Reform has only one shot to go

MONTGOMERY &045; Outgoing Secretary of State Jim Bennett is of the opinion that 2003 is &uot;put up or shut up time&uot; for those interested in

making a major overhaul of Alabama’s 102-year-old Constitution.

&uot;If we don’t get it (constitutional reform) in ’03 I think the movement will lose steam,&uot; Bennett said.

Bennett is chairman of a commission created to suggest changes in the voluminous document.

He said that group’s report would be submitted to the legislature and Gov.-elect Bob Riley early in January.

Whether Riley will act on the recommendations with any gusto remains to be seen.

One of his chief supporters in his successful race for governor … the Alabama Farmers Federation … is firmly on record in opposition to a new constitution.

State School Supt. Ed Richardson almost matter of factly has announced that without an infusion of new revenue as many as 2,000 school employees could be laid off at the start of the 2003 fiscal year on Oct. 1.

His dire warning provoked a loud &uot;amen&uot; from Dr. Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, head of the Alabama Association of School Boards.

All of which suggests that Gov.-elect Riley better enjoy his Christmas holiday because it will not be a happy New Year.

It may be, as Yogi Berra used to put it, deja vu all over again when it comes time to appoint several new members to the Auburn University Board of Trustees next month.

The No. 1 goal of many Auburn alums is to remove State Sen. Lowell Barron, D-DeKalb, from the board. His term expires in January.

However street talk has it that Barron has already locked up enough votes in the Senate to block the confirmation of anyone appointed by Gov.-elect Riley to succeed him, and under state law, Barron would continue to serve until his successor is confirmed.

This is precisely what happened a number of years ago during the second Fob James Administration when the Senate refused to confirm a replacement for Montgomery banker Bobby Lowder.

James wanted Phil Richardson, a retired Alfa Insurance executive, to fill Lowder’s seat but it never happened.

Even though it will not cost the taxpayers a penny, there has been some criticism of the elaborate plans being made for the Bob Riley Inauguration on Jan. 20.

It is expected that as much as $1 million will be spent on the event.

This comes at a time when incoming governors in several other states have announced low-key inaugurals because of the plight of the nation’s economy.

State Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, who is coordinating the inauguration, defended the expense of the event, and he emphasized that it would not cost the taxpayers a penny.

Who will pick up the tab?

For one, many individuals and groups who were big contributors to Siegelman will be given the opportunity to make a public confession of their sins and become born-again Riley supporters, and be sure every lobbyist worthy of the name will be given a similar opportunity to contribute to the expenses.

In fact, a flier was circulated among lobbyists last week which includes what might be called a rate card: Platinum Level: $50,000; Gold Level: $25,000; Silver Level: $15,000; Bronze Level: $10,000; and Inaugural Sponsor: $5,000.

A lot of folks have taken a beating on the stock market the past year but few took a bigger hit than Dr. David Bronner and the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA).

Dr. Bronner has reported that the assets of RSA dropped by $2.7 billion last year and at the end of the fiscal year totalled $22.3 billion.

This is simply more bad news for a state already in dire financial straits.

What this means is that the state will have to contribute more toward the pensions of workers in public schools, state and local government.

It is estimated that because of the drop in RSA investment earnings an additional $82 million will have to be made to the system by the state