By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On Friday, a reassignment of Senate budget chairs became official. Since the last Special Session of 2015, plans and negotiations had been underway to swap chairs of the Education Trust Fund, (ETF) and the State General Fund (SGF). After fits and starts, Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Sen. Trip Pitman (R-Montrose), will swap budget chair assignment.
The move comes as Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) prepares to significantly overhaul the State budgeting process. Speaking on background, several senators acknowledged, at least in part, Pitman’s dogged protection—some calling inflexibility—on the ETF had led to the switch.
Orr, who has had the unenviable task of cobbling together the sluggish SGF budget each year, is seen as more flexible as inevitable change progresses. After the battle to fund the SGF with higher taxes, there is momentum to look for other ways to add growth revenue to the SGF, including moving much of the Use Tax from the ETF to the SGF, and then backfilling the hole with new revenue.
Lottery and gaming bills will certainly be a part of the discussion to add revenue to both funds, while others will push to combine the budgets.
Current Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard is no longer considered a real player in coming discussions, due to his impending trial on 23 felony counts of public corruption.
Most are doubtful the embattled Hubbard will remain Speaker during the 2016 General Session. What some have called Hubbard’s erratic and dubious behavior during the last two Special Sessions have shown his willingness to undermine the process for personal gain. The general mood among House Republicans is that Hubbard must be replaced quickly to avoid another broken session.
As for future growth and wise administration of a working State budget, the Senate is taking the lead.
While no one questioned the effectiveness of either Orr or Pitman, the political and fiscal realities facilitated the switch in assignments.