Note: This piece was written by Larry Lee & is cross-posted from his blog.
It has been 49 years since I got my degree at Auburn University. I've spent 47 of those years in Alabama. Considering my roots, this does not seem odd or unusual to me. My ancestors have been here for nearly 200 years. Three great-grandfathers served in the Civil War. One never came home, another was discharged at Appomattox, VA. My kin were Lees, Stuarts, Rogers and Paulks.
They survived by plowing and planting the sandy soil of Covington and Butler counties and by pulling one end of a crosscut saw until sweat puddled in their boots. They lived in dog trot houses with a dug well out back and went to Primitive Baptist churches. They were neither landed or learned. One of my grandmothers could neither read or write. They dipped snuff and had an occasional drink of something besides water and when the weather was right, they listened to their dogs tree possums and coons. They butchered hogs when mornings were frosty and hung slabs of bacon in their smokehouse.
And today they rest in plots of earth called Bushfield and Elizabeth and Moriah and Fairmont. Their blood also runs through my brother and sister, both of whom live in North Carolina. A team of oxen couldn't drag either back to Alabama.
But being just plain stubborn or hard-headed I've stayed. Always with the hope that the day might come when the people of Alabama might be wise enough to elect the political leaders they deserve. But for reasons I have never been able to comprehend we've allowed ourselves to listen to the wrong voices. Voices that played to our most basic fears and insecurities and turned us one against another. White against black. Rich against poor. Region against region. Country against city.
There are good people in Alabama. I meet them every day. Many of them work in schools, spending their own money so a less fortunate child will have a snack when their classmates do. Principals who are at school to greet children getting off buses and who lock their office door after the sun has set. People who still believe it is better to give than receive. People who sing in a church choir and work with Cub Scouts and Pee Wee football teams.
The cold, hard truth is that we've come to a juncture in the life of Alabama where our "leadership" is anything but. Montgomery is in shambles. The quest for greed, the thirst for power, the personal agendas far overshadow any pretense of doing what is right and honorable and in the best interest of the majority. Recently a veteran of the legislature told me they are embarrassed that people know what they do.
Our governance now seems more reality show than anything else. Honey Boo Boo may show up at the Statehouse any day now.
We will soon try for the third time this year to cobble together a General Fund budget. One of the most prominent ideas floating around is to take millions from the education Trust Fund to prop up the General Fund-- even though education has not been adequately funded since 2008. And irony of irony, the cost for the special session will be paid for with education dollars.
But not once have I heard any of our "leadership" say, "What do we need to do to come up with long term solutions?" Who has shown the fortitude to assemble all the "players" in the same room and have a, as we say, "come to Jesus" meeting?"
I have no doubt that were these Biblical times, we would now be organizing a march of six days around the Alabama Statehouse as the people of Israel did when Jericho stood in their way.
And today I think of my ancestors and their struggles. I think of daddy helping grandpa clear ground with mules and axes. I think of grandma picking cotton till she had to go prepare lunch on a wood-burning stove before returning to the field.
My family ate fried chicken on Sunday and went to work on Monday building houses, cutting meat at a grocery store, laying ceramic tile and stacking peanuts.
I think of how our "leadership" is betraying them and their work. And I weep for Alabama.
UPDATE: 9/2/2014 - Gov. Bentley has now called the special session to begin on 9/8/2015. The Days of Awful will begin earlier than expected!
Sept. 14, 2015 is the start of many things. It's Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, and the beginning of what Jews call the "Days of Awe," a 10-day period of prayer and reflection the culminates in Yom Kippur. Sept. 14 is also the first day of the second special session of the Alabama legislature. During this session, legislators will attempt to patch the holes in the General Fund budget. If they fail - which they have done twice before, during the regular session and the first special session - the outcome of their incompetence will be the "Days of Awful" for all of Alabama.
State agencies warn of the dire consequences.
Driver's License Offices All but 4 offices in the state will close, meaning long drives and even longer waits for residents. 33 offices will close on October 1 and only 4 will remain by March of 2016. The four offices that remain will be in Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Mobile.
Pity the people who live far from the I-65 corridor:
Dothan, AL, in the Southeast corner of the state, is 3 hours from Mobile and 2 hours from Montgomery.
Red Bay, AL is on the Mississippi line. It's a 2-hour drive to either Huntsville or Birmingham.
Have business to conduct at the driver's license office? Better have a vacation day saved up, because you'll have to pack a lunch a make a day of it. Oh... no paid time off because the Alabama legislature restricted the rights of local governments to address that problem? Too damn bad.
State Parks In April, officials warned that 15 state parks would close under the budget being considered. Public outcry was huge, but they passed the budget anyway. Governor Bentley vetoed it and the supermajority spent the first special session squabbling.
In the regular session that ended in June, Lein said the budget legislators passed and sent to Bentley included more than $9 million in cuts to the state parks budget.
"That $9.2 million budget (cut) that the governor vetoed, that was a parks killer," Lein told AL.com. "That would have shut down the parks system. We know that now."
It's a startling revelation after an outcry across the state when Lein first said 15 of the 22 parks were set for closure as a result of the legislature's proposed budget at the time.
While parks like Joe Wheeler, Lake Guntersville and Lake Lurleen were among those targeted for closure, the list could grow to include every park – including original survivors such as Gulf State Park, Wind Creek, Oak Mountain and Monte Sano.
“We would no longer be able to assist rural counties in homicide investigations ...,” Collier said. “It’s the uniformed troopers and officer of ALEA that gets 100,000 people in and out of Talladega. It’s the troopers that get people in and out of Tuscaloosa and Auburn every Saturday during the fall. It’s the special operations unit of the Department of Public Safety of ALEA that assist at Mardi Gras. That would all come to an end.”
Remember 2012, when the supermajority held a gun to the state's head with a special election? We either had to vote to borrow from the state savings account to pay the bills or see Grandma thrown out of the nursing home and prisoners running loose in the streets. The first payments didn't come due until conveniently after the 2014 midterm election, but even that was too much for the gang that promised to "fix" Alabama's budget woes.
We're in quite a fix because there's no federal stimulus money to bail us out, we stubbornly refuse Medicaid expansion (and the improvements in public health and economic activity), Governor Bentley pretended that there was no budget problem (until he got an important report on it the day after his re-election), and the GOP supermajority has been far more interested in handing out corporate welfare and selling the public education system to Bob Riley & company than in fixing the systemic problems with state budgets.
For decades, the Democratic majority patched it together, but never addressed the critical need for constitution reform and tax reform. But they kept it going; their problem was satisfaction with the status quo. The Democratic majority didn't use their power for good.
The Republicans changed things in Alabama all right: it's exponentially worse. Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party is either unwilling or unable to even issue a press release on the subject and state Democratic legislators have virtually no power to influence legislation.
Give State Senator Paul Sanford credit for coming up with an funding solution that hasn't been tried or even discussed before: raise the $300 million state budget shortfall via a GoFundMe campaign. It's kind of a long shot though; currently the only donation is $10 earmarked for the Education Trust Fund.
Here's the text:
The State of Alabama is experiencing tight financial times and needs your help. Legislators are debating possible financial solutions but are finding that Raising Taxes are not wanted by the citizens of Alabama. Rather than have the Government come after your hard earned money you can now send an amount that fits your budget, even request where your money be used.
You can determine what functions of Government are a priority to you.
Sanford announced his fundraising campaign via his Twitter account. Give him credit for innovative use of technology and social media. He also makes an excellent point that the people want state services, but they don't want to pay the taxes necessary to support them.
The people - and elected officials - should have paid attention in school in basic Civics class. At least one section of this old Civics text from 1963 should still be required reading for every voter and legislator:
Take this excerpt from pp 381-382:
Many of the cities and towns of Alabama are in very difficult financial circumstances at the present time. They are faced with the problem of matching a very limited income to an almost unlimited demand for services. In this situation, wither the income must be increased or the services must be curtailed. Since Alabama citizens do not seem to want the cities to reduce their services, but rather to increase them the only answer seems to be to increase the cities' income.
... Since the state itself is hard pressed for funds, the most logical answer seems to be to increase local taxes. Tax increases are never popular with the citizens of a city, but we must remember that if we want better government, we must be prepared to pay for better government.
This is from Unit 7 in the book titled "Financing our Governments." The section introduction ends this way:
"Perhaps the most important lesson that we can learn from this unit is that "we, the people of the united States," are responsible for providing the money which is necessary if governments are to perform services."
While this GoFundMe stunt did make me laugh out loud, really y'all.... what's happening in Montgomery is no laughing matter. It's time for our elected officials to lead - really lead - and part of being a leader is to tell hard truths and do what's necessary. Stop sticking your finger in the wind and pandering.
Do your jobs. Peoples lives - quite literally in some cases - depend on it.
Just how "flat" or "fair" is a so-called "flat tax" that takes most deductions away from Alabama families but allows corporations to keep their existing deductions? The required "fiscal note" accompanying SB-43 explains that it's expected to "increase individual income tax receipts to the Education Trust Fund by an estimated $9.5 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2018."
The new version is marginally better for families, because now they keep a charitable and mortgage interest deduction. However, they still lose the deduction for federal income taxes paid, pensions, social security income, medical insurance premiums (for people who don't get insurance through work), and more.
The worst part of Hightower's original bill didn't change:
(3) All other additions to income, deductions, credits, or exemptions for corporations in effect on the date this amendment is ratified may be claimed except for the federal income tax deduction provided for in Section 40-18-35(a)(2), Code of Alabama 1975, as amended from time to time.
Initially, supporters of the flat tax touted it as a simpler system that would be "revenue neutral." Sounds great, but it's pretty clear that the flat tax is not revenue neutral if individuals are losing their deductions, corporations are keeping theirs, and the bill is expected to increase tax collections by almost $10 million. It's not new; it's SOP in Alabama state government: already struggling families once again get to pick up the tab for a corporate tax cut.
Try to imagine what life will be like in rural areas of the state that lose their hospitals. Imagine a 2-hour ambulance ride for a cardiac patient or the spectacle of babies born on the side of the road because the parents live hours from the nearest hospital with an obstetrics department. Imagine your grandparents getting kicked out of their nursing home and moving into your spare room.
This mattered to Alabama House members yesterday when they voted NO on a plan to cut $156 million from Alabama's Medicaid program. At least it mattered for an hour or so. After some harsh discussion, the majority brought the same bill up again and passed it.
This unusual move required a rules change, but when you make the rules, you can also change them.
If the Senate passes these cuts as well, remember that we don't just lose federal money. When hospitals close, the people who work there lose their jobs, which hurts local businesses in their communities. People move away, industry won't locate somewhere that can't even supply basic medical care either. These are budget cuts that will cut the hearts out of many small communities.
The consequences for the state are almost unimaginable:
No matter what damn fool idea that GOP supermajority has come up with in the last 5 years, people have initially assumed that it was just a "bargaining" position. "They won't really do that!" Except that yes... they will.
The sponsor of the amendment to remove the funding, Rep. Steve Clouse, said he introduced it to force a debate:
Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, said he proposed the dramatic cuts to Medicaid to force a debate about the importance of the program.
Well, Rep. Clouse, the House debated, decided it wasn't really important, and voted to accept your amendment, because yes... they really will do that!
Remember that none of this was supposed to happen. Think back to the legislative session of 2012, where the super-majority couldn't pass a balanced budget so taxpayers had to foot the bill for a special election and allow legislators to borrow money form the Alabama Trust Fund (the state savings account). It was just "temporary" they told us. Soon, the supermajority's plan to cut taxes and cut "fat" in the budget would result is a golden age of budget surpluses, job growth, and lower taxes.
Things would be so great that we could easily pay back the money starting in 2015 (conveniently after the supermajority got themselves re-elected in 2014). Now they've decided it would be a good idea to push those repayments out a little.
Airbus: $158 million in "incentives" to locate in Mobile.
It's time to stop blaming the Democrats guys. Y'all are why Alabama can't have nice things. You bragged that you could fix things and have stubbornly refused to acknowledge that the current state budget just doesn't have enough revenue to meet daily needs, build infrastructure for the future, and protect the health and safety of the population.
"Damn the legal bills! Full speed ahead!" seems to be the guiding principle of the 2015 legislative session, and multiple speakers at Wednesday's Rally for Women's Lives touched on that topic. It's amazing really: the legislature's chief responsibility is to pass state budgets, but with just five meeting days left in the session, there's no consensus in sight.
Mobile attorney Amy Andrews addressed this very issue when she listed the legal bills that other states have run up while defending their own anti-abortion bills:
In 2011, Kansas spent nearly $400k in six months. Since 2011, Kansas has spent $1.2 million to defend anti-abortion legislation. A law signed last month is expected to cost an additional $350-450k. You think it's a coincidence that Kansas public schools are closing early this year due to lack of money?
As of January 2014, North Dakota has spent $200k defending anti-abortion laws.
Arizona spent $297k.
South Dakota spent $378k.
Texas spent $650k.
Idaho has spent over $1 million.
"Alabama does not have that kind of money to be throwing around," Andrews noted.
But throw it around we will if the pending package of anti-choice bills passes, promised Randall Marshall. He's the Legal Director of the ACLU of Alabama and has quite the track record of facing off in court (successfully!) against our Attorney General's office. (Refer to our coverage of the TRAP lawsuit for some delicious tidbits.)
Marshall wrapped up the rally with a warning for state legislators. Referring to the huge legal bills taxpayers in other states are stuck paying, he promised:
It's going to be the same for Alabama. We are not yet done with previous lawsuits with the State of Alabama, but it will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars - and it will continue to cost the state that kind of money if they pass more unconstitutional restrictions on women's right to choose.
Here's more information about the package of pending legislation:
How badly does the Legislature want to raise revenue without raising taxes? The Poarch Creek Indian tribe is betting that legislators would rather deal with them than roll the dice with a constitutional amendment to allow the state to set up a gaming system and a lottery.
But here's the deal: the tribe wants exclusive gaming rights. That demand ups the ante quite a bit for the state.
Faced with the possibility that their casino profits could be slashed if legislation is passed that will allow gambling at four private casinos in Alabama, the Poarch Creeks have floated an offer to cover the state's $250 million budget shortfall this year in exchange for a compact with the state that would give the tribe exclusive gaming rights.
That compact would also require the Poarch Creeks to pay the state a percentage of earnings each year.
There must be a lot of money in gambling if the tribe is able to bankroll a quarter of a billion dollar bailout. That's some high roller action, for sure.
The proposal may sound like a sucker bet to supporters of legalized gambling, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh explained to the Montgomery Advertiser. They'd rather the state go all in for gambling and leave the tribe's money on the table:
In addition, Marsh said that a Tuesday meeting between members of the Senate's Republican caucus made one thing clear: "My take from the caucus is they don't want to give a monopoly to anyone," Marsh said.
The wild card in this whole business are those legislators and state interest groups that would rather pass on gambling in any form. Do legislators hate tax increases more than they hate gambling? Will the state go all in with the Indians for a one-time jackpot/bailout or end up down to the felt?
The clock is ticking on this legislative session and sometime soon, legislative leaders will have to lay down their cards and call for a vote on some solution.
It was just a little snippet of news. Just a few hundred words. And while few Alabamians probably saw it, it should have made headlines on the front page of every state newspaper and been the lead story on every TV news cast. Because it was another glaring example of how our legislative leadership practices, "do as I say, not as I do."
Marsh defended his action by saying that his office is "leaner" than it used to be and the good people of Alabama need to understand the context of his action.
I beg to differ with Senator Marsh. The average Alabamian does understand the context. While headlines scream every day that the state is broke and state agencies are facing draconian cuts in services, he handed out a $40,000 raise.
So maybe it is Senator Marsh (the same person who recently told a House committee that $25 million is just a small amount of money) who needs to readjust his context. He needs to understand that the vast majority of the 4.8 million people in Alabama live in the real world, not the apparent fantasy world of the legislature.
And if the senator is looking for examples of "lean," then he needs to sit down with any of the 1,400 school principals across the state to find out how to do more with less. And none of them have received a $40,000 raise for doing so.
The same day I read the news about what Senator Marsh did, I spent two hours at Glen Iris Elementary school in Birmingham. Principal Michael Wilson oversees an excellent school, one recognized as a Banner School. One that was built in 1923 and where more than 850 students are crammed into a facility built to hold 700. One where you see professionals working with children one on one in cubicles set up in halls.
The day I was there Glen Iris was in the middle of the annual testing cycle that all third,
fourth and fifth graders take. This is given on a computer. But the school only has one computer per classroom and their computer "lab" consists of only 25 machines. (Actually the school has two mobile carts with computers but they cannot be used for testing because of bandwidth issues)
And as is so often the case in many of our schools these days, Wilson and his staff cope as best they can. This means it takes about three weeks to test the nearly 400 third, fourth and fifth graders who have to be tested.
Glen Iris has four portable classrooms to handle overflow. (Statewide we use 778 portables for classrooms.) Third grade averages 26 students per class at Glen Iris.
As I drove away, I couldn't help but wonder why no one has given Michael Wilson a $40,000 raise or how many computers you can buy for this amount of money.
Or how many library books $40,000 will buy since there is not a first, second, third, fourth or fifth-grader in a public school in Alabama who has ever read a new library book paid for by the state.
Twenty years ago the legislature put in place what is commonly called the "Foundation Program (PDF)." Its intent was to eliminate the inequity in state funding between poor and rich school systems. It was decided what personnel and supplies were essential to the operation of a school and that this would be funded through the state.
It was last fully funded in 2008. Ever since, all schools and all school systems have been getting more "lean" out of necessity. And no one received a 38 percent raise for doing so.
We are constantly told that we are being governed in Montgomery these days by conservatives, folks like Daddy who made every dollar squeak.
Simply put, if SB-409 (the flat tax) passes in Alabama, corporations will keep their income tax breaks but human taxpayers won't. Deductions for pension income and other expenses disappear for citizens, but the bill specifically allows corporations to keep their deductions and credits. It gets better (for business): the income tax rate they'll pay after their deductions also goes down. Can you say windfall?
(2) A corporation may carry forward any current net operating loss or capital loss earned prior to the date this amendment is ratified until it is utilized or otherwise expires.
(3) All other deductions, credits, or exemptions for corporations in effect on the date this amendment is ratified may be claimed.
Here's the question: how long do corporations get those "deductions, credits, or exemptions?" Forever, it looks like. The bill text says that the only way deductions can be added after the amendment goes into effect is by an 80% vote in each house. There is no mechanism specified in the bill to remove deductions/exemptions/credits.
They're making it hard for individuals to get tax breaks and easy for corporations to keep them.
This constitutional amendment, if approved by the Legislature and voters, will pad the bottom lines of businesses operating in Alabama. But low to middle-income people may be in for a nasty surprise.
Mortgage interest deduction - gone.
Federal income tax deduction - gone.
State pension income deduction - gone.
All other individual deductions except charitable contributions - gone.
The burden of this "reform" falls disproportionately on lower income taxpayers, but that's (sadly) nothing new for this state. The bottom 20% will pay more, while the remaining 80% of households could see their state taxes decline: the higher the household income, the greater the savings.
It's just unbelievable that this bill could be considered "revenue neutral," like the sponsors claim. Individual people hear that promise, along with the "file your taxes on a postcard" claim and think it sounds great!
Until you go back to basic math: if corporations are going to pay less, the effect is "revenue neutral," then somebody, somewhere has to pay more. That would be us.
Hightower said at press conference Tuesday that both of the proposals would allow Alabama to stay competitive for businesses looking to locate in the region.
"There are over 100 plus deduction credits that we have amassed over 60-plus years of legislating," he said. "We're competing with other states and we've got to win this war."
So we're at "war" with other states and the only way to "win" it is to increase the taxes on pensioners and the poorest families and cut business taxes. Nice.
The public hearing tomorrow is before the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee at 10:30 am in Room 727 of the Alabama Statehouse. If you can't attend, contact your Senator and demand that any tax "reforms" be targeted towards making the system more fair and equitable for state residents.
Let's say you borrowed money in 2012 on a "no payment until 2014 easy payment plan." But as the 2016 payment date nears, you offer the lender an alternative: skip a year of payments and pick back up in 2017 with no penalties! How would that fly do you think?
If you're snorting your morning coffee onto your keyboard right now at the very thought, consider that the Republican supermajority in the legislature may do exactly that. They've spent the money they borrowed & have no way to make payments.
Yesterday, HB-490 passed out of the House Ways & Means Committee. From Page 2 of Rep. Clouse's amendment to the "People's Trust Act:"
(2) The total cumulative amount repaid pursuant to this section shall not be less than the following amounts on the following dates: a. September 30, 2014: $5,000,000; b. September 30, 2015: $15,000,000; c. September 30, 2016 2017: $30,000,000; d. September 30, 2017 2018: $50,000,000;
The "People's Trust Act" is one of those bills whose name has absolutely not relationship to the content of the bill. Kind of like George W. Bush's "Clear Skies Initiative" allowed polluters to discharge more dangerous chemicals into the air.
Let's think back to the $1 million dollar special election the Legislature forced on the state in 2012. In spite of Alabama's requirement for a balanced budget, they passed a budget that required yet another #$%$ constitutional amendment so voters could approve a money transfer from the Alabama Trust Fund. Yep: our "fiscally responsible" legislators could only pay the bills by borrowing money.
How did they convince voters to give a constitutional stamp of approval to their incompetence? Threats. "Throw Grandma out of the nursing home!" "Prisoners running loose in the streets!" etc. Sound familiar?
There were big promises that all the money would be repaid by 2026 and, starting in 2014 (the first bill didn't come due until they could get re-elected), they would start paying it back. We promise! Pinky swear!
The new bill, let's call it the Welch Act for short, would allow the state to miss the 2016 payment of $15 million. The bill calls for the payment to be delayed until 2017. But if I were you I wouldn't hold my breath counting on the money to be paid in 2017 either. [...]
Of course this possible reneging, welching, backing out of the promise to repay the trust fund is because, ironically, the state needs the $15 million payment to help meet next year the very same essential state services it took the money from the trust fund to meet 31 months ago.
Now all the trust fund money is gone. It was used to bridge three years' worth of holes in the state's General Fund budget. The hope was then that the borrowed money, coupled with reductions in the number of state workers and more cuts in state services would stave off a crisis giving the economy time to recover.
That was the theory. It was wrong.
Today the same General Fund faces an immediate shortfall of $200 million and a longer-term hole of $700 million.
Let's be clear on this: the Stimulus Act that the Republicans hated so much patched holes in the state budget. So did legal settlement fees and a shell game of moving money from one pot to the other. In 2010, Republicans used this against Democrats in the mid-term elections. They told voters that they would be fiscally responsible with the state's money. Things would be different with Republicans in control.
In a sense, they told the truth. The situation is worse now.
Keep in mind that this is the same legislature that seems to have no problem at all with the unconscionable interest rates and underhanded tactics of many "payday lenders."
But when it comes to paying back the money they borrowed from the state because they couldn't balance the budget?
If the Legislature doesn't act, Alabama state budgets won't just be cut to the bone; we'll be slicing into the marrow. For many state agencies, every dollar lost in state funding equals another $2-$3 lost in federal matching funds. Now Republicans have documented problems with basic math, but it's pretty easy to understand that if you spend $1 in state money and get $3 from the federal government, then that's a good deal.
Yesterday, the Governor's office released a memo that brings that fact into sharp focus. We already know about the state parks crisis (although there was some good news yesterday), but here are some other low points:
-- As many as 25 Army National Guard armories would close...
-- Courts would have to lay off more than 600 employees and probably close for two days a week.
-- State law enforcement would lose 99 state troopers, 25 investigators and eight Capitol police officers.
-- The Department of Human Resources would lose $190 million in federal funds, resulting in more than 15,000 children losing subsidized child care and more than 30,000 children losing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.
The only benefit I see here is this tidbit:
-- The Environmental Protection Agency would take over water-related functions of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, resulting in 148 layoffs and delays and over-regulation that would hurt business.
For sure, I trust the EPA to manage environment regulations far more than I trust ADEM.
The court cutbacks are quite troublesome. The supermajority has already cut criminal justice funding to the point that Alabama's forensic labs can't begin to quickly process evidence. There's a constitutional right to a "quick and speedy trial." How long before this situation explodes into yet another federal lawsuit?
In 2012, Governor Bentley credited God for his election victory, but he's done little to help "the least of these" in this state. The corporations are doing great thanks to all the corporate welfare being handed out. But hungry children and the working poor without insurance? Hey, they ought to just get a job (or another one) or something.
I give the Governor credit for recognizing the state's revenue problem now - now that he can no longer run for re-election. But if he'd been listening to any pastor besides Reverend Ike, he might have found the courage to confront these problems before they threatened the state with disastrous budget cuts.
Alabama's budget is a mess. We're facing a huge shortfall this year and in the future. The state may close over half our state parks, lay off 99 state troopers, and cut services to the elderly and disabled. Our legislature is halfway through the session and they've done nothing but shout "no new taxes" and "stop gay weddings" for the last month.
Friends......I think I have just heard the lowest of the low of abuse of political power. I can't believe that our Governor would have our Directors of programs, that help the elderly and homebound, call people receiving services and tell them that their services are about to be cut off. THE FACT IS THAT THEY HAVE SERVICES BUDGETED UNTIL OCTOBER! We are currently working on the budgets for 2016 and some have a disagreement with the Governor on how to fund these programs but I HAVE HEARD NO ONE SAY THAT THEY ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE SURE THAT THE PROGRAMS THAT PEOPLE DEPEND ON TO LIVE ARE NOT GOING TO BE FUNDED. People we are talking about are citizens who are dependent on people coming into their homes to help them with meals and health related issues. They are being called and SCARED into calling me today in tears begging me not to stop their services. THIS IS WRONG AND THE GOVERNOR NEEDS TO STOP THIS....... The Governor needs to give the elected officials the time to finish the budget hearings and then let us make good decisions for our people and the State. I am sorry these tactics are being used to try to create panic. Please pray for our leaders and our State. Please share this post.
Really, Senator Smith? That's the "lowest abuse of political power" you've ever seen?
Last week, Don Williamson, director of the Alabama Department of Public Health, told the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee that he would explain the consequences of a $400 million cut to Medicaid. While some committee members lamented the "devastating" nature of the cuts, Rep. Greg Wren (HD75) framed the issue in more personal terms:
“If this agency goes forward and puts out any haunting emails about potential cuts to programs that could affect the lives of individuals, I will be personally offended, and I will look forward to talking with whoever is in control of Medicaid,” he said.
There we go! It's ok to cut programs and services, but not ok to explain the process to citizens - particularly those about to be affected by those cuts. Because, hey, they might actually complain or share their "haunting" stories about what happens when you eliminate funding for hospice care, dialysis, or prescription drugs.
I agree that Governor Bentley has had his head somewhere during the past four years. Let's be nice and say it's been "in the sand." But this year, a miracle occurred and he recognizes the reality of Alabama's budget situation. There isn't enough money available to fund state services and we can't cut our way out of this mess and still have a state that anybody would want to visit - much less live in.
Senator Smith, many of your fellow legislators seem totally unwilling to acknowledge this fact. It's like ALEC blew the world's largest bubble and encased the Alabama Statehouse in it.
Governor Bentley isn't fear-mongering: he's telling it like it is. This legislature is full of irrational bad actors who don't seem concerned about the effect of their political ideology on real people. The only way to break through their delusional facade is to force them to listen to personal stories and face facts.
So you don't like calls and emails? Then do something to fix this situation and quit whining.
In 2014, Alabama's state park system celebrated its 75th anniversary. Will it make it 77 after the 2015 legislative session is complete? State parks in North Alabama (home of anti-tax billboards) will be particularly hard hit by impending budget cuts, reports WHNT-TV in Huntsville. Governor Bentley has warned of "prisoners in our basements" and other horrors if the legislature fails to pass his tax plan this session. Today, we got word of proposed cuts that will close some of Alabama's most beloved state parks.
WHNT News 19 contacted Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein for further information. He said the 15 parks that would close by FY2016 are:
Bladon Springs Chickasaw Bucks Pocket Paul Grist Florala Blue Springs Roland Cooper Rickwood Caverns Cheaha Park Lake Lurleen DeSoto Lakepoint Guntersville Joe Wheeler Frank Jackson
Lein said the seven parks that would remain open are Meaher, Wind Creek, Chewacla, Monte Sano, Cathedral Caverns, Oak Mountain and Gulf State Park.
“Those 15 parks [slated to close] have not consistently made a profit over the last three years,” said Lein. “The remaining 7 parks have. This is a very dynamic financial situation.” [...] Nix, the spokesperson, added the proposed state budget would take $2.8 million out of the parks’ guest revenue to be used for other state expenses.
That's right campers: if state parks can't make a profit, tough luck and good-bye. Or should we say "a good BUY" for whatever campaign contributors have an interest in acquiring the property.
It's a stupid, shortsighted move - and perhaps it's mainly a threat from Bentley to "go nuclear" if the legislature continues to rebuff his tax plan. He's right that state services cost money and we have to pay for them some way. If he'd only acknowledged this when he ran in 2010 instead of harpig on that stupid "NO NEW TAXES" bandwagon, we might not be in this mess now.
Still, what makes the plan "stupid and shortsighted" is that a big part of Alabama's economy is built on tourism. According to the State Tourism Department:
The Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) has released its annual economic impact report, which shows that the tourism industry grew by 3% with more than 23.5 million visitors spending almost $11 billion in 2013.
ATD statistician Pam Smith reported that, from 2004 to 2013, travel spending in Alabama has increased 50% according to the study conducted by Auburn University Montgomery.
In 2013, more than $738 million of state and local tax revenues were generated by travel and tourism activities. Without those taxes, each household in Alabama would have had to pay $392 in additional taxes to maintain current service levels.
An estimated 163,848 jobs – 8.6 percent of non-agricultural employment in Alabama – were directly or indirectly attributable to the travel and tourism industry.
That report deals tourism in general, but does show how important it is to Alabama's economy. However, the park system is (or should be) about more than tourism. The park system is an important component in the state's environmental preservation efforts too:
Today, the system encompasses 22 state parks totaling more than 48,000 acres. These parks preserve and maintain just about every habitat type found in Alabama as well as some historically and culturally significant areas. Habitat types include southern Appalachian mountaintops, forests, caves, river and lake shorelines, wetlands and Gulf Coast beaches.
“The mission of the Parks Division is to acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities, and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment,” Lein says. “From the mountains to the coast, we have a park system that captures a lot of ecological systems and unique wildlife habitats. Two primary cave parks, Cathedral Caverns and Rickwood Caverns, illustrate the geology of Alabama and the diverse cave formations in the state.Desoto State Park is on a wild, free-flowing river.”
Note those last two parks are on the chopping block. The loss of DeSoto State Park, in particular, would be devastating, and it's worth noting that DeSoto was built thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression. At that time, our government leaders still believed in investing in the future to benefit our children and grandchildren.
Will we really be the generation that throws it all away because we're too damned greedy and selfish to care about what sort of state we're leaving for our kids? That's a sad, sad legacy.
State agencies this week issued dire warnings of draconian cuts to mental health, child care, adult day care and more, but Governor Robert Bentley described the state's budget situation in much more colorful language when he spoke to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce yesterday.
“I know some of you don’t care about food stamps, but if it affects children, you should care,” Bentley said at the chamber’s luncheon.
Thousands would lose mental health services. More Veterans Affairs offices would close. “We might have to close 15 of our 22 state parks,” Bentley said.
And state prison funding would be cut. You might not care about prisoners, but when you have them in your basement, you’re going to care,” he said.
The Governor also pledged to call the Legislature back into special session - over and over, if necessary - until they take action to increase state revenue. Wow, isn't that extra expense a perfect solution for a state that can't pay its bils now?
What hasn't changed is the rhetoric surrounding the issue: dire warnings about Grandma getting thrown out of the nursing home, prisoners running wild through the streets, and hungry children. It sounds like one of those dystopian after-the-Apocalypse novels. What also hasn't changed is that Republicans have total control of state government. In 2011, their "solution" was a $3.4 million special election to approve their budget blackmail plan.
Bentley says he will have to cut the General Fund budget across the board if the voters turn down the constitutional amendment Sept. 18. This raises the specter of the state's releasing thousands of state inmates and laying waste to the Medicaid program and other vital services such as mental health and human resources.
The state voted "yes," and the state General Fund got a breather for four years - conveniently, the terms of the state's "loan" from the Alabama Trust Fund didn't include repayment until after the 2014 election.
Bentley has remained resolute that he would veto a tax increase of any type, so lawmakers eventually settled on the plan to take the money out of the Alabama Trust Fund.
While he's changed his tune and now seeks over $500 million in revenue increases, his legislative supermajority still has their hands over their ears and are resolutely shouting "LA LA LA LA LA" when anyone dares broach the subject of tax increases.
Apparently, no cut is too large and no damage to the state's population and infrastructure is too great:
Orr, chairman of the Senate's General Fund committee, asked agencies that depend on the General Fund to submit plans for how they would deal with budget cuts of 15 percent and 30 percent.
The letters show the compounding effect of state funding cuts for agencies that use that money to match federal dollars. The loss of a state dollar can reduce the bottom line by three dollars or more.
And even if Bentley succeeds with his plan, remember that a lot of that money will go to repay the money the GOP borrowed in 2011. That's bill's coming due and there was quite a dust-up in 2013 when Senator Jay Love tried to get the body to agree on a payment plan - that wouldn't require any repayment until 2026:
That loud clanging noise you heard yesterday in Montgomery was the Republican supermajority kicking the fiscal can down the road - for at least 3 more election cycles. Looks like the Alabama Trust Fund will just have to wait for its promised repayment of the $437 million the GOP demanded last year because they were unable to balance the state's budget.
As we watch the budget circus this session, let's remember how the supermajority charged into Montgomery ready to "fix" the state budgets by "trimming waste" and fighting fraud, when in fact the real plan was to bankrupt the state so that Speaker Mike Hubbard could get rich shilling for corporations interested in buying our state government piece by piece.
These people aren't leaders. They're a bunch of con artists with credit cards.
We've said here for years - when our Democratic legislators didn't bother to show up for committee hearings or important votes - that "just because you'll probably lose, that's no reason not to take a stand."
Today, Ford offered this:
"Would You Rather Have A Democrat’s Lottery Or Republicans’ Taxes?"
This week is the legislature’s Spring Break, and we are now almost a third of the way through the legislative session. And as last week came to an end, legislative leaders were quick to congratulate themselves on passing their legislative agenda.
I’m sure the taxpayers will be relieved Republicans were able to pass their “Alabama First” agenda. I mean, sure, maternity wards across the state are closing and leaving thousands of mothers without nearby prenatal care and delivery services, but at least we brought back the electric chair.
And, sure, there are hundreds of children in Alabama waiting to be adopted by loving parents but can’t because of budget cuts to the Department of Human Resources. But at least judges won’t be forced to participate in gay weddings. Oh wait, nobody was making them do that anyway.
Well at least now we passed the “Truth in Salary Act” so all those educators and state employees will finally know how much they are getting paid! I mean, sure, there are counties in Alabama that don’t have a single state trooper to patrol them, and many of the state troopers we do have are driving vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them. But all that has to take a backseat to more bureaucracy and paperwork so that we can make sure our bureaucrats know how much they are getting paid (because apparently they are smart enough to teach our children, but not smart enough to read their own paystubs).
Yes, the Republican leadership has passed their legislative agenda. But what they have not done is offer any real solutions to the very real problems Alabama is facing.
Take, for example, the charter school bill. Let’s assume that every charter school is wildly successful. Even then, there would still be thousands of children still stuck in failing schools. Charter schools and the Accountability Act are not solutions to failing schools. They are escape options from failing schools.
And that is the problem with the leadership in Montgomery: they don’t try to solve problems; they try to run away or hide from problems. But now Alabama is facing some problems that we can’t run away from anymore.
The General Fund budget is facing a hole of at least $265 million. And if we try to pay back all the debt we owe, the budget hole is really closer to $700 million.
After the last four years of gutting our state government, we simply cannot fill the budget hole with more cuts to government. We have “right-sized” to the point of budgetary anorexia. The only way to allow our government to continue to function is with more revenue.
Before the legislative session began, Gov. Bentley proposed a tax package that would raise about $541 million. And to his credit, he included certain proposals, such as increasing the tobacco tax and closing certain corporate tax loopholes that benefit out-of-state corporations and the expense of Alabama business owners, which have been part of the Democratic Party’s agenda for years.
It’s no surprise the Republican leadership in the legislature hasn’t supported the governor’s proposals. They don’t want to be seen supporting anything Democrats have been calling for, and that’s fine. But if they don’t want to consider our ideas, they should at least offer some of their own!
The legislature cannot run away and hide any more. The Republicans wanted to be in leadership, and now it’s time for them to step up and offer solutions.
Of course, if they won’t consider Democratic proposals, then that only leaves one option: raising taxes. Now they won’t call it tax increases. They will call it “enforcement of existing tax laws” or “eliminating deductions”, but the bottom line is that you will be paying more of your hard-earned money in taxes.
Before we start raising taxes, we should at least consider voluntary revenue raising measures like a lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians and raising the tobacco tax.
The legislative fiscal office estimates that a lottery could raise up to $280 million in new revenue, while raising the tobacco tax by a dollar could generate another $225 million. A compact with the Poarch Creek Indians could generate another $30-50 million.
All of these options are voluntary. People can choose to quit smoking or not to gamble. So why not vote on these measures first? Then, if more money is needed, we can look at other proposals.
If the Republican leadership in the legislature doesn’t offer a solution soon, then you know what their solution will be. The question is: would you rather have a Democrat’s lottery or Republicans’ taxes?
North Alabama Regional Hospital (NARH) will be the 3rd state-run mental hospital to close since 2012, and the state describes these closures as an attempt to "streamline" mental health care in Alabama. Mental health advocates warn that many patients need the structure of residential treatment and that most families are unequipped to deal with severely mentally ill members.
The state's goal to transfer patients "out to the most appropriate community resources for them" sounds laudable: it places people closer to their communities and support systems. Unfortunately, previous attempts at "deinstutionalization" have resulted in less treatment for patients, many of whom end up homeless or in jail. This has happened in other states when psychiatric hospitals have closed, as a 2012 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a non-profit organization that advocates for the mentally ill:
Nationwide, closures reduced the number of beds available in the combined 50 states to 28% of the number considered necessary for minimally adequate inpatient psychiatric services. A minimum of 50 beds per 100,000 population, nearly three times the current bed population, is a consensus target for providing minimally adequate treatment. (By way of comparison, the ratio in England in 2005 was 63.2/100,000.)
In the absence of needed treatment and care, individuals in acute or chronic disabling psychiatric crisis increasingly gravitate to hospital emergency departments, jails and prisons.
These systems experience significant negative impacts as a result.
- The number of persons with mental illness who are homeless increased. In some communities, officials have reported as many as two-thirds of their homeless population is mentally ill.
- Hospital emergency departments are so overcrowded that some acutely ill patients wait days or even weeks for a psychiatric bed to open so they can be admitted; some eventually are released to the streets without treatment.
-Law enforcement agencies find service calls, transportation and hospital security for people in acute psychiatric crisis creating significant, growing demands on their officers and straining public safety resources.
Jails and prisons are increasingly populated by individuals with untreated mental illness with some facilities reporting that one-third or more of their inmates are severely mentally ill.
Correctional institutions have become the de facto state hospitals, and there are more seriously and persistently mentally ill in prisons than in all state hospitals in the United States. [..] ...about 50 percent reenter prisons within three years of release (a phenomenon known as recycling), because of inadequate treatment and rehabilitation in the community. Systematic programs linking released mentally ill offenders to state mental health programs are few and far between. [..] A recent study (2006) by the U.S. Department of Justice found that more than half of all prison and jail inmates have a mental health problem compared with 11 percent of the general population, yet only one in three prison inmates and one in six jail inmates receive any form of mental health treatment.
There are multiple reasons for the lack of adequate mental health treatment in prisons, the primary one being that the prison system is focused far more on punishment than treatment and rehabilitation. During the last decade, however, a more insidious force has been at work: the profit motive.
The profit motive may trump quality and compromise ethics standards and practice. Profit-oriented service providers tend to keep certain key staff positions unfilled or partially filled and encourage less expensive treatment approaches and medications, potentially jeopardizing patient care. Although the experience of private vendors indicates that they are more successful in recruiting professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists, the correctional system still lags behind other provider systems in attracting qualified personnel.
Rep. Patricia Todd is calling attention to the large number of vacancies on Alabama state boards & commissions and asking for volunteers. In particular, she's looking for more diversity on state boards. Alabama is a state that's more than half female & has a large variety of citizens of all races & backgrounds. There's no reason that this part of state government shouldn't reflect that.
Here's hoping that Rep. Todd has a good list to work from, and for sure contact her if you'd like to serve. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember that the legislature quickly became famous for creating new committees & task forces to "report" on issues they don't want to deal with - and that many of those committees never met. Does the state have the same cavalier attitude towards state boards as well?
Under normal circumstances, this inattention to the Web site might not be much of an issue. Except for this: it's just one more example of how the GOP supermajority failed in its promise to bring more transparency, ethics, and accountability to state government. I even hesitate to call attention to it, lest someone issue another no-bid contract to one of Bob Riley's cronies and cost the state a hundred grand or so for a simple Web site update.
It's not hyperbole, campers. Let's look at the past four years:
There's nothing we can do about the Legislature for the next four years - unless even more resign to work in industry or spend some quality time in state prison - but many state boards & commissions are more powerful than you realize. Take the state textbook board, for instance. So review the list, find a spot, and toss your hat into the ring!
Senate Secretary Pat Harris said the price tag for the renovation should be just under $200,000. [...] The Alabama House of Representatives installed a $1 million system that records, displays and stores all legislative votes. House Clerk Jeff Woodard said it replaces a system that repeatedly malfunctioned last year.
All the dysfunction that took place last year during the legislative term & the only malfunction that House members want to fix is the vote counting system? Guys, you need to get your priorities straight. I'm confident that, for over a hundred years, the Alabama House was able to accurately count votes & store voting histories without the aid of a $1 million piece of equipment.
Conveniently, the Governor learned of this the day after an election that gave him another term and increased the size of the GOP supermajority in the Legislature.
The day after he won a landslide re-election victory for a second term, Gov. Robert Bentley was given an extensive briefing on the money-troubled general fund.
That is the pot of dollars which pay for prisons, Medicaid, public safety and most state needs not related to public schools.
If the timing of the Governor's briefing isn't suspicious to you, I have a nice State House for sale in Montgomery. Oh wait... it's already been purchased by a consortium led by Alabama Power & Mike Hubbard.
Hmmm.... so we need $700 million over the next couple of years to fill meet even the very basic levels of state services in Alabama. Let's look at how the GOP supermajority spent money during their first term at the helm of state government:
Airbus: $158 million in "incentives" to locate in Mobile.
Of course, if the Governor has his way, the corporate welfare payments may not affect the General Fund in the future - because the Education budget will be footing the bill. It's part of his unique "eat what you kill" funding strategy.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is preparing to seek federal approval to place private businesses' production facilities inside prison walls, joining 38 states that allow businesses to use inmate labor on prison grounds.
Prior to 2010, we were no fans of the Democratic majority in the legislature, but that was because they had the power to make things in the state better - tax reform, remove sales tax on food, ethics reform, constitution reform, etc. - but each year, those proposals died as the leadership preferred the status quo.
But the frenetic activity of the GOP supermajority has, in four short years, surpassed any damage the Democrats did with their inertia. Alabama voters re-elected them - resoundingly - and we're going to quite literally be paying the bills for years to come.
Quick! Someone asks you a simple question: "What's the median income in Alabama?" Would you... A: Use Google to find the answer on the US Bureau of the Census Web site or B: Set up a no-bid contract suggested by Bob Riley's daughter and commission a $72,000 study with a Birmingham law firm that inquired about why they weren't getting any state business?
The Alabama Personnel Department entered into a $72,000 contract with Birmingham-based Baker Donelson Bearman in June to handle legal services and determine the median household income in the state, which will determine lawmakers’ salaries in the coming year.
The contract, was negotiated in part by Minda Riley Campbell, a lobbyist who is also the daughter of former Gov. Bob Riley. It is the first Alabama government contract the law firm has received since 2009, according to state records.
Under a constitutional amendment approved by state voters in 2012, lawmakers’ pay will be fixed to the state’s median household income starting next year. While the U.S. Census Bureau tracks household income, the amendment did not specify how that should be measured, but tasks the Personnel Department with determining it.
Why not just turn to Google? Why... there are a lot of hard questions to answer!
“We want some outside legal authority to tell us which one do we use,” said Alice Ann Byrne, general counsel for the department. “Are we going to use the (household income) when they are elected in November? Do we change it in January? When do we do it? We want to make sure there’s no question.”
How is it exactly that a law firm would have the answers to those questions? Wouldn't it be a better idea to get an opinion from Alabama's attorney general (assuming he's not too busy suing the President) or ask the legislators who drafted the bill? Hey, that might make it "political."
“We are trying to make sure we don’t put the attorney general in a position to say what a lawmaker’s salary is,” Byrne said. “We’re trying to make sure there’s nothing political about it.”
Here's another question for Ms. Bryne. This is a one-year contract: will the department spend money on this every single year? And a question for Alabama's GOP legislators.... Is it remotely possible for you guys to pass a piece of legislation that makes sense and doesn't come with a sidecar load of "unintended consequences" and costs for the state?
Former Governor Bob Riley & his buddies are already cashing in on the "scholarship" programs authorized by the Alabama Accountability Act. Looks like his daughter wanted a piece of that pie as well.