By Minority Leader Craig Ford
There are many things I believe a person in leadership should be: responsive to their constituents, strong in their core values, able to make tough decisions and most importantly, a good steward of the taxpayers’ money. And being a good steward of taxpayers’ money means finding real solutions to the budget problems of our state—not simply balancing the budgets on the backs of working families. Unfortunately, certain politicians are suggesting we do exactly that.
Some of our state leaders are quick to pat themselves on the back and make claims of saving the state all this money through something they call “right-sizing government.” In fact, in December of 2013, Gov. Bentley went as far as to say, “Today I am honored to announce that we have found over $1 billion in annual savings that will allow us to be better stewards of taxpayer money and operate state government as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
But what they are really doing is passing the buck on to working families across Alabama. These “savings” are coming in the form of merit-raise freezes, eliminating jobs and cutting pensions and benefits.
How exactly is freezing merit-raises for hard working state employees and eliminating jobs, buried in the press release as “agency streamlining and realignment,” being a good steward of taxpayer money? It’s not. Especially when the state has wasted millions of dollars either defending unconstitutional legislation like the Alabama Accountability Act or prosecuting legal businesses like those run by the Poarch Creek Indians.
We need real solutions for the current budget crisis. And yes, one of these solutions is tightening the belt and cutting out waste and duplication of government services. Every family knows when times are tough you have to watch your spending. The state has to do the same and tighten its belt where possible. But significant cuts have already been made, and prominent state leaders have conceded we can’t tighten the belt anymore. That’s why they have started talking about needing to be “bold” and talking about how “every option should be on the table.”
And I agree that we need to start looking at new options. We should be looking at creating a state lottery to help fund public education, and entering into a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians to bring in new revenue for the general fund.
But the one thing we should never consider is raiding the Education Trust Fund. That is why I proposed the Education Funding Protection Pledge that would commit legislators to opposing any effort to reallocate money earmarked for education and any attempt to combine the state’s two budgets. There’s only one reason legislators would want to combine the budgets: to take money in the bigger budget (the Education Trust Fund budget) and use it to finance underfunded programs in the General Fund Budget (such as prisons).
Unfortunately, none of our state leaders have signed it.
Money set aside for our children’s education should not be rerouted to other government agencies and programs, no matter how worthy those agencies and programs may be. There are better ways to meet our obligations than robbing one budget to pay the other.
Borrowing money from the state’s savings accounts is not a viable option either. That’s simply cashing a check that the next generation is going to have to pay. We need a real solution for the budget crisis. Not simply a short-term fix that will create a larger crisis in the future. That’s not a legacy our children deserve.
We need leaders to make tough decisions and be good stewards of taxpayers’ money. We have options—a state lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creeks, tightening the belt where we can—but combining the budgets should not be on the table. It is not a real solution.
We don’t need more campaign rhetoric. We need real solutions!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.