Alabama Scene

$195 per hour is a real stimulus

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail: bob@montgomery

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail: bob@montgomery

It seems as though everybody in Alabama is after a chunk of the President’s $787 billion stimulus bonanza.

The headlines tell the story thusly: “Alabama Port Authority seeks $27 million… Cities, counties fight over stimulus funds… Alabama in line for billions… Stimulus offers hope for road crews… Riley says stimulus key to state’s budget” and on and on and on.

But the little town of Edwardsville (Pop. 194) over near the Georgia border had the biggest ambition, partnering with Talladega Springs (Pop. 124) in seeking $375 million from Alabama’s share of about $3 billion. “I know we look like some little Podunk town,” said E. D. Phillips, a town official, “but we’ve really done some amazing things in the past two years.”

So what’s wrong with thinking big? And with its array of green proposals, the town may end up with some money.

But Edwardsville, which later rescinded its proposal, isn’t in the ballpark when the powerful and the high and mighty start standing in line for bailout money. Let’s take for instance, former state Chief Justice Drayton Nabers. He was appointed by Gov. Riley to the state’s highest judicial position several years ago while serving as Riley’s finance director and succeeded Roy Moore, who was removed from office.

Nabers couldn’t get elected after finishing out Moore’s term, so he moved back to his old law firm in Birmingham. Now, the governor wants to hire Nabers and another of his former staffers at the firm for two months at the rate of $195 per hour each.

What would they be doing to earn this very nice stimulus? They would oversee Alabama’s $3 billion share of the big giveaway.

My question is this. The state has thousands of employees; at least 600 in the governor’s finance department, and many of them are probably as smart as the former chief justice. So why can’t one or two of them…or even three… oversee where this money goes? The funds will likely have so many strings attached that such a job will be as simple as directing wheelchair traffic.

And, by the way, Nabers’s firm is already under a $400,000 contract from Riley that provides lawyer fees of $190 per hour.

And speaking of the stimulus…

A state lawmaker told me last week, tongue in cheek of course, that with the tremendous support of the stimulus bill provided by our congressional delegation… one yes out of nine… he wondered why Alabama was even getting a dime of the stimulus money. The package, which is expected to save or create 52,000 jobs in the state, will also save the state’s budgets, flush in the past decade, but under significant stress today.

Bob Gambacurta, who writes for The Independent, captured this situation perfectly last week:

“As the (financial) lights dimmed, Riley and company ignored the impending downturn and abandoned what little remained of their fiscal discipline. They used up all the money they had been forced to save for a rainy day and over-appropriated the state’s budgets by hundreds of millions of dollars.

“As 2009 arrived, the state faced a $1 billion budget shortfall. It appeared Riley’s good luck had run out. Not so.

“Up popped a leprechaun. First, he spewed his lucky fairy dust on Alabamians’ short-term memories. In light of the national economic crisis, Riley’s budgetary incompetence was magically forgotten. The words echoed through the halls of the Capitol and the Statehouse: ‘It’s not my fault.'”

“Desperate for more magic, Riley grabbed up the leprechaun and kissed him right on the mouth. Poof: Congress passes a $787 billion stimulus package that includes nearly $3 billion in bailout funds for Alabama. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

“With hundreds of millions of dollars for education, Medicaid, roads and bridges, and to cover past mistakes and incompetence, suddenly everybody’s happy. On Goat Hill, it’s business as usual, thanks to the leprechaun.”

I’m not sure how Mr. Obama would like being compared to a magic leprechaun, but he’s probably been likened to worse things.