Monday, April 27, 2015

What they practice and what they preach

Last November, the Alabama Republican Party swept all statewide constitutional offices and gained seats in the Legislature by promising "more jobs, less government and no new taxes." Yet half way through the first legislative session since the elections, Republicans are already backtracking on these values and failing the people of Alabama by doing so.

For example, Medicaid expansion has been a hot topic for the past few years. Proponents see it as a way to offer health services to lower-income families to keep our hospitals from closing due to rising costs, while opponents see it as an encroachment of Obamacare. In order to find a solution that would be best for Alabama, Governor Bentley appointed the Alabama Health Care Improvement Task Force to explore our options. But Senate Republicans couldn't risk the best option being Medicaid expansion, so they forced through a resolution to tie the Governor's hands by preventing Medicaid expansion.

By doing this, Senate Republicans showed their priority is not what's best for the state or finding a solution that works for everyone. They don't care what the healthcare professionals recommend, as long as they can say they fought Obama.

In the House, Republicans have put forth a bill to prevent local governments to pass municipal ordinances to make working conditions better for the people in their cities. This extreme local interference bill, HB495, would prevent cities like Birmingham and Montgomery from making the decisions about what's best for their own communities. While the Republican Party promises smaller government and less overreach, the bills they are putting forth show exactly the opposite!

Truly, Republicans are only against "government overreach" and "big government" when it prevents them from pushing their own agendas. When it's convenient to their big-money donors, they don't mind big government one bit.

Lastly, the Republicans in the legislature are failing the people of Alabama by practicing extreme partisanship and failing to address our budget crisis. We are facing a $700 million budget shortfall, and Republicans haven't passed a single bill to address it. The party of "fiscal responsibility" thinks we can cut our way out of this crisis, and it's just not going to work.

I do have to give credit on one point: I'm excited to see that Senate Republicans are planning to put aside their far-right, fundamentalist special interests and introduce legislation to allow the lottery. This is a great solution to patch revenue gaps without raising taxes or taking money out of hard-working Alabamians' pockets. House Democrats have been introducing lottery legislation for years, but we don't mind if they pass our bills with their names on them---as long as the peoples' work gets done.

I'm hopeful that we can continue to work together to find solutions that are best for the people of Alabama. House Democrats are ready and willing to discuss the solutions we've proposed to mend the budget crisis and give Alabama a brighter future, but the Republicans are continually preoccupied with regulating morality and spouting off rhetoric before finding solutions.

That's not what the people of Alabama thought they were sending to Montgomery, and I hope they'll remember the difference between what the Republicans have practiced and what they have preached when the next elections roll around.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Alabama Republicans aren’t doing their jobs: It’s time to solve the budget crisis

I want to start this week by thanking everyone who has called my office, emailed me, Tweeted me or stopped by my office in Montgomery. I want you to know--I've heard your concerns.

It's very clear to me that the people of Alabama are worried about what's going on in Montgomery. They're worried that our state parks are closing, some as early as May 1. They're worried about cuts to our already-struggling mental health services, including the 14,000 Alabamians who will lose treatment. They're worried about the children who depend on us--30,000 of them who will lose food stamps and 17,000 of them who will lose subsidized child care. They're worried about our veterans' services and ADEM and prisons.

And let's be honest, there's a lot to be worried about.

But while the people of Alabama have been worrying and calling and writing, the question stands: What are the Republicans in leadership actually doing about it?

For starters, they're still pushing through the legislative calendar, but not making use of their time. Last week, the House was only in session for six and a half hours over two legislative days. The week before that, the House convened less than 10 hours over two legislative days. By law, we only have 30 days in the legislative session--shouldn't we use those days wisely?

When the Republicans actually allow the legislature to convene, we'd like to think they're working hard to tackle the tough issues facing our state, but that's just not true. We haven't been given many opportunities to vote on legislation that has a substantial impact on solving Alabama's problems because the Republicans choose which bills come for a vote each day. And they're choosing to spend 45 minutes discussing whether or not children could ride in the back of a pick-up truck on the interstate.

Coming up Tuesday, we have a full day of voting on bills that will change, impede or confuse the voting process. These are their priorities. They would rather let children go without the services they need, turn our veterans away at the door and shut down our state parks than bring the budgets up for a vote.

I'm ready to begin debating on solutions to the state's $700 million budget crisis. I'm excited to talk about finding funding to double the size of our Pre-K program. My colleagues and I may not have all the answers, but we're ready to start finding solutions that work to bring Alabama back from the brink of shutdown.

On the other hand, Republicans in the supermajority are going to betray the people of Alabama by hiding behind their pledge not to raise taxes and letting the government fail the very people it represents. They're going to hope the people don't remember their disloyalty, putting special interests over the good of our state. They're going to hide behind rhetoric, but they know the facts.

Monday, April 13, 2015

We can’t grow money on trees: Would you rather have Democrats' lottery or Republicans’ taxes?

After six weeks back in Montgomery, the Republican Supermajorities haven't taken any necessary steps to repair Alabama's budget crisis. So last week, Democrats unveiled our plan to get Alabama's budgets back on track: policy priorities like allowing Alabamians to vote on a lottery, increasing the tobacco tax, and closing loopholes to fairly enforce the taxes that are already on the books will give the state of Alabama the revenue it needs to remain solvent.

Critics have called this "tax and spend" liberal policies, but the truth of the matter is that we have to dig our way out of years of debt from Republicans' "borrow and spend" practices.

Just to remain solvent, we need $265 million added to our state budget. To pay back money we've borrowed, we need a total of $700 million.

This is no different than our household budgets; the numbers are just bigger. Just like in our own homes and businesses, the money coming in has to be equal to or greater than the money going out. Right now, it's not even close.

And since nobody in the state of Alabama has figured out how to grow money on trees or turn rocks into gold, we have to find a way to bring this money into our state government, or risk cutting more state programs.
In a meeting last week, Governor Bentley outlined what deeper state budget cuts would look like: approximately 17,000 children will lose access to subsidized child care, 30,000 children will lose food stamps, 600 court employees across Alabama will lose their jobs, 14,000 Alabamians with mental illness will lose therapy sessions, 1,100 services for residents with intellectual disabilities will end; veterans service centers will continue to close around the state, and 15 of the state's 22 parks will close.

While "no new taxes" sounds great during campaign season, there are real families depending on these budget items. It's clear we can't cut our way out of this problem.

That's why my fellow Democrats and I have offered plans to generate state revenue without putting the burden on the backs of working families. By raising revenue through voluntary measures, like a lottery and tobacco taxes, we can tax only those who choose to participate in the taxed activity, rather than putting the burden onto all families across Alabama.

The money has to come from somewhere, and even prominent Republicans like Governor Bentley and Rep. Steve Clouse, the chairman of the General Fund budget committee, know we have to find it.

So the question stands: would you rather have the Democrats' lottery or the Republicans' taxes?

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Family Values" are more than a political agenda

Every four years, Montgomery politicians come back to their districts to run for office, promising to fix everything that is wrong in Montgomery. One of their recurring campaign themes is promoting "family values" at the State House. Yet we're a little over a third of the way through session and I haven't seen many pieces of legislation pushing these "family values."

Yes, my colleagues in the House have been successful at bringing back the electric chair and passing some discriminatory measures, but family values? They haven't come through the Alabama House of Representatives.

In fact, the Alabama Republicans have been making news by promoting exactly the opposite: Senator Larry Stutts put forth a bill to revoke women's right to a hospital stay after delivering a baby and to take away notification protocol for women who are at a higher risk of breast cancer.

If that's "pro-family," I'm the Easter Bunny.

Meanwhile, House Democrats have put forth measures that would actually help working Alabama families.

Issues like expanding Medicaid and removing the tax off groceries aren't issues that just affect a small percentage of the population--the numbers show they will make life easier for all Alabamians.

If we raise the minimum wage and make health care both accessible and affordable, we can expect that couples will choose to start families and raise children in a stable household. If we repeal the tax on groceries, all families can afford 10 percent more milk and vegetables.

Because while the Republicans want to present themselves as "pro-family" and "pro-life," the true measure of their position is whether or not they are "pro-child."

It's easy to toss out unconstitutional bills like the one from Rep. Terri Collins to make abortions illegal after a fetal heartbeat can be detected (approximately 6 weeks into a pregnancy), but its very difficult to stand up to the high-powered lobbyists and make sure that no child grows up in poverty.

Here in Alabama, about one in three children do, by the way.

It's easy to stand up in your district and say you're "pro family" but its hard to stand up for the issues that matter to Alabama families: the pocketbook issues that put a roof over families' heads and food on their tables.

Because when we work in Montgomery to build strong families, those families will build a stronger Alabama for the future.