Baker expects smooth session

Published 9:01 pm Sunday, February 17, 2008

By By Kerry Whipple-Bean
State lawmakers will likely take a cautious approach to budgeting this year, hoping for better projections on the state’s finances, state Rep. Alan Baker said last week.
Nearly two weeks into the new session, Baker said “things are running smoothly” so far.
Because of lower than expected tax collections, lawmakers are projected to have about $500 million less available for the next fiscal year’s education budget and about $230 million less for non-education government programs.
Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said he does not expect the education budget to go into proration this year, mainly because of a rainy day fund set up to avoid such a prospect.
But Hammett expects those budget problems will be dealt with by cuts rather than new taxes.
Ethics has been a focus of the first days of the new legislative session, Baker said. The House has already passed a bill banning transfers between political action committees — a bill that has passed in similar form for the past seven years but has not yet made it through the Senate.
In the Senate, members voted to strip Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, of most of his committee assignments after he punched fellow Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, in the waning days of the session last year.
The Senate Ethics Commission voted not to punish Bishop, who claimed he was responding to verbal slurs from Barron.
Bishop said last week he had considered suing the Senate over the issue, claiming his rights to due process were violated, but he announced Thursday he would not file any lawsuit.
Hammett said transportation also will be an issue addressed in the House.
Michele Gerlach contributed to this report.