Where is the leadership in the state legislature?Published 6:00am Saturday, June 30, 2012
In a time when decisive action could have led to a sounder financial footing for the state, the leadership in the state legislature failed to provide leadership and instead put our children, seniors, pregnant mothers and the ill in jeopardy.
Newspapers across Alabama roundly criticized the haphazard way the state budgets were assembled to pay for critical things such as schools.
The budget process broke down so badly, a last minute fix was used that will require a vote of the people to balance the state General Fund.
Such outlandish measures were required because the leadership in our legislature tied themselves in knots of their own making.
First, they said closing corporate tax loopholes was off the table. We are the lowest tax state in the nation for corporations, with some billion-dollar corporations doing business here while paying zero state taxes.
Closing corporate loopholes would have shown real leadership and provided much needed revenue for schools that have suffered so badly during the downturn.
In fact, closing loopholes is something Gov. Bentley had begun to do last year, before bowing to political pressure from special interests this year.
The second bind was something called the Rolling Reserve Act — an ill-conceived law that withholds funding from education.
The Republican Supermajority passed this law as one of their first acts coming into power last year, with the theory that putting artificial caps on school budgets would prevent proration in the future.
But instead of avoiding cuts to our schools, next year’s budget cuts more than $207 million dollars from our schools while $150 million of our tax dollars collected for public education is sitting in the bank because of the Rolling Reserve Act.
Thirdly, legislative leaders failed to lead on the issue of Medicaid. More than one in five Alabamians are eligible for Medicaid, with hospitals and private medical practices across the state relying on Medicaid payments to provide health care to their patients.
With revenues faltering, the state House of Representatives had approved cuts for Medicaid that state health officials said would lead to deaths of children and seniors.
As the legislative session was fast running out, the Senate and governor were locked into a staring contest about where funds could be found to save Medicaid.
In the end, rather than ask multi-billion dollar corporations like ExxonMobil to pay their fair share of taxes, our legislative leaders opted for a plan that would take education money and use it to pay for Medicaid and other vital general fund programs.
But to do this requires a vote of the people to change the state constitution. So instead of offering leadership, legislative leaders passed the buck to the voters.
With power comes responsibility. Our legislative leaders wanted the power in Montgomery, but they have failed to meet their responsibility to lead. The people of Alabama deserve better.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each week.