To do so, Riley has gathered state legislators in a special session, asking them to adopt "an attitude of compromise" and quickly pass a package of bills that will help Alabama's most populous county right itself.
Special sessions aren't cheap; when called back to Montgomery, legislators are paid. What's more, such a county-specific session is an unsettling precedent that some may question should other counties need urgent help and not receive it. But in this case, Riley had no choice but to summons House and Senate members for the sole purpose of keeping Jefferson County solvent (to its many creditors) and operable (to its thousands of residents).
Placing confidence in the Alabama Legislature is like believing the Vanderbilt Commodores will win the Southeastern Conference football title. Could happen, but the track record of success is laughably slim. So let's establish one simple goal for legislators: follow Riley's direction, let the Jefferson County delegation swiftly hash out the details of installing a new .5 percent occupational tax for that county and vote the thing in.
If that happens, this special session can be called a success. Alabama can't afford for Jefferson County to fail and distribute fiscal ramifications across the entire state. In that respect, state legislators have little choice. They can't leave Montgomery without a resolution.
Alas, even in this scenario the Legislature's weak performance from this year's session provides a strong reminder. Given the state's many needs, Riley could have called a special session charged with a different mission. He could implore legislators to pass sweeping ethics reforms. Or ban PAC-to-PAC transfers before the 2010 election.
But if this Legislature accomplished so little in a regular session, why think it would be any different in a special session?
It wouldn't, so let's hope that legislators can at least get this single assignment right. If not, it'll say as much about the Legislature as it does the patient it's trying to heal.