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?
The governor, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, traveled together on the state airplane for the private hour-long lunch meeting at the U.S. Capitol with all nine members of the House and Senate from Alabama.
What these federal hating conservatives won't tell Alabama voters is that without this transfusion of federal money, Alabama's fragile economy would be in even worse shape than it currently is. For all our hating on the federal government, the money they send to Alabama is our lifeblood. We're not alone in this strange love-hate relationship with the federal government:
Support for Republican candidates, who generally promise to cut government spending, has increased since 1980 in states where the federal government spends more than it collects. The greater the dependence, the greater the support for Republican candidates.
We're fooling ourselves about our relationship with the feds, and Republican politicians are helping us do it.
The following is an op-ed from Rep. Joe Hubbard (D, Montgomery) regarding the constitutional amendment to transfer money from the Alabama Trust Fund to make up for a shortfall in the state's General Fund Budget. The question goes to voters on September 18th. --------------------------------------
Governor Bentley, the sky is not falling. We do not have to accept your Band-Aid for our state’s illness. There is time to find a cure. As a candidate, you told us that Alabama was hurting and needed a doctor. Give us the diagnosis, Governor. Steady your hand, and schedule the procedure. We cannot afford to wait three more years for an appointment.
You doggedly maintain your September 18 constitutional referendum is our last and only hope to fund Medicaid and that failing to act immediately places our state in grave peril. However, your Medicaid director testified last week that Medicaid will not feel the financial pinch until August of 2013, giving us over 11 months to make Medicaid solvent. So, whether we fix the problem in a special session or in the 2013 regular session, there is plenty of time to act. Indeed, the tobacco tax measure I proposed last session would immediately balance the Medicaid budget so we can implement measures to curb user fraud, and encourage patient responsibility. This will make Medicaid sustainable for the next thirty years, not just the next three.
Governor, the Alabama Trust Fund is not a savings account; it is an investment account put in trust to protect Alabama’s oil and gas revenues from politicians like you. Yet, these are not the facts you put before the people. You insist that transferring over $437 million dollars out of the Alabama Trust Fund is no different than transferring money from a savings account into a checking account to pay for an unexpected expense. Your September 18 referendum is more akin to dipping into your 401K each month for the next three years to pay your mortgage note without first looking for a smaller house or a better paying job. That is not just fiscally irresponsible; it is reckless.
Medicaid is not an unexpected expense. For ten years, you have known a crisis was coming, and for two years, you have had the opportunity as Governor to avoid it. Unfortunately, rather than leading us through this thicket, you hunkered down outside the line of fire, raising your head only to lodge veto threats for any measure that made Medicaid sustainable. And, now, you want the people of this state to believe that they have no choice but to squander the state’s only investment account that hasn’t been tapped for a political bailout.
You describe a parade of horribles that will plague our state if voters do not approve your referendum. You would have us believe that educators will lose funding for their schools, seniors will be kicked out of nursing homes, and young families will lose healthcare for their children. But, most egregiously, you have threatened our hardworking state employees to approve this referendum or risk losing their jobs. Governor, this is not leadership; it is extortion. Should this referendum fail, these will only be the consequences of your steadfast opposition to viable alternatives. This kind of behavior is not becoming of you or the office you hold. The people of this state deserve better.
Sadly, these fear tactics dominate the ballot language of your constitutional amendment: “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901 ... to prevent the mass release of prisoners from Alabama prisons, and to protect critical health services to Alabama children, elderly, and mothers ...” Governor, if you fear the political consequence of making Medicaid solvent, I question whether you can muster the political courage to release 17,000 prisoners. You have forced the people of this state into a dangerous game of political chicken. Either they approve your irresponsible constitutional amendment or call your bluff. The question is who will blink first.
As for me, I put my faith in the people of Alabama. I trust they can see through this political charade. Despite what your political handlers tell you, Alabamians want straight talk from their leaders, not thinly-veiled threats and a pocket full of promises. Lay the facts bare and do not fear the political consequences of doing what must be done. The sun will rise on September 19 if Alabamians reject this fool’s errand. Governor, your patient is in the waiting room. Schedule the procedure.
Well, it seems GOP nominee Mitt Romney has nothing on Alabama's own Governor Bentley when it comes to flip-flopping. If it's another day, it's a new position on Alabama's looming fiscal crisis. Bentley now says he will not raise taxes if the Sept. 18 constitutional vote fails. But just a few months ago, he said that "everything's on the table" if the amendment fails.
We go back into special session and have to deal with this issue, everything is on the table. Everything," Bentley said.
"That includes tax breaks. That includes fees. That includes taking away incentives that some of these companies have right now that they are currently enjoying," Bentley said.
Asked after his luncheon speech if "everything" would include tax increases -- something the governor has previously said he opposed -- Bentley replied, "I think the statement speaks for itself."
"I have made a promise to the people of this state that I'm not going to increase taxes on the families of this state. And I'm going to live up to my word," Bentley said in an interview.
Bentley also said he would oppose any broad-based taxes proposed in coming months and veto them if they're passed by the Legislature. The next regular legislative session starts Feb. 5. He also said his opposition to new taxes would include any proposed tax increases on tobacco or soft drinks.
You got that, voters? Bentley's going to "live up to his word" and we know what that means. Just look at recent history:
Gov. Bentley vowed to veto the "tweak" to the immigration bill. That was before he signed it.
Gov. Bentley promised to veto the budget unless Medicaid was funded. That was before he signed a budget that relies on voters to do the funding.
Gov. Bentley said that Mitt Romney should release his taxes to remove any suspension that Romney has "anything to hide." Just a day or so later, Bentley ate his words.
Gov. Bentley told us that "all options" are on the table if the 9/18 vote fails. But now it's not.
Here's a great gift suggestion for the governor & his wife. If you ever get invited to supper at their home, consider a tasteful bottle of "Flip Flop" wine. It's the gift for GOP politicians this year.
Democratic leaders in the Legislature are critical of Bentley's decision to tie the hands of legislators should the referendum fail.
State Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said he believes harmful cuts in Medicaid and mental health services would follow if the referendum fails and no taxes are raised by Bentley, a Republican, and the Republican-controlled Legislature.
"They don't understand that in tough times leaders have to step forward or the taxpayers suffer," Bedford said.
"I'm shocked that the governor has taken such an intransigent position, and frankly, such a short-sighted and irresponsible position," [Rep. Joe] Hubbard said.
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the top-ranking state senator, said some legislators have signed a no-tax pledge. "I don't see any appetite for any type of tax increases," Marsh said.
Even Republicans are calling the Norquist pledge "irresponsible." Governor Bentley and Republican leaders in the Legislature should reconsider their priorities. Alabama is a not-very-wealthy state with declining tax revenues and an outdated tax structure inadequate for funding even a minimum level of services. In thrall to Norquist, their only plan for dealing with the shortfall is to eat our seed corn -- and let the devil take the future. Republicans are afraid to put forth any ideas for dealing with the structural deficiencies at the root of this and other budget crises.
If voters refuse to allow them to raid the Alabama Trust Fund next month, Bentley and the other Grover Norquist disciples in Alabama should resign and make way for leaders who have the courage, will and freedom to deal with the problem. Literally, lives are at stake in the state budget. It's irresponsible to delegate those decisions to Norquist, who is a lobbyist, not a public servant.
I haven't decided how I'll vote on this question and I suspect many other progressives are conflicted as well. The Alabama Democratic Party advises a "YES" vote. One of the best progressive organizations in the state, Alabama Arise, has put together a fact sheet on the $437.4 million transfer request. Arise members will meet in Birmingham this Saturday to hammer out a recommendation on this question.
I'd much rather be voting on changes to the tax structure and am tempted to vote "NO" on principle -- after all, this is nothing more than a short-term band-aid and definitely not the right way to shore up the general fund. But the September 18th vote is a game of chicken with the extremists controlling our legislature.
Will our GOP supermajorities really hurt little children and their mothers if we don't give them the money now?
By the way, doesn't it violate some state ethics code to have Bentley using the state seal and the alabama.gov website to electioneer for Mitt Romney?
"I fully support Mitt Romney and his vision for our country, and I will do everything I can to help get him elected."
What about Section 17-7-5 of the Code of Alabama?
(a) No person in the employment of the State of Alabama, a county, a city, a local school board, or any other governmental agency, whether classified or unclassified, shall use any state, county, city, local school board, or other governmental agency funds, property, or time, for any political activities.