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A Great State with Wrong Funding

By Rep. Darrio Melton

It’s time to talk about how we fund the state of Alabama and get a few things straight. When we look to our state’s funding mechanisms, money comes from three major areas and they’re all three pretty dirty words: taxes, bonds, and the federal government.

Last week, Governor Bentley rolled out his “Great State 2019 Plan” proposing to take big steps towards pre-k for all children, offer free community college, expand broadband access, and do away with our old, worn-out prisons and build new, state of the art “super-prisons”

Now, if all of this sounds familiar, that’s because these are policies the Democrats have been pushing for several years. The Governor agrees with Democrats that these issues need resolutions, but we have big differences in how we’ll pay for it all.

That’s why we need to talk about funding, and we need to look at the three places we get money to operate our state government.

Governor Bentley is proposing a bond initiative of $700-$800 million to put his prison plan into action, but it’s important Alabamians know that a “bond initiative” is really just a fancy way of saying “put it on the credit card.”

Now think back to last legislative session–and the two special sessions that followed–when Republicans couldn’t agree on a method to pull the state out of a financial hole. We managed to patch part of the $700 million hole, but couldn’t generate enough funding to fill it, causing the Governor to erroneously order Driver’s License offices and state parks to close around the state.

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Now that we’re just below the limit on our credit card, Bentley is urging us to max it out again and raise the limit! This just doesn’t seem fiscally responsible.

Regardless of the funding mechanism, Bentley is right that we have to address these problems–struggling schools, crowded prisons, and a depressed Black Belt must be on the table. So let’s look at our other funding mechanisms, starting with Federal funding.

While Bentley is promising tax credits to rural doctors, we can push healthcare in rural areas forward with the stroke of a pen through Medicaid expansion. This would bring in $3.63 billion in federal funding, 15,100 jobs and $2.6 billion in increased economic activity through 2017 at no cost to Alabama, while the state is only obligated to pay 10 percent of the costs after 2020.

Somehow the Republicans expect us to believe this influx of federal tax dollars is off the table because we aren’t sure how we’ll pay our portion in a few years, yet a $700 million bond initiative won’t be a problem to pay back.

We can’t look at bonds until we accept the money already on the table, and we can’t look at raising taxes until we exhaust our elective revenue streams.

That’s why the Democrats have put forth a platform that can achieve all of the goals the Governor wants to achieve, but without borrowing from our future to fund our present. Shut down the bond initiatives. Accept Medicaid funding for expansion. Create a lottery to balance the budgets. That’s your Great State 2019 Plan. Let’s get to work.

Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama house of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as the chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

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