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Opinion | What we could be versus what we are

Josh Moon

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At a remarkable press conference today, Gov. Kay Ivey announced a massive spending plan that invests in the people of Alabama and draws on practices from the most successful areas of our state and country.

All told, the state will spend nearly a billion dollars on a combination of initiatives, including investments of over $500 million to update rural schools and employ quality teachers. Portions of the money will also be used to expand pre-K education to all districts and also to expand tech training and offer expanded skills training and continuing education to any adult, including those currently incarcerated.

In addition to the education expenditures, another nine-figure chunk of taxpayer dollars will go toward the expansion of Medicaid throughout the state and to shore up rural hospitals. The Medicaid expansion alone, as proven in neighboring Southern states, is expected to create an unmatched economic boom and also address long-ignored health issues that continue to cost the state and its small businesses billions of dollars annually.

The Medicaid expansion will be particularly helpful in providing access to treatment for opioid addicts and for expanding the state’s once-lauded mental health treatment facilities. The expanded mental-health treatment should alleviate immediately a portion of the overcrowded county jails and state prisons.

Additionally, Medicaid expansion is predicted to save at least a dozen rural hospitals that are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and it will immediately remove more than 100,000 Alabama residents from the ranks of the economically vulnerable.

Economists predict the expenditures announced by Ivey will inject billions into the state economy in the coming years and would increase Alabama’s attractiveness to relocating businesses and startups.

They pointed to the Huntsville-Madison area of the state as an example of what could happen when a resources-rich state with a qualified workforce invests in its public education and public health systems. The Huntsville area has one of the highest populations of college-educated adults, and it boasts one of the top school systems in the state — a source of pride for the people in the area. At a recent school board meeting, residents applauded when the superintendent announced a tax increase to pay for more teachers and bigger schools.

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In the coming years, the Huntsville area will see more than $4 billion in economic development projects — including a 4,000-job Toyota/Mazda plant and the country’s fourth-largest commercial real estate development — and will add more than 7,000 jobs to a local economy that was already booming.

The announcement from Ivey was made in conjunction with an agreement with state lawmakers, who will undertake a revamping of the state’s tax code this season. They plan to make a number of changes, including removing massive tax breaks on forestry land and increasing taxes on property valued above $500,000.

Those changes are expected to produce enough revenue for the state to begin a massive infrastructure project that will repave and repair thousands of miles of state roadways. There will also be a number of widening projects in high-traffic areas and a number of state bridges will be properly repaired.

In addition, the state has committed to leaving no school-age child without access to high-speed broadband internet at home — an initiative that could transform Alabama’s schools.

The improvements announced should …

Wait a minute. Never mind. I was dreaming.

Ivey announced that we’re going to spend nearly a billion dollars on three prisons and Senate President Del Marsh said publicly that he’d block Medicaid expansion.

All of that other stuff I mentioned is what we could be. Not what we sadly are.

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