By House Minority Leader Craig Ford
I never thought that I would live to see a governor brag about how he has eliminated 4,000 jobs – especially in the middle of a recession! But two weeks ago that is exactly what Gov. Bentley did in his State of the State address.
The only thing more shocking than hearing the governor brag about how he has put 4,000 families out of work was seeing the Republican legislators who were there applaud him for it.
Let’s be clear whom we are talking about when we say “state employees.”
State employees are law enforcement officers, firefighters, dispatchers, accountants, the people who administer programs like Medicaid and Mental Health, the people who manage our judicial system and run our courts, the lawyers who prosecute criminals, the people who operate our water and waste management systems, the people who guard our prisons, healthcare workers such as nurses, and the list goes on and on.
These are the jobs the governor and legislative leaders are bragging about eliminating.
Over the past two years, the leadership in Montgomery has treated educators and state employees like they were second-class citizens, as if they are a cancer that needs to be removed from the state.
If you ask them, the governor and the Republicans in the Alabama legislature would tell you that they are “eliminating waste” or “rightsizing government.” That’s hogwash!
There are two reasons we can be sure that this isn’t just about reducing wasteful spending.
The first is that these same politicians just asked us to let them borrow $437 million for the General Fund budget. Why would they have borrowed that much money (which was a slap in the face to the Tea Party branch of the Republican Party that opposed the amendment) if they could have avoided it by “eliminating government waste”?
Secondly, we know this isn’t just about waste because this week our new state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who is by no means a liberal, came out and said that the governor’s budget proposal is wiping out our court system. In fact, Judge Moore’s exact words were, “We are basically being cut out of existence.”
Judge Moore said the main problem our courts are facing is that they are understaffed (these court employees are among the 4,000 Gov. Bentley bragged about laying off) and that the governor’s proposed budget could mean more layoffs. That doesn’t sound like a problem of wasteful spending to me.
In his campaign a few years ago, Gov. Bentley promised he would not take a paycheck until the state’s unemployment rate had gone down to 5.2 percent. After two years in office, Gov. Bentley still hasn’t received his first paycheck. Today, the state’s unemployment rate is still over 7 percent, and there are more than 152,000 Alabamians out of work. Of those, 4,000 are the state employees Gov. Bentley bragged about putting out of work.
The leadership in Montgomery has forgotten that state employees are working families, too. State employees pay taxes just like everybody else. State employees have to feed their families, pay their bills, and send their children to college.
State employees are also a part of our economy. They spend their paychecks at local businesses, and their money that goes into the retirement system gets invested just like everybody else’s 401Ks.
State employees are vital to our economy and to making our government function. It is time to stop treating state employees like second-class citizens and stop trying to balance the budgets on state employees and educators’ backs.