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Bill Britt: Budget crisis: When your best is not good enough

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—In the waning hours of the 2012 Legislative Session the government of Alabama failed to complete its job.

The only constitutionally mandated responsibility of the state legislature is to pass a budget, a balanced budget, it did not do that. It passed a budget that is contingent on a Constitutional Amendment that will allow the transfer of $437.4 million dollars from the Alabama Trust Fund to the General Fund over the next three years. This was a bad idea, born of generational failure by Alabama Legislature.

Politics has always trumped fiscal responsibility in our state. While republicans have brought some welcome and much needed changes, political calculation still win over good government.

In this instance the new boss was the same as the old boss.

The $437.4 million needed over the next three years was inevitable but nothing was done to keep Alabama from a financial death spiral.

“The State’s Medicaid Agency, which was already bare bones services demanded by federal law, was facing a $110 million dollar shortfall. Our prison system, already operating at more than 200 percent capacity needed $50 million to meet federal court mandates to reduce overcrowding and provide necessary security.”

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Does this sound familiar, it should because this is about where we are today.

However, there is a twist, the above statement is on page 76 of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard’s book, “Storming the Statehouse.”

On page 76, Hubbard is talking about how badly the democrats had managed the state budget, prior to the Bob Riley administration. Hubbard is writing about the fiscal state of Alabama over ten years ago.

The state did see an uptick in fortunes under Governor Riley, still a lack of political will to fix the underlining problems remained.

However, this time it can’t all be blamed on the democrats.

I don’t think anyone really wanted to fund the government by taking money from the ATF but that was what has happened.

It was a bad idea but given that the budget had been left to the very last minute complete failure was the only other option.

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Earlier is the session democrats had offered a similar plan as the one finally passed by the GOP but it had a provision to pay back the money over several years. The dems plan also did not require a constitutional amendments. That plan was rejected and later transformed into a GOP plan with no option to pay back the money.

However, recently State Senator Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville) has filed a bill that would pay back the $400 million to the ATF. Taylor has implied that his plan would encourage voters to accept the constitutional amendment in September because they would know that it was going to be paid back.

Just last week when questioned by reporters Governor Bentley said he believed Taylor’s plan would help.

Please excuse me while I shovel this pile of fairy dust on to my dying tomato plants.

I don’t think voters are that stupid, I really don’t believe that any thinking person, much less a real conservative or for that matter a real liberal is going to buy the idea that the legislature is really going to pay the money back.

Pay it back? With what? This at worse smacks of a political stunt or best political naïveté.

Taylor is a very ernest young man, and he may mean well but this is not a serious answer. He doesn’t even suggest that the money taken from the ATF be replayed until 2025.

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That is 12 years from how. That means Bentley if he wins a second term will have been out off office for six years. Those who are entering the first grade this year will be voting age and the young Taylor, will be a middle aged man.

Forgive me for saying so, but this sounds more like a plan cooked up by Washington democrats than Alabama republicans.

The governor and others have said that they intended all along to pay the money back, with the savings to be realized by cutting government.

What’s in the water in Montgomery, I can assure you the Tea Party isn’t drinking it.

This is the kind of magical thinking that chaps the backside of everyone who has actually had to work for a living, paid bills, done without, scratch and claw to make ends meet and learned though hard work what it means to be an adult.

This is a cow manure cupcake and the people of Alabama will smell it real good before they take a bite.

In the last few years the state has survived on the wizardry of federal stimulus money. Everyone knew that money was going to run out but few steps were taken to avoid the crash that we now face.

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We as a state will have too fund Medicaid and the prisons or face the dire consciences of a worsened economy and more dangerous streets.

Of course, we hear the oh so pious remarks such as, “We will just have to live within our means.”

Someones going to have to come up with a better idea than that.

It is like the coach who says to his team, “You did the best you could do, that all we can ask for.”

That line is for loser and parents, not leaders. If your best is not good enough then it is time for a new coach or a new team.

In Alabama we have both so there must be another fix and that is a new plan.

But there seems to be little will to change the plan because that would mean reigning in state-give-aways to big business, raising fees to reflect today’s economy and heaven forbid maybe even raise taxes.

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Cutting the fat and waste out of government is a good thing but Alabama’s government is not that fat or that wasteful. Sure we can do more, how much money do we spend on the Public Service Commission? That is a whole department of state government that basically does nothing.

But so far leadership is lacking, ideas are frozen by political expedience and no one seems ready to do the heavy lifting.

Most of the people of Alabama are poor but they are not stupid and these tricks that the government is playing will one day lose their magic.

One day voters will realize that so far your best is not good enough and they will demand a new coach and a new team.

 

Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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