If the past is our guide, most candidates for seats in the state House, Senate and governor’s mansion will lay out a fiction for the electorate: 1. State government is burdensome. 2. Taxes are too high. 3. State government needs less money, not more.
Of course, we can see from experience that “strong regulation” and “state government” are words that rarely go together in Alabama. Nope. Alabama likes to run its government on the cheap, and we’ve got the bad infrastructure, loose regulations and weak social safety net to prove it.
The public face our governor and the Republicans running the show in Montgomery put forward is of proud Alabama conservatives, constantly protecting residents from the tax collector.
Their private actions tell another story.
Since 2008, per-patient taxes on nursing homes doubled, from $1,900 a year in 2009 to $4,028 in 2012. The reasons are complicated but boil down to this: In order to provide the minimum matching amount required to participate in the federal government’s Medicaid program, Alabama needed more revenue.
So, over several years Alabama quietly raised taxes on nursing home patients, first when Democrats held majorities in the Legislature and since late 2010 when Republicans were in charge.
The rationale from state leaders is: Alabama needed more money to continue qualifying for Medicaid. The nursing home industry asked for the tax increases as a matter of survival. Without Medicaid, the nursing home business would dry up in the state.
Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with this. It takes money to effectively operate a state. Nobody likes taxes, but the suffering would grow exponentially if Alabama dropped out of Medicaid.
Granted, there’s some irony that tax-phobic lawmakers have found a target for taxation, and it turns out to be elderly residents of nursing homes. Recall that Republicans have consistently rejecting Medicaid-funding proposals that would have raised taxes on tobacco products. Apparently, smokers have more clout in Montgomery than nursing home patients.
Nevertheless, these tax increases offer a true picture that clear up the campaign-season distortions. A state government can’t be properly run on right-wing fantasies of an ever-shrinking government with fewer and fewer taxes collected. Let’s all remember this fact when the 2014 campaign arrives.