Alabama Scene

Paying legislators

 

 

Five years ago I probably wrote the only editorial in an Alabama newspaper supporting the 62-percent pay raise state legislators gave themselves on a voice vote that shielded them from public scrutiny of how they voted.

It technically was not a salary increase because the only salary they were paid then and now is an annual amount of $1,050 fixed in the 1901 State Constitution. They were, however, paid an expense allowance of $30,660 at the time and the unrecorded voice vote in each chamber boosted that amount to $49,500. Annual automatic increases have since raised their expense check to $53,000-a-year.

Since the secretive maneuver occurred lawmakers have railed about the way it was done but there have been no serious efforts to repeal it. And there really shouldn’t have been.

In most things in this world we generally get what we pay for and that is why I am a proponent of paying legislators more, but requiring them to work full time and forbidding them from having an outside job or position on the side. This would cost more but would curb a lot of special interest candidates who, many times, are mere pawns whose salary is paid by business, industry, government, or union bigwigs.

This session two lawmakers are sponsoring a constitutional amendment which will at least put legislative salaries on the right track by providing automatic increases if our economy improves. Making them full time will require heavier lifting.

State Sen. Bryan Taylor of Prattville and State Rep. Mike Bell of Madison are sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment for a statewide vote that will tie legislative pay to the state’s median household income as calculated by the Census Bureau. That would amount to an annual salary of about $40,500, an amount less than the current pay, but one which would rise if the state’s household income increases. Their salary would also be subject to regular state and federal withholdings.

The proposal would also provide them the state’s daily per diem reimbursement of $75 per day while on legislative business for those lawmakers living more than 50 miles from Montgomery. I assume those who live within the 50-mile radius of the capital city could get meal reimbursement. During normal regular sessions they could get a maximum of $3,150 for lodging in Montgomery. I assume that other approved legislative travel would also include per diem and mileage reimbursement. They would also be paid 55 cents per mile for one round-trip per week when the Legislature is in session.

I believe this is a sensible and reasonable plan and should be adopted by lawmakers and the voters. Bingo Trial tapes discredit Gilley as witness

After he spent almost three days on the witness stand, defense attorneys for VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor and the other defendants finally got a chance to discredit former Country Crossing owner Ronnie Gilley on cross-examination.

Gilley, who has copped a plea, admitted that he told his wife while he was in jail last April in taped phone conversations that he needed to take down his co-defendants in order to get a deal from the government.

“My whole sentence is going to depend upon whether I can bring others down,” Gilley read from a transcript of his phone call.

He also told his wife that federal prosecutors gave him a script, telling him exactly what to admit to during a plea hearing set for the next day. He acknowledged that he told his wife that he did not agree with those words.

On April 1, 2010, just after the bingo bill cleared the Senate, Gilley called McGregor to tell him he learned that the FBI was investigating possible corruption.

McGregor and Gilley have both said they believed former Gov. Bob Riley was behind the investigation.

“That’s what it’s all about… Riley,” Mc- Gregor said. “This is amazing that this could happen in this country.”

McGregor several times on the tapes said that he could not believe it.

“This makes me sick to my stomach,” he said. “Riley is destroying this state. He is a sick, runaway thug.”

The trial continues this week. The 16 jurors hearing the case include 12 African Americans, four Caucasians, 13 women and three men.

The feds couldn’t get a conviction the first time around. They’re spending additional millions trying again.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.