By Minority Leader Rep. Anthony Daniels
Let me be blunt. The legislature is already one-third of the way through the 2017 Session and we have done very little for Alabamians and Alabama families.
Our State schools remain chronically underfunded, leaving our students and young people without the educational resources, materials, and programs they need to succeed.
Our educators are so undervalued that many must dig into their own pockets to supply classroom essentials to meet the needs of their students.
Too many of our workers are unemployed or underemployed. They’re still looking for work because we are not attracting enough high-quality jobs, nor are we adequately preparing our workforce for career opportunities. Meanwhile, small businesses and entrepreneurs – the very backbone of our economic success – continue to face mounting pressures to stay competitive in this new economy.
Meanwhile, hardworking Alabama families struggle to make ends meet, put food on the table, and pay their bills because of the sales tax on groceries and uncertainties on medical care and coverage. Yet, too many of us in Montgomery refuse to admit we need additional revenue to serve our citizens and move our state forward. Either that or we don’t seem to think there’s a problem. I’m not sure if that’s crazy or just sad. But to me and to many of my colleagues, it’s downright unacceptable.
I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture because while there are significant challenges ahead, I have no doubt that we can meet them. These are challenges we have in common and we can attack them by finding common ground. I have no doubt that if we communicate with our constituents and if we work together in the spirit of bipartisanship, we can solve some of the most pressing issues facing our State.
All Alabama families want is a fair shot and level playing field – which is why my fellow Democrats and I have presented a policy agenda that focuses on strong schools, good jobs, and healthy communities.
The path to success in life begins with a first-class education. This calls for sufficient investments in our schools, students, educators, and classroom technology. By properly funding our public schools, we can strengthen our workforce and lay the foundation to drive economic growth for years to come.
This solid foundation also includes access to affordable higher education. Every Alabama student should have access to, at least, two years of tuition funding at in-state institutions of higher learning. In turn, our students pursuing a two-year degree from community colleges and technical school systems would be fully funded, while those enrolling in four-year colleges would receive tuition for half of their programs.
The new economy demands that we plan and quickly respond to regional, national and global changes to ensure that our workforce has all the tools necessary to compete for high-skilled and high-paying jobs. Starting with high school graduates, we must strive to craft new workforce development opportunities for young Alabamians by promoting dual enrollment programs and career and technical training. When new job opportunities become available in emerging markets, Alabama’s workers must be fully prepared and be first in line to take advantage of them.
As the main driver of our regional and statewide economies, small business owners must have access to the tools they need to thrive, expand, and hire locally. We should invest in programs that encourage entrepreneurship and small business development, especially those that allow a company to move from research and design to prototype to commercialization.
While we are working to improve access to education, employment, and economic growth, let’s remove unnecessary obstacles, such as regressive taxes and policies that threaten quality, affordable healthcare. It’s now time that we eliminate the burden of the sales tax on groceries. Let’s give Alabama families the peace of mind that an unexpected sickness will not deplete their life savings. There are viable and feasible measures we can enact to strengthen existing programs that assist our most financially vulnerable citizens, including the Medicaid program.
Of course, so many of the policy goals mentioned above are not possible without the revenue to support them. For many years, we’ve considered the question of a lottery. It’s an idea that deserves a fresh look and strong reconsideration with a specific mandate to direct all funds to critical budgetary needs that have gone unaddressed for far too long. A sustainable lottery fund can support investments in all levels of public education as well as economic development programs throughout the state, while finally eliminating the tax on groceries.
Towards these goals, our caucus members have already introduced over a dozen pieces of legislation and more will be proposed in the coming days and weeks. We are also taking this message directly to Alabamians. Beginning next month, we will hold town hall meetings across the state to discuss this agenda among many other issues important to our constituents.
Our platform is ambitious, but so are the people of Alabama. They deserve nothing less than leadership in Montgomery that listens, acts, and works together to get it done.
That said, we are committed to staying focused on this agenda for as long as it takes. We know that getting Alabama on the right track is a not a sprint, but a marathon. And we welcome both the people of our great State and all our colleagues in the Legislature to take the first steps with us.
To learn more about our agenda, check out our website at www.AlabamaHouseDems.com like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter.