By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
There is little doubt that the first Special Session of 2015 will be an abject failure. As lawmakers return to their respective chambers on Monday evening, there will have been little consensus made for a solution.
It is time to bring in the pain.
The Senate has stripped the House bill of its punishing cuts to Medicaid, and is offering the Austerity Budget passed at the end of the 2015 Regular Session. The House seems poised to pass the Senate plan, and send it to the Governor. However, Bentley has already warned that he will pocket veto the budget. So, inevitably, there will be a second Special Session to try to accomplish what, thus far, has proven impossible.
Governing in a representative democracy is most often achieving what is possible, not what is perfect. It frequently results in doing what is practical, not what is preferred. In other words, holding our collective noses while lawmakers process the ingredients for souse meat.
But, even this seems impractical for the moment, because the warring factions are in no mood for compromise.
The Governor wants to raise taxes to address the systemic problem of the State’s General Fund Budget (SGF), which is always woefully underfunded because it lacks growth revenues.
Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh wants to overhaul the entire system without raising taxes, but needs time to implement a more complicated long-term solution. He has offered a stop-gap by moving the Use Tax from the Education Trust Fund to the SGF, and backfill the loss later.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard simply wants to hold on to power, and continue to get paid. So, for now, he is a wild card.
At the moment, vanity has led to a stalemate, with little hope of compromise on the horizon.
In reality, taxpayers are not crying out for a fix to the State’s budget problems. Frankly, most Alabamians don’t know one exists, and the rest don’t believe their lawmakers when they say it does. In the past, governors and lawmakers have screamed, “the sky is falling.” But, just like Chicken Little they were wrong. And, as usual, while our representatives continue to disagree and procrastinate, we scrape by the same way we always have. Living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck, never moving forward; some falling behind to the point of actually feeling the pain.
We, in Alabama, have come to accept being dead last in every measurable category of success. We rank near the bottom in education, employment, and health; but near the top in public corruption. Our State is vexed by charlatans who, by good words, and fair speeches, deceive the people.
The Governor and the Republican supermajority are in the middle of a hostage negotiation, but do not seem to care about the victims.
Leo Tolstoy said, “I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means – except by getting off his back.”
The problems we face are greater than our leaders’ willingness to address them.
So, we have come to the crucible. The wisest course of action that can be manifested now, is for the legislature to pass the Austerity Budget. If the Governor vetoes it (not a pocket veto), it will force the legislature to override him. Then, we will see if there is real pain. And, if there is pain, then the lawmakers will be convinced by their constituents to fix the problem.
But, until that happens, all else is just another bonfire of vanities.