Timing is truly critical. I know the truth and power of this axiom. Yet I violated it in a key way several weeks ago. I almost paid the price.

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The $4.5 billion Education Budget passed the Alabama Senate on Thursday, April 15 th .

The House of Representatives added $17 million with $15 million of that amount supplementing the widely supported Alabama Reading Initiative.

The House also made some changes in language and numbers to help the severely strapped General Fund Budget.

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I shared in those decisions.

Therefore, there was never any doubt in my mind that I would ask the Senate to concur with changes wrought by the House.

The House returned the Education Budget to the Senate on Tuesday, April 27.

I should have moved immediately to concur with the changes made in the House.

I did not.

Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron suggested that I move it.

I did not. Legislative Fiscal Office Director Joyce Bigbee suggested that I move the House Amendment.

I did not.

AEA (Alabama Education Association) executive director Dr. Paul Hubbert suggested that I move immediately.

I did not. There was a reason I did not act in the face of suggestions from these key leaders in the legislative process.

It was, however, a mistake. I was definitely wrong.

I held up on moving for concurrence on the House amendment to the Education Budget because two senators asked me to hold up.

They did not share their reasons, but I tried to accommodate their requests.

It was a serious mistake.

I may be wrong, but I strongly believe that had I moved for concurrence on the House amendment to the Education Budget immediately on that Tuesday, it would have sailed through.

I know that we cannot be certain because there are always obstacles unseen even in hindsight, but I still believe it would have moved without a hitch.

I simply made a mistake, and we almost paid a high price.

On Thursday, I was determined to move the Education Budget.

Before the session commenced, I asked Senate President Pro Tem Barron to immediately bring up the House message conveying the amendment to the Budget.

Before he could do so, clouds of opposition appeared on the legislative horizon.

In the brief time between Tuesday and Thursday, just one legislative day but two days in real time, designs were forged.

I immediately realized my mistake, but it was now too late.

The challenges came in two forms, one public and one private.

One came on the Senate floor, and the other flourished behind the scenes.

The private challenge was discussed in private. A senator “held the microphone,” that is talked on the budget, while I met in private.

It was resolved in private.

Therefore, it will remain private.

The other challenge was public so I am free to share it.

In an effort to help the financially desperate General Fund Budget, we agreed to make changes in the Education Budget to use money from the Capital Improvement Trust Fund to pay certain debts so that monies scheduled for debt could be shifted to fund other critical matters such as Medicaid.

This approach would not help the Education Budget one whit, but it would help the General Fund a whole lot.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, several senators developed what they considered a better approach for funding the General Fund Budget.

This approach would not use any monies from the Capital Improvement Trust Fund.

They came to the microphone requesting that I withhold the Education Budget from consideration so they could implement their strategy.

I applauded them for trying to devise a better approach, but I refused.

If both budgets were still unpassed in the last days of the session, it could be a real mess.

I had made the mistake of delay once.

I was not about to make it twice.

When questioned on the Senate Floor, I admitted that paying debt with money from the Capital Improvement Trust Fund to free up monies for other purposes was not the best policy.

I described it in that well-worn clich/ as “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

However, if we did not “rob Peter to pay Paul,” we would rob our children and seniors of critical health benefits.

Paul’s illness was more critical.

We were doing the best we could.

I assured those asking me to hold up the Education Budget that if their plan came to fruition, the Governor could execute it by executive amendment to the Budget. I committed to cooperate in the event such fruition materialized.

For their plan to work, a new tax bill would have to negotiate both the House and Senate in just five legislative days.

And even then we would find ourselves considering both budgets on the last day of the session.

I was not willing to take such chances.

To the best of my knowledge, neither the public nor the private plans had been developed on Tuesday.

Therefore, we would not have had to contend with them.

I stood firm on both the public and private challenges.

After an hour or so, the amended Education Budget repassed the Senate and was sent to the Governor.

My mistake had cost, but the price was not near as high as it could have been.