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State legislature to convene today

In a time of economic recession, there’s no doubt that money will be among the top issue discussed as the Alabama Legislature begins its new session today.

But with a pending federal economic stimulus package, it could be weeks before legislators begin to form any type of specific financial outlook.

Still, it is likely, Rep. Alan Boothe (D-Troy) said, there will be massive cuts for education and other state agencies in the coming year.

“Unless something changes, we’re still looking at an $800 million cut from the education budget next year,” said Boothe.

Boothe said, however, that number could change should President Barack Obama’s stimulus package pass the senate with money allotted for education.

“Until we see those dictates, I won’t be able to say what kind of shape our budget will be in,” Boothe said.

“What I know at this point is…I think we’re going to see more cuts on the horizon.”

When legislators convene Tuesday, Boothe said Gov. Bob Riley will introduce his budget to the floor, but they will be waiting for the federal stimulus to see what, if any, affect it may have on Alabama’s budget.

“I think it will probably be several weeks before the budget gets into the severe development stage,” Boothe said.

“If in fact some stimulus comes, there’s no use in us spending these times to draft the budgets when we’ll have to backtrack.”

In fact, under economic conditions, Boothe said a budget might take even a while after two weeks before anything passes.

In the meantime, Boothe said the legislature will begin the session introducing other bills that aren’t related to budgeting.

One to come before the House, is the smoking ban, which will be making its way to the legislature for the 11th time, would prohibit smoking in public places, including bars.

And another bill on the agenda is proposed to ban text messaging while driving.

But, Boothe said one piece of legislation that will not come to the floor, at least for now, is the proposal for a county-wide lodging tax, which the Pike County Commission approved in November.

“I still have not had any input on the lodging tax,” Boothe said.