Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

How Inefficient Is The Alabama Legislature?

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What’s wrong with Alabama?

How much time do you have?

That’d be an entirely accurate response, of course.

How much bad does it take before the sweet turns sour?

How much bad does it take before the sweet turns sour?

To be certain, criticizing the machinations and politics of Alabama is somewhat like criticizing one’s family – only family members can do it with complete immunity. Outsiders stand the risk of getting punched out.

Here’s one well-known complaint: The Legislature.

Sure, even Washington politicians get lambasted, as, I suppose, does every other politician in our union, at every level – federal, state, county, and local.

But here’s the rub: In Alabama, the legislature takes great pride in calling themselves “part-time” legislators, and boast of having full-time jobs “back home” in the community of their residence. Sure, that sounds nice, but what does it really look like?

By law, in Alabama, the Legislature can meet for NO MORE than 30 days (a Legislative Session) in every 105 days.

The 2015 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature convenes on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 and ends on Monday, June 15, 2015. A Regular Session consists of 30 legislative (meeting) days, within a 105-calendar day framework. During the weeks the Alabama Legislature is convened, legislative days (“in-session”) are usually Tuesdays and Thursdays and committee meetings are typically scheduled for Wednesdays. However, during the course of any given legislative session the legislative days and committee meeting days can and may change.

“Every four years (quadrennium), the members of the House and Senate must reorganize the Legislature, i.e. elect officers, adopt rules of procedure, appoint committees, etc. This reorganization is referred to as an organizational session. The most recent Organizational Session of the Alabama Legislature convened on Tuesday, January 13, 2015 and ended on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. The next organizational session of the Alabama Legislature will convene in 2019.

“The Governor can call a Special Session of the Alabama Legislature at any time. A special session can last no longer than 12 legislative (meeting) days, within a 30-calendar day period.”

Did you catch that?

“During the weeks the Alabama Legislature is convened, legislative days (“in-session”) are usually Tuesdays and Thursdays and committee meetings are typically scheduled for Wednesdays.”

In other words, while in Session, they only meet Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday – 3 days a week.

And after 30 such sessions, they are adjourned “sine die.”

They work only 30 days a year.

That is all.

At Eternity's Gate, 1882, lithograph, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, by Vincent van Gogh.

At Eternity’s Gate, 1882, lithograph, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, by Vincent van Gogh.

And yet, folks wonder why they make Full-Time Pay.

A ruckus arose over a 2007 legislative “hat trick” in which the Legislature voted themselves a pay raise.

The Goat Hill Gang voted to give themselves an Annual Raise in their monthly expense allowance which would reflect any increase in the Federal Consumer Price Index. And, in 2014, that was 1.5%. And unless they sent letters to their legislative staff declining the raise, they would have received an additional $66 a month starting April 2014.

At that time, according to information from the House of Representatives, an Alabama Legislator’s total compensation was about $56,868 – assuming they took the automatic increases available to them over the years.

According to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, of the state’s 104 Representatives, 66 accepted the raise, while 38 declined it.

And in the Senate, according to figures provided by the Senate, 22 of 35 Senators declined the pay raise, while 13 accepted it.

Voters were really ticked off at the Legislature… including every State Employee, most notable among which are teachers. And true to form, the Legislature threw a few bones & scraps to State Employees by coughing up a one-time $400 bonus, while Teachers got a 2% pay raise in 2013. Never mind that Alabama State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice got a $52,000 pay raise courtesy of Governor Bentley, and now makes over $250,000 – which includes a $1,750 monthly housing allowance.

To understand Alabama, one must be a student of history.

Yeah – it’s already starting to get deep, and we’ve not even scratched the surface.

“Back in the day,” when many members of the legislature would travel to Montgomery by train, they would get paid a daily wage, plus daily expenses for those days in which they would meet, as well as a monthly travel, and a round-trip expense allowance based upon the distance they would travel to Montgomery from their hometowns.

Presently, Legislators get a $10 daily salary, $50 per diem during session meeting days, a monthly expense allowance and mileage based on railroad miles for one round-trip to Montgomery each session. Never mind that railroads as a means of travel are practically non-existent in Alabama.

In 2007, Legislators voted themselves a 61% pay raise, and established the Annual Legislative Pay Raise System for themselves. Bob Riley, then Governor, vetoed the bill, but the Legislature overrode the veto, and the poor taxpayers of the state got stuck with the bill… at least temporarily.

It must be tough, working 3 days a week, and only 30 days a year making Full-Time Pay. But, that's exactly what the Alabama State Legislature does.

It must be tough, working 3 days a week, and only 30 days a year making Full-Time Pay. But, that’s exactly what the Alabama State Legislature does.

Voters had the final say in the matter, when in the November 2012 General Election, they overwhelmingly approved the Alabama Legislative Compensation Amendment, Amendment 8 by 68.5% – which added yet another Amendment to the 1901 State Constitution of Alabama (the LONGEST of ANY constitution in the entire world) which would “repeal the existing provisions for legislative compensation and expenses and establish the basic compensation of the Legislature at the median household income in Alabama; to require legislators to submit signed vouchers for reimbursement for expenses; and to prohibit the Legislature from increasing the compensation or expenses payable to its members.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, in Alabama, the Per Capita Income is $23,680, while Median Household Income is $43,252.

But enough about pay.

It’s gotta’ be tough working only 30 days a year and banking about $50,000 or more on the taxpayer dime.

What folks really ought’a be asking is this:

“How much work can they really get done in 30 days?”

Can you imagine trying to build a house and working only 3 days a week for a total of 30 days?

And sadly, neither the Republican-dominated Legislature, nor Governor Bentley show any signs of movement toward changing the law which limits the Legislative Calendar to 30 days per year.

And people wonder why Alabama is so messed up.

Wonder no more.

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