By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Editors note—Since May the “Alabama Political Reporter” has published over two dozen stories on Medicaid and the upcoming September 18 constitutional amendment.
We have looked at the issue from many sides and see the pros and the cons of the debate. Perhaps the biggest take away has been that the lack of funding for the Medicaid agency and the Department of Corrections is a systemic problem. It has been a continuous crisis never faced in any meaningful way by democrats or republicans.
The time for finger pointing and recrimination will, in 24 hours, be replaced by a vote. It would not be fair to call it a vote by the people as most Alabamians will go about their business on September 18 happily unaware of what is taking place in their name.
The few, the powerful and the informed will cast their ballots and the result will show whose will won the day.
MONTGOMERY —On Tuesday, the voters of Alabama will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that will give the government leaders of Alabama the right to transfer $145.8 million a year for the next three years from the Alabama Trust Fund (ATF) to the General Fund.
What follows are the words of some of the state’s leaders.
Governor Bentley said in a recent interview, “Already, Alabama provides among the lowest level of benefits for Medicaid recipients when compared to other states. Any significant cuts would have devastating consequences. In order to avoid those cuts, Medicaid needs at least $600 million in the next fiscal year. If the constitutional amendment passes, we will be able to fund Medicaid at that level.”
Governor Bentley like many in the medical field understands the dire consequences of not funding Medicaid, the health delivery system of Alabama is dependent on Medicaid being whole. “If Medicaid is funded at less than $600 million, the strain on the entire healthcare system would be severe.”
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, (D-Gadsden), sees the picture differently, “In less than two years, the Republicans have chosen to raid the Alabama Trust Fund and make devastating cuts to our schools, public safety, and public health.
“The budget passed by the Republican supermajority does not provide enough money to provide those services, meaning Alabama will lose that federal matching money and Medicaid would collapse unless voters approve a constitutional amendment to allow the state to raid the Alabama Trust Fund.
“So not only did the Republicans pass a budget that relies on raiding the state’s savings account, they passed the responsibility of making that choice on to the voters. They put you, the voter, in a position where you have to decide if we are going to raid the state’s savings account or if we are going to let the state’s Medicaid program – which provides 70 percent of payments to nursing homes, 60 percent of payments to pediatricians, and 30 percent of payments to family practitioners – collapse.”
Ford has urged voters to say no to the September 18 amendment.
Senator Dick L. Brewbaker (R-Montgomery), has had strong words for those who are for and those who oppose the amendments, here are some of his thoughts on the issue.
“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.
“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.”
Representative Patricia Todd, (D-Birmingham) recently stated, “I am conflicted like probably a lot of people in the state about this for many reasons.”
However, Todd said that she has come to understand that the September vote is not about Medicaid. “This is about those in control not wanting to do what is necessary to ensure a sound fiscal policy for our state.” She continues, “The majority party [republicans] and the Governor signed this stupid no-tax pledge which they feel locked into, yet they turn around and raise fees.” Todd laughs, “Do they think the people of Alabama are so stupid they don’t know the difference between a tax and a fee?”
She says that the constitutional amendment is another attempt by the legislature to pass the buck, “Whatever happens they will say, ‘We didn’t make that decision, the voters did.’”
An exasperated Todd concludes by saying, “I know I am on a tear about this but none of this is rocket science, it’s common sense, transparency. I mean discussion, dialog, agree to disagree, civil discourse. You bring in experts, you find out what has worked in other states make sound choices, but by George lead!”
Mary Scott Hunter, of the Alabama School Board had this to say in an editorial.
“In the future, our prosperity will totally depend on how well we use our limited resources, and I certainly understand this as a member of the State Board of Education. I also understand that this vote is a close call, and I do not question the members of my party who have decided to support the plan.
“I, however, cannot find enough positives in the plan to overcome my concerns that this plan is a provisional not a permanent solution. This initiative will, I predict, pass if the voter turnout is low. Low voter turnout will mean organized special interests will turn out their voters and will sway the vote.
“When will we live within our means in Alabama if not now? I recognize that there will be a lessening of services, but we have options that have not been properly explored Medicaid Reform, Sentencing Reform, Cigarette Tax, Gaming Compacts with our Indian Casinos all come to mind. I respectfully disagree with my colleagues in state government who believe that borrowing from our state’s oil and gas trust fund is the best option.”
Dr. Henry Mabry, Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association said in our interview with him, “It was obvious at the beginning of the session that the General Fund was going to need more revenue, it was obvious last year, it’s the same every year,” Mabry began. “The Governor had proposed that the money to cover the General Fund shortfall come from the Education Trust Fund, we tried to work with legislators to come up with some alternatives to address the problem facing the state.”
Mabry points out that traditionally the General Fund has “lived hand-to-mouth because it doesn’t have revenues that grow that much.” Over the years, the state legislature has passed some laws that have raised state revenues but not enough to even keep up with simple inflation.
“Take for instance drivers licenses, those costs have been stagnant since around 1983,” said Mabry. “The ABC board taxes have remained the same and the cigarette tax has actually declined over time.”
He says that because we have a general fund that relies on a “quilted patchwork of revenue sources that just don’t get the job done” the state will forever remain underfunded unless there are more revenues.
“Now, because the General Fund has remained mainly static, the resources have not grown to meet the demand,” says Mabry.
“A million of our citizen are served by Medicaid. That is one million out of 4.8 million, that is a huge part of our population. Is that going to change? No it’s not, because our people are poor. We are supporting this amendment because there is a responsibility to take care of the weakest among us,” said Mabry. “We want to see that those responsibilities are addressed.”
There have been many who gave voice to the vote on September 18, these are a few, now it is your turn.
Voting rights activist calls for federal Department of Democracy
The co-founder of an organization that is working to mobilize Black voters in Alabama and elsewhere used the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act on Thursday to call for a new federal agency to protect voting rights nationwide.
LaTosha Brown, a Selma native who co-founded Black Voters Matter, issued a statement saying that it is time to reimagine American democracy.
“The Voting Rights Act should be reinstated, but only as a temporary measure. I want and deserve better, as do more than 300 million of my fellow Americans,” Brown said.
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the law in a 5-4 ruling in 2013, eliminating federal oversight that required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to get approval before they changed voting rules.
“To ensure that the Voter’s Bill of Rights is enforced, we need a federal agency at the cabinet level, just like the Department of Defense,” Brown said. “A Department of Democracy would actively look at the patchwork of election systems across the 50 states and territories. With federal oversight, our nation can finally fix the lack of state accountability that currently prevails for failure to ensure our democratic right to vote.”
She cited excessively long lines, poll site closings and voter ID laws in the recent primaries in Wisconsin, Georgia, Kentucky and Texas as voter suppression techniques that disproportionately affect Black and other communities of color.
Brown said that the July 17 passing of Rep. John Lewis, who was nearly killed marching for voting rights in Selma in 1965, has amplified calls for the Voting Rights Act to be strengthened. That’s the right direction, she said, but it isn’t enough.
“History happens in cycles, and we are in a particularly intense one. We have been fighting for the soul of democracy, kicking and screaming and marching and protesting its erosion for decades,” Brown said.
Negotiations on a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill appear to have broken down
Both parties in Congress and the White House had hoped to have agreement on a bipartisan coronavirus relief bill; but those hopes appear to have been dashed after a later Thursday night meeting at the White House.
The Washington Post is reporting that the White House and Democrats failed to reach an agreement late Thursday night on the fifth virus relief bill. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/white-house-democrats-fail-to-reach-agreement-on-virus-relief-bill-and-next-steps-are-uncertain/ar-BB17E3po?ocid=msedgntp
White House officials and Democratic leaders ended a three-hour negotiation on Thursday with no agreement with both sides far apart on even basic issues.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) insists on a $3.4 trillion package. The White House wants a $1 trillion relief package.
“We’re still a considerable amount apart,” said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after emerging from the meeting with Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. President Trump was called into the meeting several times, but they were unable to resolve key issues.
Pelosi said that the meeting was “consequential,” but blamed Republicans for the breakdown in negotiations. “They didn’t take the virus seriously in the beginning, they’re not taking the consequences of the virus seriously at this time; and that’s why it’s hard to come to terms.”
Mnuchin said that if the administration decides today that further negotiations are futile, Trump would move ahead unilaterally with executive orders to address things like unemployment aid.
Schumer said that that Democrats were “very disappointed” in how the meeting went and that any White House executive orders could be challenged in court.
Pelosi claimed that Meadows pounded the table at one point. Meadows denies the allegation.
“We are very far apart,” Pelosi said. “It’s most unfortunate.”
Over 30 million unemployed Americans will see their unemployment checks dramatically cut next week without an extension of benefits. Pres. Trump has suggested that he could increase the benefits by executive action. Critics suggest that would be unconstitutional.
Democrats want about $1 trillion in aid for cities and states. Pres. Trump has dismissed that demand as a “bailout” for mismanaged states and has agreed to just $150 billion in aid for states.
Meadows said that the White House has agreed to go above $1 trillion; but that Democrats still have refused to go below $3.4 trillion. Democrats are also pushing for more money for food stamps, child care, and a U.S. Postal System bailout as part of the plan.
All of this would be paid with more deficit spending.
Congress considers legislation to extend loan forgiveness to rural businesses
Congress is considering legislation to include loan forgiveness for rural businesses and communities. The Rural Equal Aid (REA) Act is a bipartisan measure led by U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa). It will provide needed relief to entities with loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development program.
Currently, only businesses with loans through the Small Business Administration (SBA) are eligible to have the principal, interest, and any associated fees owed on the covered loans for a six-month period forgiven. That was passed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Axne claims this leaves rural businesses out.
Under the new proposal, payment relief would extend to businesses with loans through the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) and the Intermediary Relending Program, as well as loans made to public and nonprofit organizations for community facilities, and to businesses, cooperatives, and nonprofits expanding in rural areas.
Johnathan Hladik is the policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs. Hladik said that passage of the REA Act is crucial not only for the business and community entities involved, but also rural America.
“Expanding support to rural businesses will provide parity for rural communities that have been hit hard by the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic,” Hladik said. “These are the loans that keep Main Street vibrant, making it possible for small community financial institutions to grow local economies with local dollars.”
Cosponsors of the bill include: Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Delaware), Jared Golden (D-Maine), Troy Balderson (R-Ohio), Austin Scott (R-Georgia) and Scott Tipton (R-Colorado). Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) has introduced the companion bill in the Senate along with Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and David Perdue (R-Georgia).
“Our rural businesses have been under the same burdens and weathering the same storm since the beginning of COVID-19,” Axne said. “It is only fair that we extend them the same provisions to sustain them through challenging economic times. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan group to unveil this legislation in both chambers of Congress this week, and I urge congressional leadership to include this commonsense measure in the discussions of the next round of essential COVID-19 aid.”
“When Congress passed the CARES Act, we included provisions to reduce loan burdens for small businesses across the country,” said Sen. King. “This was the right move, but by excluding USDA Rural Development loans from the program, the effort left out many rural businesses that are feeling the same pain. Now, as Congress considers the next coronavirus relief package, we should extend these protections to ensure that our rural communities can access the same type of support as the rest of the country.”
“We have borrowers in rural Maine communities for whom the Rural Equal Aid Act will be a godsend,” said Laura Buxbaum, SVP, Policy and Resource Development, Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI). “We know that they are struggling and will redirect their payments to cover loss of revenue and new opportunities that can help their businesses survive.”
Under REA Act the USDA would be required to issue loans similar to the SBA’s PPP program. These loans go through small community financial institutions and support local governments, Tribes, educational institutions, and small businesses to grow local economies with local dollars.
Sponsors claim that providing these small businesses and community organizations with the same support given to SBA borrowers is critical to ensuring their survival going forward, and the health of our rural communities.
The Rural Equity Aid Act expands subsidies to the following USDA RD loan programs: Community Facilities – These loans are provided to public and nonprofit organizations for essential community facilities like hospitals, libraries, child care and community centers, and public facilities like fire stations or town halls; Business and Industry – These loans are provided to businesses, cooperatives, and nonprofits to develop and expand businesses in rural areas. Intermediary Relending Program (IRP) – These are loans of no more than $250,000 made through small local intermediaries to borrowers who are unable to get credit elsewhere, but need capital to get started or expand their business. These loans average less than $100,000 and support small local businesses. Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) – These are loans of no more than $50,000 made through local nonprofits. These loans are available to businesses with no more than 10 employees, making them a frequent choice for entrepreneurs looking for capital to start up a new business. In addition, RMAP loans are frequently used by women entrepreneurs.
Alabama Forestry Association endorses Jerry Carl
Thursday, the Alabama Forestry Association announced its endorsement of Republican Jerry Carl for Alabama’s First Congressional District.
“Jerry Carl has experience working closely with the forest products industry in his role as County Commissioner and will carry that knowledge to Washington,” said AFA Executive Vice President Chris Isaacson. “Throughout his career, he has been a strong advocate for limited government and free markets and will continue to promote those same values in Congress. We are proud to endorse him.”
“I am thrilled to earn the endorsement of ForestPAC,” Carl said. “Alabama has a thriving network of hard working men and women in all aspects of the forestry community, and I look forward to being a strong, pro-business voice for them in Congress. As a lifelong businessman and an owner of timberland, I understand firsthand the needs and concerns of the forestry community, and I will be a tireless advocate in Washington for Alabama’s forest industry.”
Carl is a small businessman who has started over 10 small businesses in South Alabama, creating hundreds of jobs. He is currently serving on the Mobile County Commission.
Carl said that he was inspired to run for County Commission when he became frustrated with local government.
Jerry and his wife Tina have been married for 39 years. They have three children and two grandchildren.
Carl faces Democrat James Averhart in the November 3 general election. First Congressional District incumbent Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) did not run for another term and has endorsed Carl.