It's been frustrating for the past month or so to watch progressive groups like Alabama ARISE and Alabama Appleseed, not to mention several editorial pages around the state, first deplore the irresponsible behavior that set up the lose-lose choice facing voters on September 18th, point out that it is nothing more than a band-aid, virtually call it blackmail and then advise voters to go along with the blackmailers, pay the ransom to save essential programs like Medicaid and vote YES to let legislators use the Alabama Trust Fund to balance the state's operating budget. All the while knowing this will just kick the can down the road to some even worse budget crisis in a few years. Where is their backbone?
Well, State Rep. Craig Ford (D, Gadsden) must have listened to Deval Patrick's speech Wednesday night at the Democratic Convention …
“if we want to earn the privilege to lead, it’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe.”
… because Ford is not waffling on the Sept. 18th constitutional amendment. He not only says very clearly that he will be voting NO, he urges the rest of us to do the same …
I urge you to vote NO on September 18 and urge the Governor to call a special session to require the legislature to work TOGETHER to find a permanent solution to our state’s funding needs. You elected us to make the hard choices and decisions NOW, not to kick the can down the road three years.
Ford eschewed the usual mumblings about dire consequences and how we can't trust the Legislature to actually fix anything and instead makes the case that voting NO on September 18 is the more responsible course.
First, this amendment will not solve Medicaid’s or the prison system’s financial problems; it only delays the problems for three years (funny how that happens to coincide with the 2014 elections). After three years, Alabamians will be right back where we are now with even higher costs. This amendment is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. It is a temporary bailout of Medicaid and the Alabama prison system.
Secondly, this amendment does not require the borrowed money to be paid back. The amendment allows the state to transfer, or borrow, $145.8 million dollars each year for the next three years from the Alabama Trust Fund to the General Fund. While the governor and some legislative leaders have said they will support legislation requiring the money be paid back to the Alabama Trust Fund, the amendment does not REQUIRE it. I believe we need more than just their assurances; we need the repayment to be a requirement. And if they are serious about paying the money back, then why was the repayment requirement not part of the original amendment? Do you trust your elected officials to pay the money back without it being required by law?
Thirdly, Alabama’s General Fund budget relies on money from the interest payments we receive on the Trust Fund. The Alabama Trust Fund was established to collect royalties from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. This amendment would take nearly one-fifth of the money out of the Trust Fund, which will drastically reduce the interest payments. Lower interest payments results in even less money for the General Fund budget in the coming years.
Then Craig Ford goes further, calling out the dishonest rhetoric of the Republican supermajority:
Republican leaders have been selling this amendment to the voters of Alabama by arguing that without it, the state will not have enough money for vital services like Medicaid. Yet, at the same time they have been making this argument, these same Republican leaders have been traveling the state telling us how they are going to cut a billion dollars from the state budgets (mostly from cuts to teachers and education support personnel, law enforcement, firefighters, and other public servants).
So which is it? Does the state have so much money that we can afford to cut a billion dollars in government spending? Or are we so financially strapped for cash that we have to raid the Trust Fund of $437 million dollars (almost half of what Republicans say they are going to cut from the budgets)?
Republican leaders like to claim that they are fiscally conservative, but raiding the state’s savings account to the tune of $437 million to bailout the prison system and Medicaid is not fiscally conservative.
Make no mistake, the choice on September 18th is a bad one. Either dip into the Trust Fund for a short term band-aid to Alabama's broken budget with no guarantee the money will ever be paid back, or trust Republicans to go back to the drawing board and actually solve the problem.
I say Ford is right, the Governor should call the Legislature into special session and challenge them to find the needed revenue and craft a permanent solution to the perennial problem of budget shortfalls. The Democratic proposal to “close corporate tax loopholes used by out of state companies to rob the people of Alabama from deserved revenue” is a very good place to start. Give Alabama Republicans a chance to put their money where their mouths are on bipartisanship, and put their constituents ahead of their pledge to Grover Norquist, and raise enough revenue to pay our bills.