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.
Losing a child, no matter how it happens, is every parent's nightmare. But the thought of a murdered 8-year-old little girl horrifies everyone. Governor Bentley though, had an odd way of sharing his thoughts on the matter last week:
Television station WPMI reported that Bentley was asked about the death while he was making a visit to Mobile, Ala. for a manufacturing conference.
"There are things that happen we just don’t understand," Bentley said, according to the TV station. "There are difficulties in families. We don’t know, maybe drug related. Maybe alcohol related. Maybe family problems. We just don’t know what the situation is."
In contrast to a rather mishandled response by the Governor's office, Lt. Governor candidate James Fields responded with a thoughtful, graceful tribute on his campaign Facebook page:
I am grieving for the loss of Hiawayi Robinson and want to send my deepest condolences to her family, friends and the entire community. The loss of a child is especially tragic. We must all work together to stop the violence in every neighborhood throughout our state. Blame should never be placed automatically without the facts. That's what the American legal system is based on and it applies to every person and every family.
I know law enforcement is working as hard as they can to bring the perpetrator to justice. I pray that happens soon and again would like to console Hiawayi's family.
-James Fields Jr.
There's how you do it, Governor.
Full disclosure: A family member is a paid staffer for the Fields campaign.
Alabama's Doctor Governor Bentley needs a doctor himself if his recent public statements are any indication. There's this nugget from a speech yesterday: "The federal government needs to look at Alabama. I'll tell them how to run the government."
Ok, so there are some good things that other parts of the country could emulate. By & large, the people here are friendly and care about their neighbors. We're willing to help in disasters - so much so that willing volunteers get turned away because there is too much help on hand. Overall, people have pretty good traffic manners: I'd rather drive here than in many other places. The cost of housing isn't outrageous & most commutes are quite short by big city standards. We have a vibrant arts community and a lot of beautiful, unspoiled land.
But Governor Bentley didn't mean that. He was talking about education and economic development, which leads us to wonder if he's either on medication or needs some.
Why would any other state - let alone the federal government! - want to copy Alabama? This is hardly a record to aspire to:
The study argues that expanding Medicaid would bring a number of financial benefits, as well, both for recipients and governments. It estimates a reduction in the number of Alabamians facing "catastrophic,"out-of-pocket health costs of 10,500. The total reduction among all holdout states would be 255,000. Also, 33,400 fewer Alabamians and 810,000 fewer Americans overall would have trouble paying other bills because of medical costs if the other states expanded, the study argues.
For states, the report states, declining federal expansion funds will cost states $88 billion through 2016. Alabama will lose $3.63 billion in federal funds and will miss out on 15,100 additional jobs and $2.65 billion in increased economic activity through 2017, according to the study.
Nationwide, the holdout states could boost employment by 379,000 jobs through 2017 and increase economic activity by $66 billion if they all expanded Medicaid, according to the report.
The UAB study projected the state would gain some $6.8 billion in federal funds through 2017, with an indirect economic impact of 4.7 billion.
A follow-up study by the University of Alabama last year, commissioned by the Alabama Hospital Association, estimated an even greater employment impact – some 30,000 new jobs.
The bulk of those losses came from the public sector. Despite local governments adding 1,300 jobs, state government shed nearly 4,000 positions, for a net loss of 2,600 jobs in Alabama government.
But beyond the state's shrinking government, Alabama's private sector is shrinking, too. Employment in Alabama's private sector shrank by about 1,000 jobs from May to June, according to the report.
The construction, financial activities and education and health services industries each shed jobs from May to June, the report shows. Construction employment remains below 80,000 jobs; at its peak, Alabama's construction industry employed more than 110,000 people.
Don't worry campers! The GOP Supermajority has a plan! Lay off more state workers. What the heck... we don't need those stinking crime labs, state troopers, or people auditing state inventory, right?
The leader of the Alabama Senate on Monday emphatically rejected the possibility of new taxes to address a looming budget shortfall in 2015, instead saying the answer could be further reductions in the state's work force.
We certainly need to trim the state payroll in one place: the Legislature. We have a crew down there now with no interest in good government. They exist to serve their campaign contributors and line their pockets in the revolving door from legislator to lobbyist.
No doubt Decatur, AL tubing manufacturer, Wolverine, is thrilled that the state is funding a competitor. Not just any competitor: Chinese-owned "Golden Dragon Copper" has opened in Wilcox County and is getting a pretty sweet deal.
Capital income credits worth up to $160 million over 20 years
$20 million in state economic development discretionary incentives
$8.5 million in property tax abatements
$5.1 million in sales and use tax abatements
$5.7 million for an industrial road and bridge to support the plant
$1.8 million in worker training services
Site purchase, prep and water and sewer improvements worth about $1 million.
The plant itself is worth $100 million, so the state is giving the manufacturer twice that to move here and provide jobs for 300 people with wages that average $15/hour.
Now, let's do some math on that one:
$193 million for 300 jobs equals about $643k/job.
The company says it will employ more than 300 people at that point. The current work force stands at about 150; the full ramp up is estimated to take 18 months.
However, local and state business recruiters say they expect employment to eventually climb to as many as 500 jobs, and company officials -- without pinpointing numbers -- said there would be future growth.
Let's see... we started with 150 jobs, which makes that state's contribution over a million dollars a job. That number will fall when the full workforce of 300 is employed - in 18 months - and then maybe... maybe... there will be 500 jobs. Sometime, Maybe. That total will bring the cost per job down to $386,000/job.
Governor Bentley & others say this is a great thing, and indeed, Wilcox County & surrounding areas is very poor and underdeveloped.
Supporters also point to the ancillary jobs that will come from the opening: more people spending money at local stores, eating in restaurants, visiting the doctor, etc. Oddly though, they ignore "the multipler effect" when it comes to Medicaid expansion.
Expanding Medicaid in Alabama would cost a lot less and create a lot more jobs in the state. At the same time we're handing millions in taxpayer money over to a Chinese company - and ignoring a competitor who's been in operation in Alabama since 1912 - we refuse the economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.
Expanding Medicaid would have brought the state $2.1 billion in federal money and created a minimum of 30,000 new jobs. And it would create a healthier, more productive workforce. But we can't implement such a commonsense, affordable jobs program in Alabama, can we?
According to our Doctor Governor, the Education budget benefits when the state hands over hundreds of millions in corporate welfare payments, so why shouldn't schools pay for it? No joke, campers.
It's not enough that Alabama spends millions in "no strings attached" corporate "incentives." that nobody ever investigates later to see if they were good deals for the state. Now, the Governor thinks that the Education budget should fund it.
"We have to look at who actually pays for it and who actually benefits," Bentley said last week. "If you look right now, the general fund pays for incentives, but the education budget is the one that gets the benefit."
Alabama is one of a few states with two budgets funded by separate revenue streams. Though incentives are largely paid for with money from or diverted from the general fund budget, many of the benefits of new job creation — including income and sales taxes — flow into the education budget.
"That's something we're going to look at," Bentley said. "If education is benefiting from it, we need to look and see if some of the incentive money should come from that way. ... Whoever benefits ought to pay."
The state has agreed to provide more than $6 million in incentives for Toyota's V6 engine expansion, including $1 million for capital costs incurred by the company in developing, constructing and equipping the facility, $400,000 for industrial access roads and $4.8 million for job training.
"Job training." Ok... so I'm more than a couple of decades old, but I remember - in the "good old days" - that my employers trained me, not the State of Alabama.
"According to the developer, it's still a little bit short. That's where Limestone County is going to have to come in. (Decatur) can't do anything else." [...] Limestone County Commissioner Gary Daly said the school system is likely to see an additional $1 million per year from the development and should "ante up."
But that doesn't stop the state from spending millions to defend unconstitutional bills that the legislature enthusiastically passes:
The Alabama Attorney General's Office spends tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars every year to fight for Alabama laws the United States Federal Courts have ruled unconstitutional. From abortion to immigration, Alabama laws keep pushing the envelope and pushing up the price tag for tax payers.
This is money that comes out of the state budget. Money that can't be spent on education, health care, roads, oversight, crime labs, or any other necessary piece of state government Instead, it funds the GOP's jobs program for lawyers:
"The attorney general's office handles challenges to the constitutionality of state laws in-house with salaried staff attorneys, and there is no breakdown for costs as this is handled as part of their regular duties. In the case of abortion litigation, some money will be paid for expert fees. In one of the immigration cases, the state was ordered to pay $350,000 in legal fees, and the matter of legal fees in another case is in litigation."
Although the GOP supermajority has been unable - or unwilling - to fund even the minimum amount of state services without borrowing, Governor Bentley is running for re-election on a platform of "fiscal responsibility." At this same rally, he bragged:
"When he took office, Bentley said he inherited an $8 billion budget and, with the hard work of state legislators, saved taxpayers $1.1 billion.
Employment is still the Governor’s focus. He told the audience he would do everything he could to help independent and small businesses."
Really. What "hard work" did the legislature do besides scheduling a special election and threatening to kick Grandma out of the nursing home if voters didn't approve the "loan?" And all I've ever seen the Governor do for "business" is support huge corporate welfare giveaways to any multi-national with a color-copied business plan.
Big Luther & our Doctor Governor aren't leaders. They're just a couple of con artists with access to the state's bank accounts & credit cards.
Monday Governor Robert Bentley engaged in one of the most unconscionable acts to date during his time as governor. After appearing at a statewide news conference in which he stressed the severity of the coming winter storm and admonished Alabama drivers to stay off the roads Bentley - inexplicably and in the same breath - ordered the state's public servants to report to work Tuesday despite the threat, and in doing so placed many lives in danger without apology.
For those beyond these Southern climes who may chuckle at such conditions, you're failing to realize that only those who have lived in areas regularly affected by ice and snow are experienced in how to drive in such conditions. These conditions included a large volume of freezing rain which accumulated throughout the day. And Alabama's resources aren't such that the state can dispatch large fleets of trucks to salt or sand roads and take similar measures.
By issuing such a statement Bentley essentially admitted he does not value the lives of state workers. Or worse, he harbors such contempt for them and is so fixated instead on pandering to his Tea Party base, that he believes he'll score points with that crowd by wantonly endangering the well-being of state workers and scoffing at their welfare. Schools had closed, many municipal offices in the area had closed and some counties were closing their road systems altogether. The City of Montgomery, Montgomery County and even Maxwell Air Force Base had released their non-essential workers. Yet Bentley sadistically and without conscience had ordered state workers to report to work and continued to hold them there without any regard for their safety until nearly mid-day, several hours into the development of dangerous conditions.
Around 11 a.m. Tuesday word leaked out that Bentley had ordered state agencies to remain open, leaving who to dismiss up to agency heads and ordered agencies to work with a "skeleton crew" according to Montgomery television station WSFA. Too little, too late. And even that act reeked of cowardice in that Bentley was dodging the resulting heat from the very workers he was endangering by shifting the responsibility to his agency heads.
Even as the minute-by-minute, heightening warnings were issued by meteorologists and Emergency Management officials about the rapidly deteriorating conditions coupled with stern warnings to stay off the roads, Bentley held state workers hostage in the workplace. Even as reports filtered in about countless accidents on the roads, including one that resulted in two fatalities in Elmore County--five fatalities have been reported statewide so far--Governor Bentley still wouldn't release his iron grip on state workers, forcing them to sit helpless as conditions became increasingly dangerous, petrified of what may await them on the roads by the time the governor might finally relent and allow workers to leave even though conditions were already highly dangerous for traveling. It was a position in which they should have never been placed.
Governor Bentley's deplorable inaction during this statewide emergency directly endangered the lives of state workers, the very public servants who enable our state government to function and meet the needs of Alabama's citizens. And worse, we can only assume that Bentley's inexplicable and reckless lack of action in this matter was a misguided attempt to appease his right-wing base that seems to treat bashing state workers as sport. Meteorologists across the state were clear and consistent in expressing the great danger this winter storm would bring, so there was no excuse for any employer - and especially our state's chief executive - to take such a dangerous risk with the lives of others. The governor's order to state workers was dangerous. It was reckless. It was contemptible and it is unforgivable.
Governor Beshear clearly explains both the public health and economic benefits Kentucky after the implementation of Medicaid expansion and health care reform:
PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville concluded that expanding Medicaid would inject $15.6 billion into Kentucky’s economy over the next eight years, create almost 17,000 new jobs, have an $802.4 million positive budget impact (by transferring certain expenditures from the state to the federal government, among other things), protect hospitals from cuts in indigent care funding and shield businesses from up to $48 million in annual penalties.
And yet Kentucky's governor - a lawyer - is the one saying "we can't afford not to expand Medicaid."
In 2010, Robert Bentley's campaign signs said "Dr. Robert Bentley" and his slogan was "Alabama Needs A Doctor." It sounded great, but now our "Doctor Governor" admits that his Medicaid and exchange decisions have nothing to do with what's best for the state: it's all about politics.
“I have a long-term goal for this. My long term goal is to resist the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and I believe we are going to succeed in that,” Bentley said.
Heck, if only we could exchange our "Doctor" governor for Kentucky's "Lawyer" governor. Alabama would be a much healthier in so many ways.
From George Corley Wallace standing in a doorway at the University of Alabama to block the entry of black students to Robert Bentley assuming his position in the doorway of the National Guard to prevent same-sex partners from receiving benefits, sadly the attitudes of our state’s leaders haven’t changed much in the past half century.
Even as our federal government has amended its woefully discriminatory policies that denied benefits to the same-sex partners/spouses of federal workers, Governor Bentley has vowed to do just the opposite, rolling back the clock and insisting that when National Guard personnel are under his control, the state will deny said benefits.
It’s insulting to anyone who places his or her life on the line to serve their country only to be told by the very government they serve that they are somehow inferior or flawed and should therefore be treated as less than their peers.
Discriminating against National Guard personnel who happen to be LGBT individuals does not qualify as “patriotism,” and it certainly doesn’t equate to “supporting our troops,” as Alabamians are quick to insist how passionately we support our country and those who serve it. To the contrary, it’s openly hostile to those who serve our country and is little more than a clenched fist exercise in discrimination typically fueled by misguided ignorance and fear.
Scoring political points by appealing to one’s conservative base should not come at the expense of anyone’s basic human rights. This fundamental concept of fairness is best summed up in the Gospel according to Luke: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (Luke 6:31). It is generally known as The Golden Rule, to treat others as you would want to be treated. Most of us learn it as children and it has served us well throughout our lives.
Pandering political stances should never trump equality and doing what is right, especially in a nation in which we pride ourselves on equal opportunity and individual liberties. And denying equal treatment to anyone who serves and defends our country is a slap in the face to everyone who has ever put on a uniform and an affront to the unwavering idea that we’re all created equal and should be treated accordingly.
It was my first foray into the frenzy of college football. Neyland Stadium is fairly overwhelming, especially for a child. Wrapped up in the excitement of the game day atmosphere only SEC rivalry games can provide, I was nonetheless stuck between a crimson rock and a big orange hard place. Third Saturday of October - if you don’t know what it really means, you clearly ain’t from around here.
As a native of East Tennessee – Union County - and with my loyal Big Orange fan mother and grandmother next to me in the stands, I had opted for the UT sweatshirt, which nonetheless left me gripped by pangs of betrayal considering my father was a long-time Alabama devotee, also sitting next to me.
The ladies seemed satisfied. Dad offered little more than a good-natured smirk. Alabama was ranked second in the nation. Tennessee wasn’t on the charts.
The end of the first quarter seemed to be an ideal time for a potty break, and it did not go unnoticed when I returned sans the Tennessee sweatshirt, revealing the Alabama t-shirt underneath. Dad’s smirk disappeared. Roll Tide, y’all. The Crimson die had been cast, and I haven’t wavered since.
Final score: Alabama 56, Tennessee 28.
* * * Most wouldn’t waste breath nitpicking the nuances of team loyalty. Ultimately no one is affected, even if you flip and flop like a fish out of water depending on how a season unfolds and what the rankings reflect. But the same cannot be applied to matters of public policy… and it especially shouldn’t be a prime characteristic of a state’s chief executive, namely being chronically fickle and unapologetically wading in a pool of contradictions.
When Gov. Robert Bentley spoke of “school choice,” specifically the “right” for parents to send their children from a failing public school to a public school which isn’t in academic peril, it made sense. It seemed fair. Most Alabamians wouldn’t advocate condemning a child to a dismal and unfulfilling scholastic life.
But when the Alabama Senate reverted to the depressing days of shady deals struck in smoky back rooms, gutting a “school choice” bill and supplanting it with a naked grab to subsidize private school education, remarkably Bentley didn’t blink. Like an awkward, pimple-ridden teen desperate for acceptance from everyone, he readily jumped on board with the new bill, despite his advocacy for public school choice. The new bill of course not only forces taxpayers to subsidize a private education for others, it would amount to corporate welfare for profit-driven private businesses and further deplete already woefully scarce resources for our public schools.
It was standing room only at the Scottsboro Boys Museum on Friday as a diverse group of Alabamians celebrated the long-overdue pardon of the young men wrongfully accused of rape during Depression-era Alabama. Governor Robert Bentley, Rep. Laura Hall, Senator Arthur Orr, and others were on hand for the event.
Governor Bentley gave an excellent speech. As much as I enjoy kicking him around when he does dumb stuff, I have to commend his performance last week. In a gracious speech that hit all the right notes, Bentley started with "It's never too late to do the right thing."
Bentley signed the bill allowing for a posthumous pardon and then signed a resolution actually pardoning the youths.
Other speakers described the legislative process, their role in it, and every one credited Scottsboro Boys Museum organizer Shelia Washington with the success of the effort. Without Washington's years of work, tireless efforts to tell the story of the case, and her ability to build bridges between different groups, the pardon would never have happened. She joked at one point that people were surprised at how she had brought together Democratic & Republican legislators to pass bills with zero opposition. "People have told me I need to run for office," she laughed.
But that's no laughing matter: I'd vote for her with no qualms.
Two video clips from the event are on the flip and more are coming later in the week. My apologies for the delay in posting, but I've been traveling for the past 4 days.....
"'We need to remember we are dealing with human life and this is what God expects us to do,' Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said at a Montgomery rally organized by abortion opponents in Montgomery." --CBS News
Lots of people through history have sincerely believed they were doing God's Will.
POP QUIZ1: Name the author
"The folkish-minded man, in particular, has the sacred duty, each in his own denomination, of making people stop just talking superficially of God's will, and actually fulfill God's will,and not let God's word be desecrated. For God's will gave men their form, their essence and their abilities. Anyone who destroys His work is declaring war on the Lord's creation, the divine will."
A: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
POP QUIZ2:Fill in the blank:
"Power has always been the center of ________'s thinking. These people are obsessed with being in a position of power, sexually and in general life as well. They thrive on the feeling of being in charge and they will go to any extent to make sure they are."
A: Serial Killers
Executing Divine Judgment has always been a popular notion. The Yorkshire Ripper claimed God was telling him to murder prostitutes in 1981. A waiter who cut off his manager's head with a cheese knife explained to the Court that "God told me to do it".
Call me Captain Obvious, but I thought the US Constitution prevented People Who Hear Voices from making laws based on the assumption that the Voices in question are the Almighty. Is the Governor now claiming what amounts to Papal Infallibility? Is he issuing a fatwa? Was he elected to do this?
I also thought modern jurisprudence made it clear that our laws are not to be based on some individual's interpretation of Holy Scripture. They get it wrong, you see. They get it wrong a LOT. Then again, sometimes they get it right - and the horrific results can be seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran today.
I hate to drag out poor old Galileo again, but he is a great example of what happens when Scripture is applied to the Law based on an erroneous understanding of both. The Vatican had a few verses from the Book of Joshua that they interpreted as meaning the Sun revolved around the Earth. Penalties for disagreeing with "God" were pretty severe: torture, burning, and excommunication were all on the menu. Galileo recanted his heretical support of Copernicus' notion that the Earth revolved around the Sun and received a life sentence of house arrest rather than be burned at the stake.
POP QUIZ 3: Was Galileo ever vindicated by the Church?
A: Galileo was later acquitted by the Pope - in 1980.
A:The Congregation of the Holy Office was officially supplanted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith during Vatican II – in 1962/65.
And for the "America is a Christian Nation" crowd, I urge them to take a look at how an American Christian Nation actually operated back in the Good Old Days. The Founders weren't whistling "Dixie" when they wrote the Establishment Clause:
POP QUIZ5: Name five penalties for disagreeing with a Puritan
A: They might be hung, burnt for witchcraft, killed, put in the stockades, or pinned while people threw rotten fruit. For lying they might burn a hole in your tongue. For stealing they might chop off your fingers. Sunday Law
The Bible has been used to justify almost every horror ever perpetuated by man. Slavery, concubinage, stoning, burning, torture, seizure of personal property, excommunication, banishment - they all had their adherents and believers among the Righteous. They may be "well meaning", but that's hardly an excuse for allowing them to ignore the law and enshrine their primitive religious notions into the State Constitution.
When the Religious Right of today becomes the Sanhedrin of tomorrow, we have effectively created a Theocracy.
POP QUIZ6: Who and what was the Sanhedrin?
A: It was a Jewish court that ruled exclusively on religious matters. Comprised of 20-23 Righteous Men, it was famous for condemning Jesus for blasphemy, among other things.
After the antics that unfolded Thursday in the Alabama Legislature, no citizen of this state should trust their lawmakers again… and we certainly shouldn’t trust our representatives with our tax dollars.
For months Republicans in the “super majority” assured us that a bill they were pushing, specifically called “school flexibility,” was not to open a back door to private school vouchers or charter schools. They insisted that we trust them, though their Democratic counterparts voiced honest concerns… then they effectively pulled a cheap, dishonest hoax on every citizen in our state.
With no warning, and cowardly behind closed doors, Republicans leaders completely altered the so-called “school flexibility bill,” drastically ballooning the legislation to include publicly-funded private school tax freebies. The provision was added even after the House had passed a much different form of the bill.
The conspirators then rushed the bill to the floor of the Senate – inexcusably calling for a vote before the bill could be properly vetted – then passed it, at which time Governor Robert Bentley promised he would sign it into law and said he was proud of it. Rep. John England (D-Tuscaloosa) insisted a majority of lawmakers hadn’t even read the latest version of the bill.
Even State Superintendent Tommy Bice immediately responded by calling them out. He stated he did not support such a bill, nor had he been able to read it either. According to Bice, the version of the bill passed hadn’t even been seen by the Alabama Department of Education. The Alabama Association of School Boards also withdrew its support for the bill.
The bill, which will assuredly become law, offers a whopping 80 percent tax credit to families who want to send their child to a private, for-profit school if their child is currently attending a “failing” school as defined by the U.S. Dept. of Education. The credit isn't based on a family's financial need either as wealthy families would receive the same tax giveaway.
How can a state whose leaders insist our state coffers are empty afford to cut off even more revenue for offering such tax breaks?
How is it equitable to force taxpayers to subsidize a child’s voluntary, non-essential private school education?
How does it not qualify as “redistribution of wealth” to take from Alabama taxpayers and give their money to a private, for-profit business operating as a school? Isn’t that an undeniable example of “corporate welfare?”
And if our state has the resources to dole out such freebies, then why aren’t we applying those resources to improve our “failing” public schools?
Like adulterous lovers sneaking around seedy parts of town and meeting at scummy fleabag hotels to evade public scrutiny in an effort to conceal their dirty deeds, no different are the actions of the majority party in the Alabama Legislature. If these lawmakers genuinely felt they were doing the right thing for Alabamians with this bill, then they wouldn’t be completely altering legislation in secret, passing bills without giving ample time for review, and they certainly wouldn’t have been lying to the citizens of Alabama all these months.
Citizens of Alabama should always be inquisitive when it comes to the actions of their elected leaders. With the passage of this bill we must go further and regrettably treat every bill introduced in either chamber from this day forward as suspect. Our trust has been violated and exploited to pass a bill which does little more than line the pockets of private school owners and further erode support for our public schools.
We in the "reality-based community" celebrated the election a week ago & then moved on to the serious business of moving this country forward. But those in the Fox News/GOP echo chamber just won't let it so. Whether they're trying to secede from the United States, blame the electorate for their loss, or try (once again!) to overturn an election via impeachment, they're spending a LOT more time trying to deny reality than they are trying to change hearts and minds.
Here are a few sad, sad examples from Alabama.
The Greater Birmingham Republican Women, coming off an election where the GOP was totally decimated in Jefferson County, published a newsletter promising to "BELIEVE AND NEVER GIVE UP!" It includes this noxious soup of racism, conspiracy theory, and McCarthyism:
The assault on Liberty we witnessed Tuesday, as was the case in 2008, was led primarily by those on urban "ObamaNation Plantations," those who depend on what Obama calls "redistributive justice" from the rest of us in order to survive. They account for almost 60 (SIXTY) percent of Obama's constituents, and Socialist Democrats are masters of co-opting (read: "buying") their allegiance and getting them to the polls. The good news is that about 10 million fewer Obama voters showed up in 2012, despite his billion-dollar campaign.
Words of Encouragement. Patriots, we were dealt an awful body blow on Tuesday, and the odds we face in our quest to restore Liberty and Rule of Law enshrined in our Declaration and Constitution may seem insurmountable.
Alabama has until until Friday to decide whether the state will set up a health insurance exchange or let the feds do it. So why hasn't the governor explained to voters what's going on? Simple: like so many Republicans, he's in total denial. Perhaps Bentley is hoping that the quixotic petition to secede from the union will somehow dissolve the USA before the end of the week.
Don't laugh. These are the folks who were absolutely certain that Romney wouldn't just win: he would win in a "landslide."
Actually, our Governor appears to be living in an imagined past were George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door actually worked. Prior to last week's election, Bentley was pinning his hopes on passage of Amendment 6 - the ACA "opt out" amendment:
Bentley said the approval of Amendment 6 would provide more vocal power to refuse implementation of health care reform.
So we're just going to yell so loudly that the federal government says "never mind?" No, more likely the state will end up wasting another couple of million in legal fees fighting a law we're going to have to comply with anyway.
But never fear campers! Bentley's office is bucking up the troops, whipping the TEA Party groups across the state into line with this sort of stream-of-consciousness nonsense:
Governor Robert Bentley believes that the Affordable Health Care Act is the single worst piece of legislation to be passed in our lifetimes. He believes it is neither affordable nor about health care and he is exploring all possible avenues through which he can stop this law from ever being implemented in Alabama. This includes all legal and political options and he is reaching out to all conservaive governors to get as many as possible to join him in his fight against this unjustified and unwise federal intrusion. As a part of this effort, Governor Bentley has appointed a tribunal of lawyers with expertise in constitutional law and this health care bill to advise him on the options our state has as it relates to this legislation. Furthermore, Governor Bentley participated in a conference call with 20+ other governors from across the nation on this very issue on Friday morning and will attend a meeting with those governors next week. Just this aftertoon, Governor Bentley and Governor Rick Perry of Texas had a long phone conversation where Governor Perry agreed with Governor Bentley regarding his thoughts on fighting this legislation and opposing its implementation in conservative states. Governor Bentley feels that the best course of action would be for as many conservative governors as possible to work together to determine the best course of action as it relates to this issue. Again, Governor Bentley is leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to build a coalition of conservative governors to devise a legal strategy that would give our state, and all conservative states, the best defense.
Breathe a sigh of relief.... Governor Bentley is appointing lawyers, having conference calls, and chatting with Rick Perry about how to get around the requirements.
When Gov. Bentley gave his "sky is falling" speech in Huntsville on Monday, he warned that the state could lose 24,000 jobs if Congress slashes federal spending. On Wednesday, Mitt Romney claimed at one point during the debate that his secret economic plan will "create 12 million jobs" shortly before he shouted at President Obama at the end "government doesn't create jobs!"
Here's how Bentley described potential dire scenario that awaits us:
"This area of the state will be faced with a tremendous challenge if sequestration takes place and you know that. And I know your Congressman knows that," Bentley said, nodding to U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, who was in the audience.
"24,000 people will lose their jobs in Alabama if sequestration takes place and many of them will be in Huntsville, Alabama. We have got to hope and pray our congress and our president makes sure that does not take place so we do not lose those companies and lose those jobs."
How does the Governor square this statement with the GOP's "government doesn't create jobs" mantra? Apparently nobody in the crowd - not even the reporter covering the event - asked.
Furthermore, how does Bentley seriously stand next to Mo Brooks and whine about government spending cuts? The Congressman is, after all, the guy who told us in April that the deficit is the greatest threat our nation faces. But in the next breath he said:
Brooks also discussed sequestration, automatic across-the-board cuts to the Department of Defense and other federal agencies beginning in 2013.
"It's so dramatic, it must be stopped," said Brooks, who serves on the Armed Services and Science, Space and Technology committees.
Welcome to the "have it both ways club," campers!
It's part of the basic cognitive dissonance we in North Alabama have grown used to among our many government & military-industrial-complex workers. Drive through Research Park & expect to be amazed by the many Romney stickers. Talk with the folks driving the cars and listen to the opinion that government spending is wasteful - except the spending that provides their paychecks. Call them on it and receive an earful about how "______ pays my salary, NOT the government!" um.... ever wonder where your employer gets that money, those contracts, etc?
It's a frustrating attitude of denied dependency that permeates the local political scene.
Now, we're used to Mitt Romney disagreeing with himself. There are so many examples that an entire Web site - MittRomneyFlipFlops.com - is devoted to them. Still, it's important to remember that this isn't an isolated thing: his fellow Republicans aren't any more consistent, particularly on spending issues.
Bentley said he hopes a federal Internet tax law will be approved by 2015 so Alabama can start getting millions of dollars a year from Internet sales taxes and end the need to seek more funds from the ATF. The Internet tax is not a sure thing, however.
It certainly isn't a "sure thing" because Alabama's GOP representatives are just as deluded as the Governor. The whole group is more concerned about Grover Norquist than the citizens who elected them.
Bentley said he believes the hold-up in Alabama's congressional delegation has been a lack of education and a belief that their support of the legislation would be spun to say they're backing new taxes.
But they are softening, he said.
"I believe we have most of our House members on board. We need to encourage our senators to get on board. I think they're getting there. They need encouragement from local people," he said.
Alabama law already requires citizens to pay state taxes on their Internet purchases. There's a line item on the state income tax form for it, but Bentley admits that "few people" pay the tax. And those who don't will almost certainly view the change as a "tax increase."
So why call this a "bailout?" Because if Bentley were really serious about collecting what he says is "a tax that's already owed," then he could call the legislature into session and do it himself. California did it just a few weeks ago! This UAB study estimates the state could collect $1 billion over 5 years. Although that seems a bit optimistic, Bentley is using the study to make his case.
Let's remember the constant "gloom & doom" refrain from Bentley & the GOP supermajority prior to the September 18 vote. There was just no money, they told voters, and the only way to keep Grandma in the nursing home was to loot the Alabama Trust Fund. And now, they're touting this UAB study that shows the money was available all along - as much as $200 million/year, far more than we're sucking out of the state's savings account.
Why didn't they tap the Internet sales resource first? Political cowardice and continued dependency on the Federal government to bail out the state because our leaders can't behave like grownups.
Looks like the Alabama GOP legislative supermajority may cost the state even more money. Their inability to balance the #$$%$ budget without a voter bailout is going to cost us in more ways than one. Not only are we pulling a huge chunk out of the state savings account and thereby decreasing future revenue going into the General Fund, we may end up paying higher interest on state bonds:
Hampton said, "The state is essentially planning, at least for the next several years, to be subsidizing its General Fund operations with these funds that are not part of its normal revenues."
"It shows the state is not in structural balance. Its ongoing revenues are not supporting its normal ongoing expenses," he said.
"Obviously, if you're out of balance like that, that's a sign of budgetary stress and weakness and potentially weak management practices that are allowing that to continue," Hampton said. [...] The article said, "The state's planned multi-year use of those funds signals that its structural budget imbalance will make it difficult to implement the intended repayment. Inability to adopt a plan to return to structurally balanced General Fund operations could negatively affect the state's rating."
Credit ratings affect the state's pocketbook and, therefore, taxpayers' pocketbooks. The lower the rating, the higher the interest rate a state must pay when it borrows money by selling bonds.
"The rating matters," said John Sinsheimer, director of capital markets in Gov. Pat Quinn's budget office. "If we save money on interest rates, then we can put more money into services." [...] But financial analysts said that compared to top-rated states, Illinois is paying somewhere between 1.2 percent and 1.5 percent more in annual interest on long-term bonds.
That suggests an additional cost in the ballpark of $25 million to $30 million annually in the early years of a $2 billion bond issue. The amount would decline as the bonds are gradually paid off. That's a lot of money but not enough to have a major effect on the state budget.
Now let's remember.... the legislators asked voters to pull over $400 million out of the Alabama Trust Fund. Interest from the ATF supports the General Fund. Huge withdrawals from the AFT reduces the principal, meaning less money transferred into the General Fund. Lower General Fund revenues make it much harder to repay the "loan" from the ATF - perhaps that's why the Constitutional amendment approved by voters didn't include any repayment options....
More & more budget stress makes it harder for the state to repay its obligations, cover current needs, and borrow money for infrastructure & other vital economic development projects.
Moody's just fired a warning shot over the Alabama statehouse & governor's mansion. Will the GOP supermajority pay attention?