By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
As if $86 million in new taxes and an $80 million raid on public education weren’t bad enough, Gov. Bentley has now announced that he will close more than thirty drivers license offices, as well as some state parks and National Guard armories.
The governor has spent this entire year trying to convince legislators and the people of Alabama that higher taxes were the only thing that could prevent these closures. The Republican Legislature gave the governor the tax increases he wanted, but Gov. Bentley is still closing these parks, armories and most drivers license offices.
Gov. Bentley and the Republican leadership in this state have lost all credibility!
This is not the first time Gov. Bentley has not kept his promises. Asking for higher taxes itself was a violation of his campaign promises not to raise taxes. In 2014, Gov. Bentley promised he would not sign the education budget if it did not include a pay raise for teachers. But when it came time for the governor to keep that promise, he turned his back on educators and signed the budget without a raise.
And of course there was the disaster that was the first special legislative session this summer. Gov. Bentley had promised legislators that he would not call us into session until mid-August—giving legislators time to negotiate. But then the governor turned around and called legislators back in on July 13th.
Gov. Bentley said he was using “the element of surprise,” but the truth is that it was just another deception—and an expensive one at that. Not only did the first special session fail in spectacular fashion, it cost the taxpayers more than $320,000 at a time when the state cannot afford to waste a penny!
So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that after nearly a year of trying to convince legislators and the public that tax increases would avoid these closures; the governor is now, once again, going back on his word and closing these parks, offices and armories.
Now the governor’s hypocrisy and deceptions are hurting legislators in his own party.
Almost all of the Republican legislators in the House and Senate voted to raise your taxes. Most, if not all, of them campaigned just last year on a promise to never raise taxes. Rep. Paul Lee, a Republican from Dothan, believes so strongly in raising taxes that he made a passionate speech on the House floor where he said those of us who voted against the taxes should be “ashamed.”
Now Rep. Lee sure has egg on his face, just like all the other legislators who insisted that these tax increases would prevent closures and solve the budget problem. I can assure you that nothing is solved. The crisis has only been delayed. When legislators return to Montgomery in February, we will be right back in the same position we were just in: Talking about another shortfall and debating more taxes, budget cuts and raids on public education funding.
The governor’s hypocrisy and deceit are not just costing him politically any more. Now, you and I are paying the price through higher taxes, less funding for our children’s education and the loss of some state parks, National Guard armories and drivers license offices.
We will never be able to get our budget back on the right path as long as our state leaders keep misleading the public and legislators. The governor has lost his credibility with the public, and certainly with legislators. Without credibility, how can the governor lead the state?
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.