Monday, July 28, 2014

We can't borrow from our future to fund current special interests

Last week, Governor Bentley teased legislators, educators and citizens alike by threatening to call a special session to pull money from the education trust fund to support incentives to bring big business to Alabama.

If you just got deja vu, you aren't alone. It was in 2009 that we pulled $437 million out of the Education Trust Fund's rainy day account to help off-set proration in our public schools.

It was in 2012 that we raided the Alabama Trust Fund for another $437 million to help balance the state budget for three years.

Alabama's state finances are set up in two budgets: the education fund, which provides for education expenses, and the general fund budget, which provides for all other state services, including prisons and Medicaid.  

Each of these budgets have an account from which expenses are paid and revenues are collected.  They also each have a trust fund account, which collects interest to help fund the operating accounts and provides a safety net in case of an emergency.

We can think of these accounts like our household accounts: there's a checking account and a savings account.  And in our homes, what happens when we continually pull money from savings to avoid making tough budget cuts at the kitchen table?

Eventually, the savings account will run dry and you will be in a pinch if your car breaks down or the water heater busts.

Now, think of the education trust fund as the kids' college fund. We all know that education is the most important thing we can give our children, and we must protect those dollars at all costs.
So would your family raid the children's college fund to send some friends on vacation?

That sounds completely ridiculous, but it's exactly what Governor Bentley is proposing we do.  He wants to borrow--again--from the Education Trust Fund for incentives to lure businesses to Alabama.  

We spent $1 billion to bring Thyssenkrupp to Alabama in 2007. Taxpayers spent $400,000 per job that they created.  Today, there's a "For Sale" sign on the $5 billion factory and the state is left with 0 jobs created. 

Instead of spending billions of our children's education dollars to buy big business's favor, we should be doing everything we can to promote the industry that already exists in Alabama, especially our small businesses and entrepreneurs.  

And our education dollars, the foundation of our future, should be protected and preserved at all costs.  If we want business to thrive in Alabama, we must create a strong, educated workforce, which starts with our pre-kindergarten classrooms.  

If we want to reduce our prison populations and balance the general fund budget, we can do that short term by accepting the federal medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act, and long term through solid education for the future generations.

Alabama won't be able to grow and thrive if we borrow from Peter to pay Paul. We have to look at the budgets and make some choices.  But one choice should always be clear--our children must come first in this state.

Monday, July 21, 2014

We can't fix Alabama by taking resources from those who need them most

Last week, Republican legislators shot down Governor Bentley's plan to explore new revenue streams for the state of Alabama. The legislative leadership emphatically rejected the idea of new taxes for Alabama, and instead Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the solution is to cut Alabama's work force by an additional nine percent.

For the past four years, the Republican supermajority has balanced the budget on the backs of teachers and state employees. Our teachers make less today than they did four years ago. Our state employees are at risk of losing their jobs in an effort to "right size" the government.

Meanwhile, we're offering millions in economic incentives for a company to come to Alabama with no provision that they actually create the jobs they say they'll bring to our communities.

Alabama is experiencing economic growth at a rate slower than every state other than Alaska. We are in an economic crisis and we will not solve it by turning our backs on the hardest working people in this state.

We cannot expect to dig ourselves out of an economic hole by taking the shovels away from those who are doing the most digging.

Instead, we must invest in those people who work hard to make our state great.

Without our public school teachers, our children don't have a chance to learn, grow and achieve. Without our entrepreneurs, we don't have small businesses to fill our town squares. Without hard working Alabamians to carry out the state's business, we would soon find that lines are longer and operations are less efficient.

This state has great resources and hard working people--there's no reason that we can't be number one in something other than football. But as every football coach knows, the game will suffer if your players aren't fed, well-trained and motivated to perform well. The same is true for our workforce in Alabama.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The immigration crisis has ties to our Christian history

This year, the United States is facing a humanitarian crisis as more than 52,000 children are seeking refuge in the United States from violence in Central America. 

Children from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are seeking refuge from violence and poverty in their home countries by traveling to the United States and other Central American countries like Belize and Costa Rica.

On the Eastern end of this country, we have a Statue of Liberty that says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," a welcoming gesture to European immigrants since the late 1800's.

On the Western end of this country, we have citizen militias taking up arms to secure our borders against children trying to reunite with their families or avoid oppression in their home countries.

It's a mixed message, don't you think?

If we look past the current political context, this situation reminds me of a similar situation from our past. More than 2,000 years ago, a King in the modern-day West Bank ordered all babies and toddlers to be slaughtered. A young couple was expecting their first child, so they fled to Egypt to escape the king's slaughter and allow their son to live.

While they were traveling, the expectant mother went into labor.  There was no room for them at the inn, so she delivered her baby in a manger. 

Is this story starting to sound familiar?  

Mary and Joseph took tremendous risks to give their son, Baby Jesus, a better life. We can imagine that there were people who helped them along their journey into Egypt, just like there are Good Samaritans today offering food and water to Central American refugees at the US border.

But what if Mary and Joseph had been met with an armed militia telling them to get back across the border into Bethlehem? What if Herod had been successful in his efforts to kill Jesus to prevent him from becoming King?

I'm not suggesting that any of these children will grow up to become the Messiah, but Jesus grew up to give us some great advice and guidance for situations just like this--as individuals and as a nation.

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

If we are to truly be the land of the free and the home of the brave, we must extend these ideals from sea to shining sea. We must embrace the foundations on which this nation was built.  These are children who are coming into our country seeking refuge.  They're tired, scared and alone. They don't need a gun barrel shoved in their faces--they need a helping hand and a little compassion from this Christian nation.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The past 238 years in America has been a time of growth and change

This weekend my family celebrated the 4th of July. Like many of you, we came together, ate barbecue and watched fireworks. But Independence Day means more than hot dogs and fireworks--it's the day we celebrate severing the ties with the King of England to form a new democracy called the United States of America.

On July 4, 1776 representatives from the 13 American Colonies came together to declare their independence from the British Crown; creating for themselves and their posterity a free, prosperous, and independent nation.

At the top of the Declaration of Independence sits one of the most well-known sentences in American history: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The last line of our Declaration is far less well-known, but equally powerful: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Today I reaffirm that pledge that our founding fathers made to each other.

In 1789 the Continental Congress created our Constitution. Two years later our nation enshrined our most fundamental liberties in the Bill of Rights. Those rights have created the backbone the world's first modern democracy. These liberties have lit the world for over two centuries and created a model copied the world over.

The Founding Fathers created the promise of freedom. It would take generations of struggle and sacrifice to realize that promise.

Over the last 238 years many great Americans would toil to make this a more perfect union. Ending slavery, creating universal citizenship, and universal suffrage were profound acts of patriotism.

In the last century alone we have defeated fascism in Europe and Asia. We broke the sound barrier and reached into the heavens. We established the rights of minorities, women, and labor. We have proved time and time again that when this country has a common will to do something we can achieve anything.

But, our work is not done. Too many people struggle every day. We need to create opportunity so that everyone has the same chance of success and that hard work is well rewarded. We need to create a country where fairness and justice is the guiding principles of American life.

I hope you enjoyed Independence Day. I hope you hold these values close to your heart for the rest of the year. May God bless you all and may He continue to bless America.