By Bill Armistead
It was my honor to serve as Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party for the last four years. When talking to Democrats and Independents about joining the Republican Party. I was always proud to say that Gov. George Wallace was wrong when he said, “there is not a dimes worth of difference between the Democrat and the Republican parties.” I took great pride in explaining how our conservative Republican values were much different than the liberal Democrat values.
Now, some of our Republican leaders in Montgomery are acting more like Democrats than Republicans.
Republicans won great victories in November with a promise of no new taxes. However, soon after the election Gov. Robert Bentley announced he was going to break his promise and push for new taxes. He has even threatened to call the legislature back into special session 10 times if necessary to pass his tax package. He defiantly said that he was going to get his taxes passed and there was no other option.
Fast forward to last week. My good friend and former Senate colleague, Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh, announced that he was introducing legislation that would dramatically expand gambling in Alabama as an alternative to raising taxes. All forms of gambling have been put on the table: A lottery, Vegas-style casinos for Alabama’s dog tracks and the Poarch Creek Indian Reservations.
What has happened to our conservative Republican leadership in Alabama?
Passing new taxes and expanding gambling is not the answer to Alabama’s problems. New taxes will be passed on to hard working Alabamians and an expansion of gambling causes the poor to get poorer while the gambling tycoons getting richer and richer.
It appears that some in Montgomery have taken a page out of the play book of President Obama’s former Chief of Staff and now Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel who once said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The budget deficit is our “crisis” and the tax and spend, pro-gambling liberal Democrats are jubilant that two of the states top Republican leaders have come over to their side on these issues.
The Democrats are gleefully saying that Republicans have finally adopted their agenda: increasing taxes and expanding gambling! Politicians talk about taking care of those in need but adding taxes and expanding gambling is the worst thing they could do for those who are having a tough time making ends meet.
Conservative Republican leaders in other states are balancing their budgets without tax increases or expanding gambling. Most are actually giving their citizens tax cuts. No one seems to want to make the hard choices in downsizing government. They have told us that they have right-sized government but their job is not finished. I’ve served in the executive branch and legislative branch of government and I know that we can do this. It takes creativity and determination to get the job done.
During my eight years in the Alabama Senate there was not a day that we didn’t have a dark cloud hanging over us threatening an expansion of gambling. Even though we were very much in the minority, I am proud to say that we Republicans stood together and fought gambling every time it popped its ugly head up. The gambling lobby must be thrilled that the one-time solid Republican opposition to gambling is now actually proposing an expansion of gambling.
Before the legislature rushes to get this windfall of gambling income they need to calculate the cost of expanding gambling in Alabama. Costs such as lost productivity on the job. Increased unemployment. Personal bankruptcies. Suicides. Increased crime. Incarceration. And, social services treating gambling addiction. Georgia State University has estimated that the total cost of pathological and problem gamblers in the United States is over $5 billion each year.
Government sponsored gambling is dishonest, financially damaging to citizens and is a major contributor to the unfairness and inequality in American life. It’s a policy experiment that has failed. It has failed because it is proven itself to be blatantly dishonest and it has failed to generate genuine economic growth. Predatory gambling is a something-for-nothing scheme that veils the most cut-throat business in the country. It milks existing wealth instead of creating new wealth because it is a business based on people losing money.
Republican leaders in Montgomery should back away from expanded gambling and tax increases. A better idea would be to reform the budget making process beginning with the consolidation of the General Fund and the Education budgets. There is no good reason to operate with two separate budgets. Another budget reform measure would be to eliminate the large amount of funds earmarked for specific items in the budget. Alabama earmarks 88% of all the funds in the budget, leaving only 12 % for legislators to work with. Alabama’s earmarks are the highest in the country with the average being 25%. Making these changes would give legislators more ability to prioritize spending.
The governor and our conservative Republican leaders in Montgomery need to put together a sustainable plan for state government to live within its means, instead of increasing taxes and expanding gambling. Spending time exploring an expansion of casino gaming in the state is penny wise and pound foolish. Our leaders need to stop gambling on the fiscal health of the state and come up with sustainable ways to balance the budget. It’s not an easy task but they asked for the job and now we expect them to do the job we sent them there to do. And, I believe they will.
Bill Armistead is the immediate past chairman of the Alabama Republican Party and former State Senator.