Federal courts have protected lying by politicians as “free speech,” but for Alabama Republicans it's a way of life. How else to explain Governor Bentley's sudden realization that Alabama's general fund budget shortfall is not just a whopping $265 million for next year, but a heart-stopping $700 million over “the next few years.” Meaning, we suppose, the rest of his term.
Conveniently, the Governor learned of this the day after an election that gave him another term and increased the size of the GOP supermajority in the Legislature.
The day after he won a landslide re-election victory for a second term, Gov. Robert Bentley was given an extensive briefing on the money-troubled general fund.
That is the pot of dollars which pay for prisons, Medicaid, public safety and most state needs not related to public schools.
If the timing of the Governor's briefing isn't suspicious to you, I have a nice State House for sale in Montgomery. Oh wait… it's already been purchased by a consortium led by Alabama Power & Mike Hubbard.
Hmmm…. so we need $700 million over the next couple of years to fill meet even the very basic levels of state services in Alabama. Let's look at how the GOP supermajority spent money during their first term at the helm of state government:
- Speaker Mike Hubbard increased the speaker's office budget by 82.6% (to $892,492) over the previous (Democratic) speaker. That number includes $135,000 paid to political consultants, six-figure salaries to formerly part-time staffers, & a lavish re-decoration of Hubbert's office.
- A $99,000 no-bid contract to build a WordPress Web site for a state agency.
- A $72,000 no-bid contract to “research” information that's readily available with a Google search or a quick visit to the Census Bureau Web site.
- A million dollars for a special election to raid the state's savings account because the Legislature passed a non-balanced budget. That little scheme is coming home to roost now: over half of this year's budget shortfall – $160 million – is the repayment schedule for that “loan.” The supermajority decided NOT to pay any of it back until after they got re-elected.
But even those crazy expenditures pale before the amount of corporate welfare that the state has doled out seemingly to any out-of-state corporation that asked.
- Golden Dragon: The state spent $190 million on a facility that competes with an existing Alabama business and promised 300 jobs.
- Toyota: $6 million in state money to expand an existing engine plant.
- We dodged a bullet with Boeing. Governor Bentley was prepared to spend $600 million (or more) of state money to bribe the company to expand operations here. Think how big the hole in the budget would be if that deal had gone through.
- Airbus: $158 million in “incentives” to locate in Mobile.
Of course, if the Governor has his way, the corporate welfare payments may not affect the General Fund in the future – because the Education budget will be footing the bill. It's part of his unique “eat what you kill” funding strategy.
But don't worry campers! There's a solution for all you people who have lost your jobs or who haven't been able to find one in Bentley's economy. There may be a job waiting for you in prison.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is preparing to seek federal approval to place private businesses' production facilities inside prison walls, joining 38 states that allow businesses to use inmate labor on prison grounds.
Prior to 2010, we were no fans of the Democratic majority in the legislature, but that was because they had the power to make things in the state better – tax reform, remove sales tax on food, ethics reform, constitution reform, etc. – but each year, those proposals died as the leadership preferred the status quo.
But the frenetic activity of the GOP supermajority has, in four short years, surpassed any damage the Democrats did with their inertia. Alabama voters re-elected them – resoundingly – and we're going to quite literally be paying the bills for years to come.