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Riley’s address leaves questions unanswered

By By Steve Flowers
As Gov. Bob Riley delivered his last State of the State address to the legislature on Jan. 12th, I sat in the old House of Representatives chamber in the Capitol. It was nostalgic. The House moved out of those chambers in 1984.
However, I got to serve in that venue for at least two of my sixteen years in the House. I also served in those old chambers as a Page in my youth. I had the opportunity to hear quite a few State of the State addresses in the old historic chamber where delegates voted to secede from the Union and the Confederate States of America were born in 1861.
Most of these addresses were delivered by George Wallace. As you know, he was governor one way or the other for over 20 years. There was no teleprompter for the governor to read his speech from in bygone years. Today the governor acts like he is talking to the legislators but is actually speaking to a television audience.
However, Riley’s words did not fall on deaf ears. The legislators were attentively anticipating Riley’s solution for resolving the state’s financial dilemma. Therefore, you should have seen the shock and astonishment on the faces of every legislator and observer when Riley unbelievably declared that Alabama had no funding crisis. The legislators would have laughed at him but they were too shell-shocked. Riley might as well have stood there and told them that he had no nose on his face. Instead, they were looking for his nose to start growing exponentially like Pinocchio’s.
The fact is that there is not a state in the nation that is not facing a financial crisis and figures reveal Alabama’s position is more dubious than most. When pressed, Riley eventually revealed to the media that he is banking on a second federal stimulus bill full of borrowed federal dollars to bail the state out for the second year in a row.
When legislative leaders and the media questioned Riley’s approach as being a big gamble, he said that betting on congress to pass a second bailout to save the states was a safe bet and that it was a sound and prudent approach to balancing the state’s budget.
More than one legislator compared the governor’s plan to counting your chickens before they hatch. Nevertheless, Riley’s Pollyanna budget plan is sitting on legislators’ desks.
The irony in this situation is that a week later in an amazing surprise a Republican won the vacant senate seat of Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. This bluest of blue state sent the 41st Republican senator to Washington. Although Riley has been an outspoken opponent of all of Obama’s initiatives, especially the stimulus bills, he is now relying on those federal dollars to balance Alabama’s budget.
The Democrats have passed all of the federal spending bills with a 60 vote filibuster proof majority. This new GOP senate vote makes that a problem for future Obama initiatives, including a second stimulus spending bill that Riley is relying on for his 2011 budget.
Therefore, Riley’s wish may come true and there will be no new dollars added to the federal deficit. But guess what? This also thwarts Riley’s Houdini budget. The implications of the Massachusetts victory are dire for Riley.
However, this may well be a shrewd Machiavellian move by Riley. The Democratic controlled legislature has basically ignored Riley’s budget proposals in all seven of the previous sessions. They have essentially tossed his budget proposals in the nearest trash can and proceeded to craft their own. Riley has been dismissed and made irrelevant by an arrogant Democratic majority.
Maybe it is payback time. Riley may be saying to the legislative leaders, you have made it your budget for seven years so why not make it eight for eight. You wrestle with the state’s problems.
I rather spend my last year in office raiding bingo parlors.
This time next year I will be back in Clay County riding my horse and I will just let you good old boys and the poor unsuspecting new governor deal with these problems. I will kick the can down the road for you and the new governor. Good luck boys and girls. It has been fun.
Meanwhile, it looks more and more like the new governor, bless his heart, will be walking onto the deck of the Titanic. It makes you question the sanity of those running for governor.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.