By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Perhaps the seminal moment in Gov. Robert Bentley’s State of the State address was when he dared say what other Republicans are loathe to admit, “There is nothing more conservative than paying your debts and getting your financial house in order.”
For decades, Alabama State Government has failed to pay its debts without handouts from the federal government or borrowing from its future.
Although the Republican super majority has trimmed government, it has also played the same shell game with reducing future spending, just like the Democrats before them.
These same legislators damn tax and spend Democrats while they are little more than borrow and spend Republicans. No intelligent human believes that they can actually borrow their way out of debt. Once again our politicos point a finger at Washington, DC and commit the same atrocities here at home.
In 2012, our cash strapped legislature asked the voters to allow for them to borrow almost $500 million from the State’s Oil and Gas Trust Fund. The voters voiced their approval at the ballot box, because Republicans told them it was the only way to go.
At the time, Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh told AP, “the people trust us to be good stewards of taxpayer resources” and they wanted “us to avoid a crash landing while we continue to work to implement cost-cutting measures.”
Marsh has shown himself in most cases a good steward of the people’s money, but his “right-sizing government” has not produced enough savings to avoid another crash landing.
Once again, with a constitutional mandate to balance the State’s budget, there are too few revenues to keep the wolves at bay.
Katherine Green Robertson writing to the conservative Alabama think tank API, said, “Simply put, it has become more and more difficult to maintain level funding, much less increased funding, for all of the obligations of state government.”
Robertson and API are certainly not advocating raising taxes, but she does point out the realities facing our State when she notes, “Since 1980, the State has declared proration 11 times for the Education Trust Fund and eight times for the General Fund. In the last decade alone, the ETF went into proration six times and the GF three times. Notably, since the Republicans took power, the ETF has not gone into proration, because the 2011 adoption of the Education Rolling Reserve Act (ERRA) caps the appropriation limit. Proration was declared for the General Fund in 2012. Poor stock market conditions and tornado recovery funds were cited as contributing factors.”
Our State’s finical history demonstrates that lawmakers have run from real solutions, offering only empty words and temporary fixes to systemic problems.
In his State of the State speech, Bentley said, “The night I was Re-elected as your Governor I promised the people that we will face our challenges head on.” Now that he has articulated the way forward he is being denigrated on every side.”
From a sitting State Senator attacking the Governor’s plan publicly without even having read it, to bloggers comparing him to Obama and radio talking heads re-tweeting ridiculous astro-turf comments, Bentley stands undeterred.
This is not time for silly partisan talking points or political grandstanding. Serious men and woman must come together to honestly face our State’s problems. They must be willing to do what they and their predecessors have refused to do and that is to tell the truth. Alabama is broke, and far too many of our people are under-employed, under-educated and unhealthy. The Governor, in his State of the State said as much and offered the beginning of a solution. For Alabama, Bentley’s stand is the equivalent of a revolution.
But perhaps the optics on the dais right behind Bentley point to some of the roots of the State’s problems.
Bentley said in closing, “It is time we lead our great State and the great men and women who sent us here. It’s time for a bold move.”