By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, April 29, State Representative Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) released a series of short statements on what he called, “The most stressful week of the session.”
The debate around whether or not the House should even consider a resolution to impeach embattled Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) for his conduct concerning: his relationship with Mrs. Rebekah Caldwell Mason; monies and other benefits paid to or on behalf of Mrs. Mason and/or her husband, Jon Mason; as well as Gov. Bentley’s firings of several Alabama Law Enforcement Agency officials for alleged misappropriation of ALEA resources, even though to date none of those officers have been even indicted.
Rep. Williams said that, “The House’s resolution for impeachment that I and nine other House members signed was “amended to death” by House Leadership. They added an amendment that it would require 21 signatures.” Two days later, “A new resolution with 22 signatures was provided and a few heads seemed to spin in surprise. I signed this resolution and the first one too and feel there is cause to investigate whether or not state resources have been misused.”
The House Judiciary Committee will now investigate whether or not there is sufficient evidence to bring and impeachment proceeding to the full legislature. The committee has until May 26 to make that recommendation. The legislature can come back to consider that motion outside of the current session which will end on Wednesday.
Rep. Williams opposed the plan to borrow $800 million to let Gov. Bentley build four massive new prisons.
Williams said, “I helped lead a filibuster against the $800,000,000 debt program to build new prisons. The Governor and House Leadership wanted this passed at all costs and eventually they beat us even while killing numerous amendments that would have greatly improved the bill.”
The prisons bill, SB287, because it was amended now goes back to the Senate where they can either concur with it or appoint a conference committee to consider changes to the controversial legislation. Both Houses would still have to vote to accept the amended version of the bill before adjourning on Wednesday.
What to do with the BP settlement money was another contentious issue that came before the House.
Rep. Williams said, “Our state would receive about $50M per year as a result of the final settlement. With cash flowing our State politicians began the negotiations (cue sounds of hogs at a trough) on how the funds should be used.” “A majority of Senators finally passed a bill and sent it to us that was unacceptable to the House, so yesterday the House debated its own bill that would do the following: Take the income stream of $50M and monetize it by selling bonds. This approach would give the state approx $650M NOW instead of the annual payments from BP. This large sum would be allocated to debt repayment, one time funds to Medicaid, and road construction in Baldwin and Mobile counties.”
Rep. Williams said that, “An amendment was offered for a different allocation of the $650M that would have paid off more debt and provided every county some funds for roads. I voted FOR this amendment and it failed. Since that amendment failed, I then voted for the original bill because I DID NOT WANT THE STATE TO TAKE THE RISK that BP would make all the future payments. BP is a global powerhouse and their army of top notch attorneys could possibly find a way to discharge that debt. I did not want you to take that risk and voted accordingly.”
Rep. Williams wrote, “You will hear this story spun many ways, by people who were not in the room but the bottom line for me was RISK avoidance.”
Medicaid was level funded at 2016 levels in the state general fund (SGF) budget that passed the legislature. Gov. Bentley claims that the enormously costly State Medicaid program needs another $85 million next year to continue to offer the same level of benefits that it offers now and to implement the costly Regional Care Organization (RCOs) plan that legislators passed three years ago on the promise that it would cut the constantly increasing cost of the troubled entitlement program. The extra $55 million from the borrowed $650 million bond issue would be one time only money that would postpone Medicaid cuts one year, while legislators weigh their options for the fiscal year 2018 budget.
Representative Phil Williams unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) for the speakership in February. That effort failed so Speaker Hubbard and the leadership removed Rep. Williams from his committee chairmanship.
The Senate and House still have to pass the same version of the plan to raid the BP oil settlement money. State Treasurer Young Boozer (R) and Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) had tried to use the oil settlement money to pay back the money the voters let the legislature raid from the Alabama Trust Fund (ATF) in 2012. The paying back the money option has failed in both houses. It appears as of press time that the legislature will pay back the $200 million owed to the trust fund raid in 2008; but will not pay back the $437 million from the 2012 raid. Most of that money will be spent, it appears, on more road work, with perhaps the largest portion of that being in Mobile and Baldwin counties.