So. The “real” Governor of Alabama isn't Robert Bentley after all. It's Grover Norquist. How else can you explain the GOP's legislative super-majority's stunning failure to pass a budget that in any way reflects reality?
Let's quickly recap the session:
- They spent the early part handing out tax breaks to any business that
coughed up enough in campaign contributionsheld its hand out.
- Clay Scofield's ultrasound bill and Shadrack McGill's abject ignorance of just about every issue held the media transfixed.
- Lawmakers complained that constituent complaints about budget cuts were hurting the Legislature's feelings.
- Redistricting was pushed to a special session while Gerald Dial & Richard Laird pushed through their personal slush fund bill.
But giving priority to passing an actual budget – something Alabama's “budget isolation” rules call for – seemed to be missing from the legislature's agenda this term.
That's because a budget is a statement of values and priorities that requires a person or government to make hard choices. We elect representatives who promise to do just that, but when the time came… they punted and turned it over to the voters.
In a state that last year couldn't find the money to pay tax refunds on time, the Legislature had no problem scheduling a million dollar special election in September. Mike Hubbard & company are asking for a bailout. Constrained by their “no new taxes, no how, no way” pledge, they can't pay the state's bills and plan to ask voters to – as my grandmother would say – eat our seed corn.
The Legislature on May 16 passed a $1.67 billion budget to fund most non-education state services in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The General Fund budget is about $67 million less than the current fiscal year.
Lawmakers debated further cutting Medicaid and prisons, but ended up giving citizens the chance to vote Sept. 18 on a constitutional amendment authorizing the transfer of $145.8 million from an oil and gas trust fund to the General Fund. The same amount would also be transferred in 2013 and 2014.
State Health Officer Donald Williams said failure of the constitutional amendment would wipe out about 10 percent of the revenue for state agencies.
If the amendment doesn't pass, it's a disaster for the state. If the amendment does pass, our vaunted GOP super-majority who said they'd change Montgomery will have done nothing more than rob the Alabama Trust Fund and kick the can down the road until after the 2014 election. It's so breathtakingly stupid that even the Birmingham News editorial board gets it:
Rather than find new revenue to replace the loss of federal stimulus dollars and other one-time spending sources, lawmakers would rather raid the state's savings and leave it to voters to “appropriate” enough money for noneducation agencies to make it through next year. And if voters say no? There likely would be a special session before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1 to figure out a funding source. It is a risky, irresponsible way to write a budget, and legislative leaders should be ashamed.
But of course, they've proved themselves totally shameless so often that we know even that small acknowledgement of their failings is way too much to hope for.
2014 can't some soon enough.