By Rep. Darrio Melton
As students across Alabama are preparing to head back to school, Alabama’s legislators are heading back to Montgomery to continue work on the state’s general fund budget.
During the regular legislative session, the Republican supermajority brought up bills to name an official state desert and an official state crustacean, which they were able to successfully pass, however they let the clock run out on setting a state budget.
See, legislatures from years past knew this type of procrastination could be a problem, so they passed a law that requires the legislature to make budgeting a priority. To bring a bill for consideration before the budgets have passed requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Unfortunately, the Republican caucus controls more than two-thirds of the legislature, so Democrats’ cries for responsible planning fell on deaf ears.
So now we’re back in Montgomery with no more of a plan than we had when we left.
Democrats have been offering concrete solutions since day one, but the Republicans have promised that they’re all dead-on-arrival.
Our plan to expand Medicaid and accept $3.63 billion in federal dollars would create more than 15,000 new jobs and generate $2.65 billion in economic activity, not to mention providing 300,000 Alabamians with health coverage, saving hundreds of lives and dozens of hospitals.
Our plan to create a statewide lottery would allow the state to generate revenue without taking it from hard-working families through taxes. It would make us competitive with neighboring states and keep Alabama dollars here in Alabama, rather than funding scholarships for students in Georgia or Florida.
Our plan to close corporate tax loopholes would level the playing field, giving small businesses the opportunity to compete with big-box stores and ensure that everyone plays by the same rules and pays their fair share, not just those who can’t afford fancy accountants.
We brought all of these plans to the table during the regular session and not a single one was even brought to the floor for a vote.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have the votes to do whatever they want–they control more than two-thirds of the legislature. Yet no Republican plan can generate any more support than the Democratic plans.
The Governor has proposed a new tax package but the Republicans in the Legislature have scoffed at the idea of raising taxes. The Speaker and House Republicans are ready to try to cut ourselves out of a crisis, but we can’t cut our way out of a $300 million hole. Senate Republicans are looking at a gaming compact with the Poarch Creek Indians, but the Governor has promised to veto any gaming legislation.
We’re looking at some tough decisions, but one thing is painfully obvious: we’re going to keep talking ourselves in circles until the Republicans come to an agreement or the clock runs out in October.
The Republicans created this problem when they raided our savings account to avoid these tough decisions in 2012, and now it’s time for them to repay the debt they owe to the people of Alabama.
I’m not sure what solution they’ll agree on, but I can promise you this: I’m not voting to take a single dollar out of the pockets of working families until we accept the free money that’s on the table from Medicaid expansion and consider avenues for elective revenue, and the people should demand the GOP does the same.
Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected in 2010 and currently serves as the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.