Monday, August 31, 2015

The clock is ticking - This budget crisis is a time bomb for Alabama

This Monday marked exactly one month before the state enters full-blown crisis mode without a functional general fund budget. Governor Bentley called a special session to resolve the $300 million budget shortfall, and it was a tremendous failure to say the least. Three different Republican leaders are fixed firmly on three different plans for the state of Alabama, but it seems to me the right hand doesn't understand what the left is doing and nobody is willing to compromise to find the solutions that work for the people of Alabama.

Take, for example, Medicaid funding. Medicaid is one of the largest line items in our state's budget, and we can alleviate a tremendous amount of pressure by accepting federal dollars through Medicaid expansion. This is no different than federal dollars we already accept for schools, roads and other projects, except that it would provide hundreds of thousands of Alabamians with health coverage and save nearly 300 people each year from dying due to lack of care.

Or consider the state's $300 million budget shortfall. For years we've borrowed from Peter to pay Paul, and we can't put off paying the piper, but nobody can come to an agreement on where to get the money. The Governor is calling for taxes, the Senate is calling for gambling and the Speaker is calling for deeper budget cuts, but all of these plans will be worthless without the votes to pass them before the clock runs out.

The truth of the matter is that State of Alabama is facing a tremendous budget crisis, and it appears our leaders are too preoccupied with their own agendas to handle the situation appropriately. Now that the people are learning what this will mean, alarm bells are sounding and the voters are waking up:

This means that all but four driver's license offices will close--so if you live in Dallas county, make plans to take off work and drive to Montgomery to wait in line for the day.

This means that we'll have fewer State Troopers to keep our roadways safe--so you better hope you're not in an accident when you're making the long-distance drive for the license renewal.

This means that our state parks will be closing--so if you enjoy taking your kids out for some fresh air on the weekends, you better find another option.

When voters went to the ballot box and chose their leadership in 2014, they chose who to hire to do a job for the State. A big part of that job is doing the business of the State of Alabama--most importantly, passing a budget. The Republican supermajorities ran on the platform of fiscal responsibility, yet now they're turning around and asking you to get less services for the same tax dollars you've always paid.

There's nothing Conservative about that, and there's certainly nothing right about that.

We have 30 days to fix this mess, and I hope the people of Alabama will stand beside common-sense solutions and reject the political posturing by the Republicans.

This is truly a life-or-death situation for thousands of people, and the clock is ticking.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Budgets show our priorities: Where are Alabama's?

When families sit down each year to make our household budgets, it's a negotiating process. It's an exercise in give-and-take. It's a time to sit down and evaluate where we are and prioritize our plans for the upcoming year.

Yet as we are still in the process of creating our state's budget, we have to wonder if we see the same level of prioritizing and planning that we would expect of our own families.

For too many years, the state has borrowed money from here and there to compensate for shortfalls in the budget, and now it's time to repay that money. The Governor has promised to veto any budget that doesn't include new revenue, but the Republican House supermajority is sticking to reckless cuts across the board.

In their last desperate attempt to prove a point, the House Republicans passed a death sentence for thousands of Alabamians, by cutting Medicaid to the point that the program would simply dissolve. They didn't do away with the Medicaid Agency, they just cut their resources to the point that Medicaid couldn't keep the lights on, much less provide needed services.

The Republicans control the budgeting process, and they're using their power to play politics with critical government programs in order to get their way and safeguard their reelection.

The people of Alabama should be looking to the Republican supermajorities to find responsible methods to resolve our budgeting issue, and that should include accepting revenue that is on the table through Medicaid Expansion and closing corporate tax loopholes so that everyone pays their fair share.

Just like when your family sits down to make your budget, you can't just cut "groceries" out the budget to find a little extra cash to pay the power bill. Alabama can't just cut "Medicaid" out of the budget to find a little extra cash for prisons.

The fact of the matter is that we're doing something far more important than budgeting for our own families: We're taking responsibility for the money that has been sent to Montgomery from all Alabama families' household budgets. It's our job to spend that money as wisely as the families who earned it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

When words fall short: Bentley endorses Kasich's campaign but not his policies

Governor Bentley has just announced that he is endorsing Ohio Governor John Kasich for President of the United States. Governor Kasich has been faulted by many Republicans for stepping up and expanding Medicaid in Ohio, although he has doubled-down on his decision several times.

Governor Kasich has been quoted as defending his decision from his religious perspective, saying, "Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer."

In the first Republican debate, Kasich stood by his decision again, reminding viewers that President Reagan expanded Medicaid multiple times.

Yet our own governor, who is endorsing Kasich for showing leadership and having a heart for people, refuses to show the very same leadership to save Alabama lives, keep our rural hospitals open, create jobs and return Alabama dollars to our state where they belong.

At his endorsement announcement, Kasich said that his mother used to tell him that it's a sin not to help those who need it, and the Bible goes on to support Kasich's mother's words: "But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth."

Governor Bentley says he has a heart for people, and he says he cares about the poor. But it is not enough to love in word or with tongue. He must love in deed and truth by turning those words into actions as Governor Kasich did by expanding Medicaid.

It's time to stop playing party politics and do what's right for Alabama. I support Governor Bentley's words, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity to support his deeds when he follows in Kasich's footsteps and expands Medicaid.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Republicans' fiscal irresponsibility could rob our future

Alabama's voters should be paying close attention to what's been going on in Montgomery, and what will play out over the next few months.  The Governor has called the Legislature back for a Special Session to pass a budget--a task the Republican supermajority was unable to accomplish successfully in the regular session. 

They must complete the special session and find a solution by August 11--without a solution the Governor will need to call a second special session or allow the state government to shut down in October.

The Republicans control every step of this process, yet they are unable to find a solution to patch the $300 million budget shortfall. 

This isn't a problem that cropped up overnight, and it isn't the first time it's come up.  Everyone in Montgomery knew this problem would need to be addressed, yet nobody with any power wanted to show the leadership necessary to solve the problem.  

In 2012, the legislature sent voters to the polls to ask them to authorize a loan from one of our state's savings accounts to cover shortfalls in our state's budget.  They told voters that they would kick elderly patients out of nursing homes and turn prisoners loose on the streets if they weren't able to use the money, and they promised they would pay it back when the economy bounced back.

Well the economy has bounced back and the loan is due.

Yet now, they want to avoid the problem again and pull money from a different savings account, the education trust fund.

I have said from day one that I will never support a plan that pulls a single dime out of education so Montgomery politicians can avoid hard decisions and protect their re-election.  I'm standing by that promise.

You see, the problems we're facing as a state can be blamed on a lot of people: partisan politicians, influential lobbyists and government bureaucrats among them.  But the one group who is not to blame are our children, and they shouldn't be the ones punished by pulling our investments in their future.

If we want Alabama to bounce back and become a key economic player in our nation, we must provide quality education for our children.  This commitment to our future will offer a return on investment in a trained workforce, a higher standard of living, a lower dependency on social services and a shrinking role for our state's prisons.  There's no magic bullet for public policy, but education is the closest thing we have.

So we can't sit back and let our current leadership rob our future to pay for our present.  We can't avoid tough decisions today for an easier path, because one day our children will have to answer for the decisions we make as a legislative body.  And pulling money from the Education Trust Fund to patch the hole will only leave the children who have to deal with this with fewer tools to solve the problems and no savings to fall back on if they need it.

Don't listen to the Republican talking points about "fiscal responsibility."  Instead, ask yourself if this would be the responsible decision for your family.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Budget battles show Republicans lack plan to lead Alabama

As students across Alabama are preparing to head back to school, Alabama's legislators are heading back to Montgomery to continue work on the state's general fund budget.

During the regular legislative session, the Republican supermajority brought up bills to name an official state desert and an official state crustacean, which they were able to successfully pass, however they let the clock run out on setting a state budget.

See, legislatures from years past knew this type of procrastination could be a problem, so they passed a law that requires the legislature to make budgeting a priority. To bring a bill for consideration before the budgets have passed requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Unfortunately, the Republican caucus controls more than two-thirds of the legislature, so Democrats' cries for responsible planning fell on deaf ears.

So now we're back in Montgomery with no more of a plan than we had when we left.

Democrats have been offering concrete solutions since day one, but the Republicans have promised that they're all dead-on-arrival.

Our plan to expand Medicaid and accept $3.63 billion in federal dollars would create more than 15,000 new jobs and generate $2.65 billion in economic activity, not to mention providing 300,000 Alabamians with health coverage, saving hundreds of lives and dozens of hospitals.

Our plan to create a statewide lottery would allow the state to generate revenue without taking it from hard-working families through taxes. It would make us competitive with neighboring states and keep Alabama dollars here in Alabama, rather than funding scholarships for students in Georgia or Florida.

Our plan to close corporate tax loopholes would level the playing field, giving small businesses the opportunity to compete with big-box stores and ensure that everyone plays by the same rules and pays their fair share, not just those who can't afford fancy accountants.

We brought all of these plans to the table during the regular session and not a single one was even brought to the floor for a vote.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have the votes to do whatever they want--they control more than two-thirds of the legislature. Yet no Republican plan can generate any more support than the Democratic plans.

The Governor has proposed a new tax package but the Republicans in the Legislature have scoffed at the idea of raising taxes. The Speaker and House Republicans are ready to try to cut ourselves out of a crisis, but we can't cut our way out of a $300 million hole. Senate Republicans are looking at a gaming compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, but the Governor has promised to veto any gaming legislation.

We're looking at some tough decisions, but one thing is painfully obvious: we're going to keep talking ourselves in circles until the Republicans come to an agreement or the clock runs out in October.

The Republicans created this problem when they raided our savings account to avoid these tough decisions in 2012, and now it's time for them to repay the debt they owe to the people of Alabama.

I'm not sure what solution they'll agree on, but I can promise you this: I'm not voting to take a single dollar out of the pockets of working families until we accept the free money that's on the table from Medicaid expansion and consider avenues for elective revenue, and the people should demand the GOP does the same.