The legislators’ dilemma was this: Where do you find the revenue to fund Medicaid at a level high enough that Gov. Robert Bentley would sign it while at the same time avoid raising taxes?
To their credit, legislators found the necessary money — in the Alabama Trust Fund, of course.
The Alabama Trust Fund is created from oil and gas royalties. Its uses are strictly defined (for details, go online to http://bit.ly/JzI1VQ); drawing from it to save Medicaid is not on the list.
But, hold on, and don’t worry. In November, Alabama voters will get an opportunity to amend the 1901 Constitution so that $437 million can be withdrawn over the next three years and used for that purpose.
Thus, the Legislature has kicked a can to the people, and now lawmakers wait to see how the people will react.
Some argue that this is the best we can do in these trying times to save a program that helps the neediest Alabamians. Therefore, that theory goes, the Constitution should be amended — one more time.
Others, including advocates for the poor, feel this is the wrong approach, that new revenue needs to be generated, and that the Alabama Trust Fund should continue to support the programs and agencies it currently supports.
Cigarette taxes and taxes on soft drinks should be raised instead, they say. These people are prepared to vote against the amendment to force the Legislature to do what it has tried to avoid doing — increase the revenue we collect.
But what if the amendment fails and the Legislature refuses to come up with an alternative?
If Medicaid does not get the money it needs, Alabama might become the first state to withdraw from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the cash-welfare program that has helped many Alabamians through tough times. If matching funds aren’t found, the TANF and other federal programs will shut down.
This is the can the Legislature has kicked to us. Do we accept it and make the best of a bad situation? Or do we kick it back to those elected who could not come up with a better solution?
It is a good thing that these legislators rescinded the pay raise past legislators gave themselves. This session, they certainly did not earn it.