By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
The wheels have come off the bus in Montgomery. That’s the only way to describe what’s happening in our state legislature. Now more than ever is the time for legislators to reach across the aisle and work together to solve this budget crisis. But instead, Republican legislators are attempting to blame Democrats because they can’t pass their own tax package.
Think about that for a second: the Republicans want to raise your taxes, and they are mad at the Democrats for voting against raising taxes. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad and so serious!
There are 105 members in the House of Representatives. 71 of them are Republicans and 33 are Democrats (1 seat is currently vacant after Rep. Dan Williams passed away). In this special session, only 53 votes are needed to pass a bill, which means the Republicans have almost 20 votes more than they need.
The tax bill in question was the tobacco tax increase, which came up in the Ways and Means – General Fund committee earlier in the week. There are 15 members on that committee: 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Only 8 votes are needed to pass a bill out of committee so that it can be voted on by the entire House. On the day it came up, 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans voted against it. The tobacco tax died after losing the vote, 8-7.
If Republicans vote together, then they don’t need a single Democrat to pass a bill out of committee or on the House floor. They have a supermajority.
But Republicans didn’t vote together. Four of the ten voted against raising taxes. So while a majority of committee Republicans are now on record supporting tax increases, they still couldn’t pass their own tax package.
Now, because they do not know how to lead, they are falling back on the only thing they do know how to do: Blame Democrats.
A month before this legislative session began, I was in the papers stating for the record that Democrats would not support any tax increase unless the Republicans agree to expand Medicaid and let the people of Alabama vote on a lottery. Democrats have been very clear about where we stand.
For the last five years, Democrats have called for the expansion of Medicaid and a vote on a lottery. Those have always been a part of our legislative agenda, along with the tobacco tax. We have never supported a tobacco tax increase without the inclusion of a lottery and Medicaid expansion.
If the Republicans had expanded Medicaid in 2013, various studies have reported that it would have generated $1.4 billion in new economic activity by next year. In other words, had we expanded Medicaid, there wouldn’t be a fiscal crisis today.
The same is true of the lottery. Had we passed a lottery bill last year, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimated it would have raised at least $250 million in new revenue this year – exactly the amount the state needs. And Sen. Del Marsh’s estimate is closer to $300 million.
They wouldn’t listen to Democrats before, and now they want to blame Democrats for their own failure to lead. And instead of reaching out to us and at least agreeing to let the people vote on a lottery, they have instead chosen to strip Medicaid by almost a third of it’s funding, which could end the entire program.
The Republicans are politically impotent, so they are taking their frustrations out on the people of Alabama.
They can’t convince their own members to support any plan. They can’t lead, and are about to steer the state off a cliff. A government shutdown is looking more and more likely every day.
Since 2012 (when they borrowed the $437 million), they’ve known this budget crisis was coming. This mess is their doing, and it’s time for Republicans in the Alabama Legislature to stop blaming Democrats for the crisis they created, stop taking their frustrations out on the people of Alabama and start stepping up and leading.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.