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Where is the leadership?

Published 5:59am Saturday, January 26, 2013

Last week, the Republicans in the Alabama Legislature announced their agenda for the coming legislative session.

Though I agree that these issues should be priorities this year, I have several concerns about the specific details in the Republicans’ proposal.

One of the first issues the Republican leadership brought up was gun regulation. I was disappointed that the Republicans only idea was to make Alabama’s courts, which are already backlogged and underfunded, be responsible for “evaluating state laws” regarding guns.

That is not leadership. That is passing the buck.

Another one of the Republicans’ major agenda items was taxpayer accountability and paying back the $437 million borrowed from the state’s trust fund.

But here again, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature are passing the buck. Instead of offering a real solution, the Republicans have put the responsibility squarely on the governor and given him a timetable to repay the amendment without offering any ideas as to where the money will come from.

When Democrats announce our legislative agenda, we will give specific details as to how we will pay the constitutional amendment back in full with interest in three years without raising state income, property or sales taxes or cutting funding for government services.

Another accountability goal the Republicans mentioned was “streamlining government services” and “cutting wasteful spending.”

But let’s be clear about what that means. “Streamlining government services” is just another way of saying we are going to eliminate government jobs — jobs that are a significant part of Alabama’s economy and needed to provide the government services (like law enforcement, fire protection, operating Medicaid, and public education, to name a few) that we rely on.

And it is a little hypocritical to hear the Republicans talk about wasteful spending when they are the ones who have written the budgets for the past two years.

If there was all of this waste, then why didn’t they cut it before?

And why did they just ask us to borrow $437 million from the state’s savings account if we could have avoided it by cutting wasteful spending?

On education, the Republicans primary goal for this year is more flexibility in our schools.

Democrats are all for giving our teachers more freedom and flexibility in the classroom, but it’s going to take more than that to improve our schools.

We have to look at what we’re doing to keep and recruit the best educators to our schools, starting with a 10 percent pay increase to make up for the rising cost of living and the cuts to educators paychecks that the Republican supermajority passed when they took over the legislature.

We also need to look at increasing teachers’ per diem so they can buy supplies for their classrooms, and what we can do to provide our students with access to up-to-date textbooks that aren’t tearing apart.

We also have to fully funding our math and science programs. But none of that is included in the Republicans’ legislative agenda.

Healthcare is the biggest disappointment, though, in the Republicans’ legislative agenda.

The Republicans in Montgomery seem to be more concerned with playing partisan political games than they are with the health of the people of Alabama.

We have had an opportunity to expand Medicaid and bring health insurance to more the 350,000 Alabamians who are uninsured, and be in control of our health insurance exchange — all without it costing the state a dime. In fact, the state would have made a billion dollars doing it.

But the Republican leadership in Montgomery said “no.” Instead of leadership on healthcare issues, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature seem more interested in borrowing nearly a half a billion dollars from the state’s savings account to fund Medicaid and rehashing expensive legal battles over Obamacare when those legal issues have already been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

When 53 percent of the babies born in Alabama are born under Medicaid, it makes you wonder just how many abortions could be prevented if we spent those tax dollars on Medicaid instead of legal battles over contraceptives that the Republicans know the state will lose in federal court.

The agenda laid out by the Republicans in the Alabama legislature lacks leadership. It is hypocritical at times, and passes the buck to the governor and the courts instead of making the tough choices.

The Republicans wanted the responsibility; they wanted to lead. Where is the leadership?

 

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each week.

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