By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
It is no secret that our state government is in serious financial trouble. The hole in the state’s General Fund budget is estimated to be at least $250 million. But while everyone acknowledges the problem, what has been most surprising is how so many of those in leadership have failed to offer any solutions.
The exception has been Gov. Bentley.
This weekend, Gov. Bentley released his plan to raise more revenue for the state. And I have to commend the governor on having the courage to not only acknowledge the problem, but also for offering a plan to address the problem.
I also want to thank the governor for finally addressing some of the main priorities that have been a part of Alabama Democrats platform for the past several years. Closing corporate tax loopholes is a matter of both revenue and fairness. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. It is just plain wrong that they are being asked to pay taxes that their competitors from other states aren’t having to pay. Closing these loopholes will level the playing field, and provide desperately needed revenue.
Increasing the tobacco tax is another good option, as it is a voluntary tax. People chose to smoke or dip, so anyone who doesn’t want to pay the tax can choose to quit. We will either raise revenue or improve public health—it’s a win-win.
But while I am encouraged to see the governor embracing these ideas, I still don’t understand why he hasn’t called for a lottery or a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.
A lottery is also voluntary, and could raise hundreds of millions of dollars; a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians would benefit both the state by raising revenue and growing our economy. It would also allow the Poarch Creek’s to expand their business. Again, it’s a win-win.
But even though the governor has not included a lottery or compact in his plan, at least he has offered a plan, a huge difference from the leadership in the Alabama legislature.
The state of Alabama faces serious problems. The taxpayers deserve serious proposals from their elected leaders. The Republican Caucus’ legislative agenda is, at best, insulting to the intelligence of the taxpayers.
Their agenda didn’t include a single proposal to address the budget hole. Instead, all they offered were a series of bills that will get tied up in lengthy and expensive court battles paid for by the taxpayers.
In fact, the only substantive issue they offered was on charter schools. However, charter schools will only create more problems and more expenses in the budget.
Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes conducted a pair of studies on the academic success of charter schools. What they found was that only about 25 percent of charter schools performed better than traditional public schools, while 56 percent produced no significant difference in reading, and 40 percent produced no significant difference in math. At the same time, 19 percent of charter schools performed worse in reading, while 31 percent were “significantly worse” in math.
Sadly, charter schools don’t just have academic problems. They are also plagued by serious cases of fraud.
In Pennsylvania, it has been reported that charter schools have defrauded the taxpayers out of more than $30 million dollars since 1997. Another study, conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, found that charter schools in 15 different states have defrauded the taxpayers of more than $100 million! They didn’t even look at the other states that have charter schools.
So instead of addressing the very real problem of the massive hole in our budget, leaders in the House Republican Caucus have offered an agenda that will only lead to more waste of taxpayer money through fraudulent charter schools and taxpayer-funded legal defenses of unconstitutional legislation.
Our state faces real problems. We don’t have enough state troopers on the roads to take care of accidents and, in some cases, are having to drive patrol cars that have more than 200,000 miles on them. Cuts to Medicaid have led to the closings of 10 hospitals so far, and the closings of numerous OB/GYN clinics in rural areas. We don’t have the resources to fund the Department of Human Resources, which is causing delays in adoptions. Unfortunately, these are just some of the problems.
It’s going to take serious leadership to address these issues. Gov. Bentley and the Democrats are ready to work together to solve those problems. It’s time for the Republican Caucus’ leadership to join us.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.