By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
The most important responsibility given to the Alabama Legislature is to write the state’s budgets each year. What a legislator fights for and how they vote on the budgets is the strongest indicator of that legislator’s values.
This year’s budgets became a war over what was more important: protecting corporate tax loopholes, or protecting funding for Medicaid, schools, and children’s services.
While everyone understood that cuts would have to be made this year, the budgets that were passed put in jeopardy several vital programs’ ability to function.
Perhaps the most significant cuts were made to the Medicaid budget.
Dr. Don Williamson, Alabama’s State Health Officer and the man in charge of overseeing the state’s Medicaid program, has warned that if we do not budget at least $602 million for Medicaid, we will lose federal matching money. If that happens, hospitals and nursing homes will be forced to close and thousands of Alabamians would lose their sole source of health care. And the closing of these hospitals and nursing homes would affect those who have insurance just as much as they would those who do not.
As the Minority Leaders in the state House and Senate, Sen. Roger Bedford and I developed a plan that would provide enough funding to avoid this disaster without raising taxes. The Republican leadership did not support our proposal, but ended up supporting an alternate proposal that is heavily passed on the plan we presented. That plan must now be approved by the voters in a special election this September of our state will face disaster.
There were several other fights that Democrats waged to protect vital programs in the state’s General Fund Budget. But in the end, the legislature passed budgets that eliminated the Department of Children’s Affairs and cut nearly all funding for the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention.
Aside from our battles over the general fund, Democrats also fought to protect funding for our children’s education.
School cuts have taken their toll, resulting in fewer teachers and larger classrooms, old and damaged textbooks that have not been replaced, and severe cuts to landmark programs that have made huge strides in students’ academic performance in math and science.
Democrats fought these cuts and introduced legislation to purchase new textbooks, repeal the “Rolling Reserve Act” which is putting our tax dollars earmarked for education in the bank instead of the classroom, provide more money from classroom supplies, and hire more teachers and lower the teacher-to-student ratio.
Alabama Democrats know children get only one chance at an education. Students today have only known cuts and losses, and their education opportunity has suffered because of it.
Alabama Democrats put our values on display this session. We fought to protect Alabama’s children, seniors, the ill, and working families. Though we may be outnumbered for now, we will continue to fight for every Alabamian and oppose these cuts that not only cripple our present and undermine our future.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.