Alabama Scene

Slash and burn



The political mood of the new Republican majority in the U. S. House of Representatives and the new GOP majorities in state lawmaking bodies seems to be slash and burn. On the national level, the target is the program of Barack Obama. On the state level, the target is the pay and benefits of public workers, a story that is playing out now in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois, among other states.

This week it will hit Alabama, where a significant budget shortfall in the general fund will no doubt force state worker layoffs and proposals for reductions in employee benefits. The cutbacks will likely hit education employees even though the education budget is in better shape than the general fund, which funds the remainder of state government.

The main focus in the states up north is the issue of collective bargaining rights for the workers. We don’t have that issue in Alabama, but there are many other issues that employee and teacher organizations will fight to protect, such as health insurance, retirement formulas, and jobs.

The only public-employee issue I have heard Gov. Robert Bentley address at this writing on Monday is state holidays. He may address others in his State of the State address later in the week.

State workers in Alabama have 13 state holidays. Many counties and cities observe most, if not all, of these holidays. The spokespersons for state employees invariably cite as the reason for this overabundance of holidays the fact that some were actually created in times when state workers didn’t get deserved state raises. Frankly, state pay and benefits in Alabama are good and there are, I believe, too many state holidays. I agree with Gov. Bentley that we should reduce our overabundance of observances.

The issue of state holidays reminds me of earlier years when I was working for the late Chief Justice and U. S. Senator Howell Heflin. Judge Heflin thought we should observe only the five major holidays… Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and one other, which I cannot recall. So those of us on his administrative staff took turns keeping the state’s judicial doors at least partially open on the remaining days of state observance. Heflin also didn’t personally observe a five-day work week, but never attempted to impose Saturday or Sunday workdays on the staff … except on occasions.

Insofar as the holidays, I believe it is a matter of perception rather than anything else. The issue governors should be studying, particularly with their appointed officials, is the number of people their appointees hire to serve their own needs and not necessarily those of the state. Instead of a slash and burn approach, my first order of business, if elected governor, would be to hire independent employment experts, reporting only to me, to do a detailed study of every job in every department to determine those absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of state government. The Air Force tanker battle

Talking about slash and burn, I have never seen a more bitter campaign than that conducted by the forces of Boeing and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) over the contract to build new refueling tankers for the U. S. Air Force. Boeing won so it was a loss for Alabama since EADS was planning to build the tanker at or near Mobile. Boeing, incidentally, employs more than 3000 workers in its Alabama operations.

In the battle over the $35-billion contract to build the nearly 200 airborne refueling tankers, our two U. S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, were ardent advocates of the European company, and hours after the decision Shelby was still going ballistic over it. He complained that Boeing’s victory was a result of “Chicago politics,” obviously an effort to bring Barack Obama into the mix even though the winners in the decision were the states of Washington and Kansas, not Chicago.

I understand that the Pentagon got cold feet about EADS because of the company’s connections to both Libya, with which it had signed an arms contract several years ago, and Russia through big-money interests including Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who partly owns a company that was to provide aluminum for the EADS planes.

Sources also tell me former Gov. Bob Riley was planning to finance his presidential campaign with money he had hoped to collect from the tanker deal. This decision may make his bike trip to Alaska even more important.

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