By Dick L. Brewbaker
The voters have a big decision to make on September 18. The voters will decide whether to take 145 million a year for three years from the principal of the Alabama Trust Fund to shore up Alabama’s General Fund Budget. This is a game changing decision. It will decide the direction of state government for a long time to come. Supporters say a “yes” vote will ensure an orderly reform of state government and warn of mass prisoner releases and a collapse of the healthcare system should the amendment fail. Opponents argue that a ‘no” vote will force state government to live within its means, protect the state biggest savings account from greedy legislators and will force reform now instead of some time in the future. Both sides are oversimplifying a complicated situation.
I have heard opponents declare that the shortfall can be solved by a few simple cuts in Medicaid. I read an article that asserted that if Alabama would just cut what it pays to nursing homes, we would be halfway home. The problem is not that simple. Any reasonable examination of our healthcare system leads to the conclusion that we pay providers (doctors, nurses, hospitals, and ,yes, even nursing homes) too little, not too much. Our state is out of line in the amount it spends on the “middle men,” and by that I mean everybody who is drawing money from the system who isn’t taking care of patients. The fix for this is complicated by the fact that Alabama has to stay on the right side of the federal rules while it makes deep cuts in expenditures. Even after cuts are made Alabama will most likely have to go to a managed care approach and find new , or transfer existing, revenue to make the books balance.
Proponents aren’t shooting quite straight either. By now most have heard of the release of violent felons, the closure of hospitals and nursing homes, and the general demise of state government that will follow if the referendum fails. I don’t think so. Any politician, particularly the Governor, who presides over the release of felons and the eviction of the elderly from nursing homes can kiss their political career goodbye. Remember that all these terrible things only happen if the Governor and the legislature do nothing. I don’t believe that Governor Bentley wants to go down in history as the guy who let the general fund collapse on his watch. I know most legislators don’t want to be remembered that way, but they will be if they stand by and let it happen. I’m betting the Governor will call a special session or take whatever action is necessary to get this issue back in front of the legislature should the referendum fail.
So, how should you vote? It depends on your view of your elected leadership. If you believe that the Governor and the legislature are sincere when they say they need time to insure orderly reform and that they are committed to pass such reform, by all means vote “yes.” If, on the other hand, you think what this is really all about is a bunch of politicians trying to get themselves off the hook for three years so they can put all this off until after the next election, vote “no.”
This is a big deal. Whatever you decide, go vote. This is not one the citizens can afford to sit out.