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Opinion | The problem with a supermajority

Josh Moon

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There is a downside to supermajority control in government.

Inevitably, no matter how many times you force through your agenda and ignore the cries from the other side of the aisle, the supermajority will eventually be unable to accomplish necessary, hard things.

Because the necessary, hard things that need to be accomplished will be things that the supermajority generally opposes.

This is Alabama’s problem now.

As the state languishes in austerity, with a Republican supermajority in control, the one thing it desperately needs — new tax revenue — is the one thing the supermajority cannot deliver.

And it is sad watching lawmakers try.

With the 2019 legislative session still months away, the talk among GOP legislators has already been dominated by strange speech, as they speak openly about pushing through a gas tax increase and taking yet another run at a massive prison project that would require even more revenue.

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Neither will happen.

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They will both fail. Again.

And the reason why they will fail is that one side can’t debate itself. It can’t force itself to come to the table and alter its demands and wishes, compromise on big points and ultimately reach a deal that everyone hates a little and loves a little.

Because Democracy doesn’t work with just one side.

(And yes, I would say the same thing about a Democratic supermajority. It, too, would inevitably run into problems it couldn’t solve without a Republican counterpart at the table.)

You can see the trouble for Republicans coming from a mile away.

Already, the proposal to jack up the gas tax is drawing the ire of anti-tax groups, like the outfit fronted by Grover Norquist. His Americans For Tax Reform group published a letter on Monday urging Gov. Kay Ivey and Alabama lawmakers to reject the gas tax increase.

Now, a hack like Norquist, who makes a living bugging the hell out of everyone and using his tax-exempt groups as pass-thrus, should be ignored. But in Alabama, too many politicians have taken him and his ridiculous anti-tax pledge seriously over the years.

So, now, if any GOP lawmaker gets behind the gas tax increase, they risk alienating the voters who take that pledge seriously. And in a couple of years, when election time rolls around, there’s suddenly a primary challenger on the ballot, and that challenger is screaming in ads about raising taxes on working families.

If you doubt this, I’ll remind you that Robert Bentley drew anger from Republican voters and lawmakers a few years ago when he backed a cigarette tax. For real.

Because there’s no alternative position. There’s no group of lawmakers forcing a compromise or demanding considerations to make the government work better.

So, the dominant group just eats each other.

And nothing happens.

Really, look at the last few sessions, and think about the truly big issues that dominated discussions: Medicaid fixes, gambling, infrastructure, prisons, daycare regulations.

Nothing happened with any of those.

At the end of the session, after weeks of bickering and fighting and backroom deals and red-faced lobbyists, all of those are exactly where they were when we started.

And that’s the way it’ll be with infrastructure (i.e. the gas tax) and the new/old prison proposal after the 2019 session.

Because there’s no chance a group of Republicans will pass a significant tax hike. And because the prison plan is absurdly dumb, and voters don’t care enough about prisons to spend one thousand dollars, much less one billion.

The “new” $1 billion prison plan, as APR reported on Monday, isn’t actually new. Some general variation of the plan has been attempted for the last two legislative sessions, and it ultimately failed because of the most Alabama of reasons: no one trusts anyone else to properly and ethically handle a $1 billion project.

During those debates, small groups of Republicans set out to undermine and sabotage the deals their colleagues put together because, in the end, they didn’t trust that the money would properly spent. And if it were misspent, the blame could only go to Republicans because Republicans hold a supermajority and made every key decision.

So, here we are. Prisons on the verge of falling under federal control, bridges and roads in awful shape, broadband availability so awful there are people still using AOL dial-up in parts of the state, and a huge hole in our general fund budget.

If only there were a few more Democrats around to help you out with those.

 

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