By Minority Leader, Representative Craig Ford
One of the most sacred things a person can trust you with is their money. For elected officials, this is the most important responsibility we hold. We have a duty to make sure that we are careful stewards of the taxpayers money, and that we spend your tax dollars as wisely and efficiently as possible.
But for too many politicians, this responsibility is not taken seriously. To them, phrases like “cutting wasteful government spending” or the current favorite “right-sizing government” are just campaign slogans meant to tap into a base group of voters.
Last week, state leaders announced that they want to create a new government agency to prosecute violations of state elections laws. This is another unnecessary waste of the taxpayers’ money.
If you have watched what has gone on in Montgomery over the past three years, you know that our state leaders are not being good stewards of our tax dollars. This past year alone has shown plenty of examples of Republican leaders in Montgomery wasting your tax dollars.
The Accountability Act is a prime example of this. State leaders took $40 million of our tax dollars out of our public schools and set them aside to send kids to private school. After all that, only 52 kids even qualified for the tax credits, leaving more than $39 million tax dollars sitting in the bank when that money should have gone to our schools.
Another example is a new liability insurance program for educators. Even though teachers and support personnel already have liability insurance coverage through the private sector via their professional association as well as through their local school boards, Republican leaders in Montgomery felt it was necessary to create a third liability insurance program for educators.
Not only is this hypocritical and ironic given the comments these same Republicans have made about the government staying out of the insurance business, it is also unnecessary and expensive.
This new liability insurance program will is costing our schools $5 million a year. That $5 million could have been used to increase security at our schools or to help buy new textbooks. Instead, your tax dollars are being wasted on an unnecessary government insurance program.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the same Republican leaders are now trying to create another unnecessary government agency.
There are already three state agencies that oversee and investigate violations of state and local elections. The Secretary of State’s office is charged with overseeing elections, writing the guidelines for implementing new elections laws, such as the new voter photo ID law, and providing candidates with legal interpretation of state election laws. However, the Secretary of State does not investigate or prosecute violations.
The state Ethics Commission does have the ability to investigate ethical violations and issue opinions regarding ethics laws. As recently as this year the state’s Ethics Commission has been investigating accusations of misconduct with campaign donations.
Lastly, the state’s Attorney General and local district attorneys have the ability to prosecute criminal violations of state elections laws. In fact, the Attorney General’s office has a special prosecutions department whose sole job is to investigate and prosecute violations of state ethics and campaign laws.
So Alabama does not need a fourth government agency to investigate and prosecute violations of state ethics and election laws. We already have three!
Instead, we should pass a bill or resolution clarifying what the existing agencies responsibilities are relating to investigating and prosecuting violations of state ethics and election laws.
For example, it would be a waste of time and money to have both the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General investigating the same complaint, or to have the all three agencies issue conflicting opinions on state elections laws.
But creating a whole new agency is equally as wasteful. Why should the state waste your tax dollars on more government when this entire issue can be resolved with a one or two page resolution clarifying the responsibilities of the existing agencies?
The Republicans in Montgomery are being hypocritical. They cannot create a new government-financed liability insurance program, a new private school voucher program and a new government agency that duplicates the investigatory and prosecutorial powers of three existing government agencies at the same time they are talking about “right-sizing government” and “cutting wasteful spending.”
This new elections commission is just another unnecessary waste of the taxpayers’ money!
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.