate. However, beginning next Monday, the only thing members of the House and Senate will discuss is a way to fix the funding shortfalls currently facing Alabama.