The Bottom Line
Published 10:02 am Tuesday, July 8, 2008
One-on-one with representative Baker: Part one
By Tray Smith
Alan Baker, busy with the business of representing a growing region in the legislature of a growing state, recently sat down with this columnist to discuss the issues confronting his district both locally and statewide. This article will focus on the successes and failures of the previous legislative session. Next week this column will feature his thoughts about gaming in the State of Alabama, education and economic development.
Q: This year, the state legislature had to be called into a costly special session just to pass two routine, constitutionally mandated budgets. Why did the legislature fail to enact such legislation in the regular session? What was the hold up?
A: The House continues to be productive and is looking proactively at issues currently confronting the state. But a lot of legislation is getting held up in the Senate, and some deep rooted resentment has emerged in that body. However, we were able to pass an education budget and a general fund budget, and we were able to attach some positive pieces of legislation to each of those bills.
Q: What other positive pieces of legislation were you able to pass? Which accomplishment are you proudest of?
A: We were able to pass a bill, which the Governor signed into law, that will allow small businesses to deduct 150 percent of the cost of health insurance from their state income taxes. I am very pleased with that legislation. I hope it will both help businesses expand coverage to the uninsured and save money on rising health insurance cost. Really, it is an investment. The more businesses Alabama has providing health care to its workers, the fewer residents we will have enrolled in government assistance programs.
Q: What happened to the ban on PAC-to PAC transfers?
A: For the eighth year in a row, the House passed a bill prohibiting PAC-to-PAC transfers, which is something I support and something Gov. Riley supports. However, that legislation did not make it through the Senate. The reason we in the House are trying to prohibit PAC-to-PAC transfers now is because with various political action committees shifting money from one another, it is impossible to know who is funding what campaign.
Q: Why does the Senate continue to kill the ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers?
A: The Senate passed a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers, but its ban was substantially different than the House passed version. We appointed a conference committee to negotiate the differences, but the Senate held firm on their proposal. However, the Senate’s proposal would have weakened the true purpose of the bill and created various exceptions and loopholes.
Q: Has the state school board eliminated double dipping?
A: Double dipping is of course the process by which members of the legislature also maintain jobs with the state. It has been very common for legislators to work for the two-year college system. The state school board has jurisdiction over those employees, and under the leadership of Chancellor Byrne, the school board has banned such double dipping.
Q: Some people say that because the State BOE is preventing educators from serving in the legislator, it is discriminating against them. What are your thoughts?
A: As a former educator, I do not want teachers to be excluded from legislative service of any shape, form or fashion. When I decided to run for the legislator, I retired. I think other teachers looking to run for legislative office should do the same. It would be hard for me to be in Montgomery representing my constituents and in my classroom teaching my students at the same time. By retiring before serving in the legislator, I avoided disrupting the educational process by using sick days or missing work and I am still able to represent educators as a former teacher.
Q: Do you like your job?
A: I do. Of course, I miss my students. But I love being out with the people. I love being able to meet people and hear what is on their minds. Having the confidence and trust of my constituents is a blessing I try not to take for granted. I also enjoy working with the legislature in Montgomery to make important decisions on state issues.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@ hotmail.com.