Alabama’s ethics law was last updated in 1992. Since then, we’ve had multiple legislators indicted, and reportedly one of the largest investigations into public corruption in the country. The BGA Integrity Index ranks Alabama 4th in the nation in terms of public corruption. If ever there was a need for ethics reform, Alabama has it.
Requiring mandatory ethics training for all elected officials, mandatory disclosure of all money spent lobbying [Currently, we only require lobbyists to report anything over $250.], and giving the State Ethics Commission subpoena power would be a good start. Increased transparency should also be a goal for the next legislature. A ban on PAC to PAC transfers would bring some clarity to campaign contributions. It is almost impossible to trace the source of donations to candidates when they have been washed through multiple PACs. Additionally, Governor Riley has commendably put the state’s checkbook online, but the system is difficult to use and understand, and doesn’t always have up to date information. Improving this site in a searchable format would also be a step in the right direction.
Here are a few things you can do to make sure the legislature passes real ethics reform:
1. Call your legislator and let them know you want ethics reform.
2. Call Governor Riley and let him know you’d like a special session called on ethics reform.
For the past two legislative sessions, Rep. Greg Canfield (R-Vestavia) has introduced a budget reform measure entitled the Rolling Reserve Budget Act. The proposal would cap education spending based on a rolling 15-year average growth rate. The state currently bases the education budget on a projection of Education Trust Fund revenues. Extreme revenue fluctuations make forecasting revenues difficult. For example, actual revenues in 1982 were down 3.4 percent from projections, while revenues in 1983 were 13.7 percent higher than projected. In order to deal with the extreme variations, Canfield’s bill would average the growth rate of Education Trust Fund revenues for the last 15 years and cap the state’s education budget at that amount. Any surplus revenue would go into a savings account (Budget Stabilization Fund) to cover years where there is a shortfall.
When the Budget Stabilization Fund reaches an amount equal to 20 percent of the current budget, funds would roll into a capital fund for education and the PEEHIP and Pension (TRS) Liability Funds. As of September 30, 2007, the unfunded liability for PEEHIP was 12.6 billion and 5.2 billion for TRS. This 17.8 billion is a threat to Alabama’s future financial stability.
Rep. Canfield had the Legislative Fiscal Office model a rolling reserve budget for FY1996-FY2009. Under the rolling reserve model, the state could have avoided the 3 years of actual proration and prevented the state’s borrowing from the Constitutional Rainy Day Fund in FY2009. The model allowed a sustainable increase in education spending while setting aside reserves to prevent proration.
Given the revenue projections for 2011 and the continued economic uncertainty, the state is going to have to find ways to cut back spending. The next Governor and Legislature face tough challenges where the state’s budget is concerned. Passing the Rolling Reserve Budget Act is one way to make those hard times a little less challenging in the future.
Your action is the key to passing the Rolling Reserve Budget Act. Here’s how you can help:
1. Ask your legislator to co-sponsor the Rolling Reserve Budget Act and work to get it passed. You can find your legislator’s contact information here.
2. Write op-eds or letters to the editor: Many Alabamians are not familiar with the Rolling Reserve Budget Act. You can help get the word out by writing your local paper and/or weekly papers in your area.
This flew a little under the radar, so in case anyone else missed it…
Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee was set to vote on an amendment to the Interior-EPA Appropriations bill that would have imposed a one-year ban on global warming regulations. The amendment would have defunded the EPA’s regulatory program on global warming. Appropriations are done yearly, hence the one-year ban. The Obama administration and the EPA have attempted to do what Congress has thus far refused to do, by declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant and regulating it under the Clean Air Act. Americans have made it clear they don’t support cap and trade legislation, and as a result, Congress has been unable to pass it. Obama and the EPA are essentially circumventing the democratic process to impose and enforce cap and trade through the EPA…a backdoor method, if you will.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not yet said when a new vote might be scheduled.
Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the language of the 2nd Amendment means that Americans have the right to own a gun for self-defense no matter where they live. This strikes down bans on handguns in places like D.C. and Chicago where the legislation had been tied up in the court system.
For reference, this is what the 2nd Amendment says:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
What You Paid
This week, taxpayers spent roughly $46 million on Congress
Salaries of Members of Congress and their allowances/week:
Speaker of the House: $223,500/52 = $4,299
House and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders: ($193,400/52) x 4 = $14,877
Other Representatives and Senators: ($174,000/52) x 530 = $1,773,462
Money allocated for House (sans member salaries): $1.369 billion/52 = $26,326,923
Money allocated for Senate (sans member salaries): $926 million/52 = $17,807,692
What You Got
House of Representatives:
The House passed six bills. The bills are described by the House Clerk’s Office as the following:
1)Expressing condolences to the families of the victims of the February 27, 2010, earthquake in Chile, as well as solidarity with and support for the people of Chile as they plan for recovery and reconstruction
2)Commemorating the 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the role that it played in ensuring the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
3)Prevent Deceptive Census Look Alike Mailings Act
4)Recognizing the plight of people with albinism in East Africa and condemning their murder and mutilation
5)Honoring John E. Warnock, Charles M. Geschke, Forrest M. Bird, Esther Sans Takeuchi, and IBM Corporation for receiving the 2008 National Medal of Technology and Innovation
6)Congratulating Willard S. Boyle and George E. Smith for being awarded the Nobel Prize in physics
The Senate passed legislation to extend certain expiring tax provisions, four months after the House passed the bill in December.