By Rep. Darrio Melton
Governor Bentley has gone back on another promise to the people of Alabama, proving once again that his interests are intimately intertwined with the Montgomery insiders–the group of well-off politicians who profit off the people.
On March 5, Bentley said that he would attach an executive amendment to any education budget that did not include a two-percent pay raise for educators and a funding increase for PEEHIP, the teachers’ health insurance program.
On , March 20, the senate passed an Education Trust Fund budget that included no teacher pay raise and no increase in funding for PEEHIP. The General Fund Budget did include a one-time, one-percent increase for teachers of around $400 per person.
All total, Alabama teachers could expect to make around $500 per year less under the Republican legislature’s plan.
Why do I call it the Republican legislature’s plan? When these bills were being debated in the House and the Senate, they shut down debate and refused to allow amendments to be added. Anyone who wanted to stand up for teachers was silenced by the supermajority.
Then, on March 21, Bentley announced that he had reached a compromise with the budget chairs to restore funding for PEEHIP, but the compromise would not include the teacher pay raise he promised he would attach in an executive amendment.
At a time when teachers are buying paper towels and toilet paper out of their own pockets, the Governor should not tease with idle threats and false promises.
But this isn’t the first time Bentley has backed away from his promises on a critical issue.
In Bentley’s Veteran’s Day remarks at a program in Tuscaloosa in 2012 he said, “America would not be free if it were not for our veterans. Everything that we enjoy as Americans and Alabamians, we need to thank our veterans. Because we would not be able to do that if it were not for the men and who sacrifice so much, who are willing to serve for our country.”
That was less than a year after he signed a bill into law that would close 17 veterans services centers across Alabama, many in the most rural parts of the state where they are needed most.
Bentley has also backed away from his promises on Medicaid expansion, which would give more than 351,000 people access to healthcare at no cost to the state of Alabama for the first three years.
At first, Bentley said that he wouldn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. “I will not expand Medicaid as it exists under the current structure because it is broken,” Bentley said.
But after four years of a Republican Supermajority, we have to ask: Why haven’t they fixed it? The Republican leadership could pass any bill they wanted, and they pretty much have, over the past four years. So why haven’t they brought the necessary legislation to fix a broken Medicaid?
The legislature has passed many changes for Medicaid operations, most notably going to Regional Care Organizations from a fee-for-service model. But it’s not the structure of Medicaid that’s stopping Bentley from expansion.
In his State of the State address, Bentley says that he refuses to expand Medicaid, not because our system is broken, but because he doesn’t want to accept federal dollars and contribute to the deficit.
But it’s okay when we accept federal dollars for ATRIP (Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program). It’s okay when we accept federal dollars for education and social services.
But according to the Governor, it’s not okay when we accept federal dollars to give 351,567 people health insurance by cooperating with a program endorsed by the President.
Governor Bentley, it’s time to quit playing politics with the people’s pocketbooks. These issues may be your ticket to re-election, but the people you are affecting are in need of help. The problems are too personal to make political.
You know what’s right: Don’t make promises to our teachers you don’t intend to keep. Don’t say one thing and do another to our Veterans. Don’t play politics with people’s healthcare.
Keep your promises and do what’s right. The people are counting on you.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.