Alabama Scene

Will she or will she not?

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

The best kept secret in Alabama is whether Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb will toss her bonnet into the governor’s race. Recently she said she was torn between her current position and the possibility of seeking the governor’s office.

“I have been torn between those who encourage me to run for governor, and those who want me to continue my work as chief justice,” Cobb said. And she added that at that point she was not ready to make a decision, saying that she would continue to seek advice.

Among the things she must consider, perhaps one near the top of the list, is money. The governor’s salary is nowhere close to what she earns as the state’s top jurist. So it would make sense for her to determine that if elected she could draw the retirement pension that she is due for her considerable judicial tenure as a district judge, appeals judge, and as chief justice, while also serving as governor.

Another state chief justice, Howell Heflin, had a similar situation back in 1978 when he decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Heflin’s judicial pension was not nearly as hefty as those pensions are today; nonetheless, the issue arose in his campaign. Although he was legally entitled to draw the pension while in the U.S. Senate, he chose to eschew it, saying he would draw only his pay as a senator during his federal service.

The right political decision for Chief Justice Cobb would be to follow Sen. Heflin’s example. The law in Alabama states that no state official can hold two offices of profit. A retired judge must take an oath of office as a judge to become eligible for his/her pension so it appears that Cobb couldn’t draw retirement pay as governor because she would hold two state offices of profit. However, if she chose “inactive” status as a retired judge, she might be able to circumvent that prohibition.

However, if she were to run, it would be in her best interest as a candidate to foreclose any possibility that she could be paid as governor and as a retired judge by refusing to accept any judicial pension as long as she might serve as governor.

Major road projects to boost Alabama

The state is requesting stimulus funds to pay for the $241 million Corridor X interchange with Interstate 65 in Birmingham, the most expensive road construction project ever undertaken by the state.

State officials say that construction could start on the interchange by fall if the stimulus funds are approved. State Department of Transportation (DOT) Director Joe McInnes has said the state is seeking enough funds to pay the entire tab for the project. Because it is a regional transportation project, McInnes is hopeful that the money might be allocated. Nonetheless, bids on the project will be taken next month.

Corridor X, which connects Birmingham and Memphis, will become Interstate 22 when it is finished. Construction of the interchange will take up to five years.

Meanwhile, The Birmingham
reports that continued construction of the 52-mile interstate loop around the city should be boosted by construction of the Corridor X interchange with I-65. DOT officials say that once the interchange is under construction the state will boost the effort on the northern part of the loop around the city.

The loop will be designated as Interstate 422 and will receive $145 million in funds in Appalachian development funds in 2011, including the state match, all in addition to the $72 million in federal money already set aside for the project. Because of the interstate designation the state match is reduced in half.

Congressman Spencer Bachus says he is asking an additional $2 billion be set aside for finishing the loop in this year’s congressional transportation reauthorization bill. Bachus told the News
that the highway is going to be built and he wants it finished by 2025.

Lost opportunity for unemployment funds

Alabama could have qualified for $99 million in federal stimulus money for its unemployment compensation trust fund if the Legislature had passed a bill to extend jobless benefits to more laid-off Alabamians. Instead the state now must borrow $50 million from the federal government to shore up that same trust fund.

The reason: Bob Riley and some Republican legislators killed the bill, saying it would have cost employers too much money. So Alabama isn’t getting the funds, which could have prevented the cash-flow problem that made the federal loan necessary.