By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
If you watched Gov. Bentley’s State of the State Address last week or read about the budgets he has proposed, then, like me, you are probably both encouraged and disappointed.
I was very encouraged to see the governor so strongly support our state’s pre-k program and vocational and workforce development training. These are things that Democrats have supported for years, and I am glad to see the governor support them, as well. Vocational and workforce development training in particular are major issues that House Democrats have made our priority this year.
I am also glad to see the governor increase funding for public education. Our public schools have been under attack for the past three years. Since the Republicans took control of Montgomery, thousands of education jobs have been eliminated, including more than 2,000 teachers. The governor calls this “right-sizing,” but there’s nothing “right” about overcrowded classrooms and school buildings that desperately need repairs.
So it is encouraging to see the governor step up funding for our schools. And in doing so, the governor has unintentionally made the case for another Democratic priority this year.
Three years ago, the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery passed a bill called the “Rolling Reserve Act.” This law puts a cap on how much the government can spend on education based on the average amount of revenue brought in over the previous 15 years.
But our legislature has never abided by the “Rolling Reserve Act.” The first year the law was in effect, the legislature got around it by bypassing the state’s education budget and allocating certain tax dollars directly to the schools. Because the money was never technically in the budget, it was not counted for the cap so the legislature could spend the money while claiming to be saving money.
Last year, we did not bring in enough revenue to meet the cap. But this year, the governor is once again proposing we bypass the law and avoid the cap.
The governor is right to spend the money on our children’s education. After all, that is what that money was meant for. But by doing it this way, the governor and legislative leaders have proven that the “Rolling Reserve Act” is a bad law that needs to be repealed. Democrats have fought the “Rolling Reserve Act” since it was first introduced, and that is why we will again introduce legislation to repeal the “Rolling Reserve Act.”
I was also deeply disappointed that during his State of the State Address, the governor devoted so much of his time to what’s wrong with Washington instead of talking about the issues we are facing here in Alabama.
I don’t think anyone is happy about what has been happening in Washington. I know I’m certainly not. But Gov. Bentley is the governor of Alabama. His job is to take care of Alabama. If he is so worried about Washington, then he needs to run for U.S. Senate or Congress.
I have been around politics my entire life, and I have never seen a governor give a State of the State address where they spent so little time talking about the state of our state and instead seemed only concerned about national politics.
Alabama’s economy has been on life support for far too long. In his speech, the governor cited several jobs that have come to Alabama. But what he didn’t say is that for all of those jobs that have been created we have also lost just as many jobs.
In the last fiscal year, Alabama added only 300 jobs to our economy. Only 300 jobs in the entire state! We are 49th in the country for job creation, and one of only five states to see our economy shrink last year.
Instead of focusing so much on Washington, it would have been nice to hear the governor propose a real plan for creating jobs here in Alabama. Instead, the governor only told half the story and then changed the subject.
It’s simple. It’s about schools, and it’s about jobs. The Republicans in Montgomery want to talk about Washington and Obama because they don’t want to talk about jobs, schools or Alabama. The only ideas the governor offered were the same policies Democrats have been fighting for since 2010.
It’s encouraging to see the governor put more money in our schools and come out so strongly for pre-k education, vocational schools and workforce development training. But it is troubling that the governor and legislative leaders seem more concerned about Washington than they are about Alabama. It’s about schools, and it’s about jobs. I hope state leaders will remember that.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.