By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
It is not cliche to say elections have consequences and none more so than the super majority that the Alabama Republicans now enjoy in state government. In their first year in office potent changes have taken place under Republican leadership. From ethics reform to immigration law, many sweeping changes have taken place and the state is better for the accomplishments of the GOP.
Still, more and perhaps even great challenges confront lawmakers in the upcoming session. In the last month the governor has made some bold suggestions and I applaud him for thinking big or as he said, “Shaking things up.” We need for our leaders to aim higher, to think bigger to take the occasional risk. Like many, I am not one that likes change but when things need to be corrected because of years of systematized corruption and institutional theft, change must come quickly and often with honorable vengeance.
While there are needed fixes to the immigration and ethics laws, these are easily done with wise consul from the AG and the ethic commission.
In all things I would encourage the governor and legislators to go big. In life, there is no guarantee golden opportunities will continue to shine. In fact, if life teaches us anything it is the temporal nature of good fortune.
The people of Alabama elected this government to govern on conservative principles. To fashion our laws accordingly and do it with intellectual honesty and muscular will.
So, it is that the trust of many have been placed in the hands of a few with the hope that they will do what is right and not what is convenient.
Alabama’s political leaders must not make their decisions on the popularity of a particular program or policy but on solid conservative principles.
Recent my wife and I had a chance to visit with Governor Bentley. During our time together we talked about the difference between a popular politician and a principled statesman. I don’t think I would be overstating the governor’s comments by saying that he spoke with clarity about the statesman who places principle above popularity but also works wisely and tirelessly to build popularity out of what is principled.
Our government faces a budget that stands as a clear and ominous warning that we must put our fiscal house in order. This will be a test of making good choices in hard times. It will require thoughtful decision making. Let’s hope that our lawmakers will bring foresight and wisdom to the process. Certainly Speaker Mike Hubbard and President Pro Tem Del Marsh have the business skills to look at this complex issue with cool-headed resolve.
It has been said that President Pro Tem Del Marsh has identified the complex matrix of overlapping government entities within the state’s bureaucracy. Armed with this knowledge it is incumbent upon the Senate and House to begin the process of dismantling this complex institutional robbery.
While this will not fix the budget woes, it will at least slow the bleed caused by bureaucratic malpractice.
This will also reduce the size of government fulfilling the promise that many freshman Republicans made to the voters of fighting for smaller government in Montgomery.
Economic development is a key factor that will be address in the session. While a new and bright plan has been drafted for the ADO, there is a question as to whether there is enough money or staff to carry out all of the agenda, but it is a good start. However, the legislature must look at other means to spur growth. Small tax incentives are not enough. Here they must go big and offer the kinds of real incentives that bring money and ideas together. Business must be assured that the government will work toward fiscally responsibility and that government will get out of the way of capitalist enterprise.
While not a government function there needs to be a better mechanism for bringing entrepreneurs and investors together. Some investment capitalist and groups should be encouraged to look at ways to invest in small business innovations. I would suggest an investment summit be held to identify investors and bankers who would be willing to sponsor small business weekends were entrepreneurs could bring their business plans and give “elevator pitches” to a room full of investors. The business weekends should also bring together consultants who would serve as advisors to these entrepreneurs. These investment weekends could be broken down into various markets, such as: tech, health, etc and held in regions where this innovation is best fostered. A high-tech summit in Huntsville would be a good start.
Our leaders must remember that capitalism is what makes our system of government work, we can tinker and fret over how to fix Medicaid funding but without capitalism the whole system collapses.
The governor and legislature must aggressively face the failings of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, the people can no longer afford to hand over billions of dollars to a failed system. A full-scale audit must be performed by an outside independent agency. A committee should be appointed to oversee the audit and a review of practices by the RSA. The committee should hold public hearings and have subpoena power, there is more than smoke at the RSA.
There must be an end to the over-generous state pension system. When a worker only has to contribute 22 months of salary to draw a lifetime pension there is a problem. Only a fool would think that sustaining such a program is feasible. This financial albatross is beyond the states ability to pay, (see Wisconsin).
Please don’t try to tell me we must have these benefits so we can attract the best people. The state should adopt a 401K-type plan for all new hires and anyone with less than ten years service. This would be a good start but we must end the unfunded, taxpayer supported pension program. If teachers and others wonder why they have not received a raise in 4 years, I suggest they call the RSA not the Governor.
Education reform is also a big part of the Governor’s and legislative leadership’s agenda. Reform is badly needed and Charter Schools can be part of the fix. But our educational system is broken at its core. The larger problems have to be address–even over the obstructionist at AEA–and real school reform implemented.
It is also important for the legislature to take a hard look at scaling back Montgomery’s education bureaucracy. We must find a better process for finding school leadership, firing teachers and rewarding good ones. (See my upcoming interviews with Bradley Byrne and Artur Davis.)
There is always inherent in government a want and need to raise taxes, pledges are constantly made, “No new taxes,” yet, taxes are raised anyway. Generally with Republicans they break their pledge on taxes with hidden ones, such as fees, licenses and the perennial favorite, sin taxes. Cut, don’t tax, but in cutting, cut wisely.
Democrats please know that obstructionism is not the answer. A loyal option is needed in our state, we are best served by our two-party system. But it is ideas that you must tender. Dialogue that must be offered, Reps. Patricia Todd and Chris England are examples of smart, thoughtful Democrats. Democrats we need your voice and not your back.
Turn around and embrace your new roll. The party out of power has to offer more than “No.” The people who elected you deserve better.
So, these are few thing that come to mind as the new legislative session starts.
There are many decisions to be made, some will be good, some will be bad and some will never even happen.
It is important to remember that right and wrong still exist, good and evil also, choose the good, do what is right and go big.
“That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property…”