By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
This week is the legislature’s Spring Break, and we are now almost a third of the way through the legislative session. And as last week came to an end, legislative leaders were quick to congratulate themselves on passing their legislative agenda.
I’m sure the taxpayers will be relieved Republicans were able to pass their “Alabama First” agenda. I mean, sure, maternity wards across the state are closing and leaving thousands of mothers without nearby prenatal care and delivery services, but at least we brought back the electric chair.
And, sure, there are hundreds of children in Alabama waiting to be adopted by loving parents but can’t because of budget cuts to the Department of Human Resources. But at least judges won’t be forced to participate in gay weddings. Oh wait, nobody was making them do that anyway.
Well at least now we passed the “Truth in Salary Act” so all those educators and state employees will finally know how much they are getting paid! I mean, sure, there are counties in Alabama that don’t have a single state trooper to patrol them, and many of the state troopers we do have are driving vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them. But all that has to take a backseat to more bureaucracy and paperwork so that we can make sure our bureaucrats know how much they are getting paid (because apparently they are smart enough to teach our children, but not smart enough to read their own paystubs).
Yes, the Republican leadership has passed their legislative agenda. But what they have not done is offer any real solutions to the very real problems Alabama is facing.
Take, for example, the charter school bill. Let’s assume that every charter school is wildly successful. Even then, there would still be thousands of children still stuck in failing schools. Charter schools and the Accountability Act are not solutions to failing schools. They are escape options from failing schools.
And that is the problem with the leadership in Montgomery: they don’t try to solve problems; they try to run away or hide from problems. But now Alabama is facing some problems that we can’t run away from anymore.
The General Fund budget is facing a hole of at least $265 million. And if we try to pay back all the debt we owe, the budget hole is really closer to $700 million.
After the last four years of gutting our state government, we simply cannot fill the budget whole with more cuts to government. We have “right-sized” to the point of budgetary anorexia. The only way to allow our government to continue to function is with more revenue.
Before the legislative session began, Gov. Bentley proposed a tax package that would raise about $541 million. And to his credit, he included certain proposals, such as increasing the tobacco tax and closing certain corporate tax loopholes that benefit out-of-state corporations and the expense of Alabama business owners, which have been part of the Democratic Party’s agenda for years.
It’s no surprise the Republican leadership in the legislature hasn’t supported the governor’s proposals. They don’t want to be seen supporting anything Democrats have been calling for, and that’s fine. But if they don’t want to consider our ideas, they should at least offer some of their own!
The legislature cannot run away and hide any more. The Republicans wanted to be in leadership, and now it’s time for them to step up and offer solutions.
Of course, if they won’t consider Democratic proposals, then that only leaves one option: raising taxes. Now they won’t call it tax increases. They will call it “enforcement of existing tax laws” or “eliminating deductions”, but the bottom line is that you will be paying more of your hard-earned money in taxes.
Before we start raising taxes, we should at least consider voluntary revenue raising measures like a lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians and raising the tobacco tax.
The legislative fiscal office estimates that a lottery could raise up to $280 million in new revenue, while raising the tobacco tax by a dollar could generate another $225 million. A compact with the Poarch Creek Indians could generate another $30-50 million.
All of these options are voluntary. People can choose to quit smoking or not to gamble. So why not vote on these measures first? Then, if more money is needed, we can look at other proposals.
If the Republican leadership in the legislature doesn’t offer a solution soon, then you know what their solution will be. The question is: would you rather have a Democrat’s lottery or Republicans’ taxes?
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.