By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Recently, State Senate Democrats met to discuss some of the many issues facing the legislature including, Medicaid expansion, charter schools and the Governor’s yet to be revealed tax proposal.
Gov. Bentley says that the State is facing a budget shortfall of $700 million, the Democratic Senators say that one clear way to reduce that deficit is the expansion of Medicaid.
“First and foremost we’ve already lost $1.5 billion by not expanding Medicaid last year,” said Senate Deputy Minority Leader Billy Beasley, “Each quarter we do not participate, we lose $375,000.”
Around the country, Republican governors are starting to implement these expansions and even Bentley said that he would consider expansion, if the State could administer the funds under a type of block grant.
Beasley, who is a pharmacist, will introduce this legislation during the up and coming session that would allow the State to expand Medicaid for its neediest citizens.
“I know a man in Macon County who needs healthcare, but does not qualify for insurance under the Affordable Healthcare Act because Alabama didn’t expand its program,” Beasley said. “With the stroke of a pen Gov. Bentley could provide him and more than 325,000 Alabamians like him with healthcare.”
Bentley is set to unveil his tax proposal during his State of the State address on March 3, however, Republican’s have already lined up against the governor without even knowing any of the details.
The Senators say they are anxious to see Bentley’s plan to make sure these taxes will not target working-class citizens and tax exemptions for the poor.
Sen. Linda F. Coleman (D-Jefferson) is especially concerned that the additional taxes will become a burden on the people.
Coleman said, “As a first step, the State needs to focus on closing loopholes in the tax code.”
The Republican super majority has made it clear that charter schools are a priority for the 2015, and has plans to pass legislation that would authorize 50 start-up charters over the next five years with an unlimited number of public schools being allow to convert to charters.
The Republican plan also establishes an independent board that would oversee the formation of charter schools with Republican politico in charge of appointments.
“We will be fighting to protect public school funding and we will pay close attention to the charter school issue before us,” said Quentin Ross, (R-Montgomery), referencing the charter school bill which was released from public viewing on Feb. 19.
“We can’t have two different boards of education,” said Senate Minority Whip Rodger Smitherman (D-Jefferson). “It doesn’t matter if the intent is incidental; the end result is that you are setting up two separate school systems with the same pot of money.”
The Senators feel strongly that the charter schools proposal as written, will not serve as a tool to improve education for all of Alabama’s children.
“We are setting up our public schools to fail if there are not adequate resources. The young people who are left behind in the public schools will be set up to fail,” said Smitherman.
Over the last four years, the Republican super majority has not even bothered to pay lip-service to the notion of bi-partisan cooperation. However, newly elected Senate majority leader Sen. Greg Reed, (R-Jasper) said that he wants to work more closely with the Democrats in the Senate to create a more inclusive atmosphere.
The Alabama Senate is comprised of 26 white, male, Republicans and seven black Democrats, one white male Democrat, who represents a majority- minority district, and one female independent.
The Democrats point out that they represent the largest and smallest cities in the State, and if their voices are not heard, neither are those of their constituents.