In the state Legislature, I voted as I always do on constitutional amendments: to let the voters decide the amendment’s fate. But my vote only means I support the voters’ right to determine changes to our Alabama Constitution. My vote does not mean I support the amendment itself; I do not support it and I will be voting no on Tuesday.
This amendment will not solve Medicaid’s or the prison system’s financial problems; it only delays the problems for three years (funny how this coincides with the 2014 elections). It is a short-term fix to a long-term problem and only serves as a temporary bailout.
This amendment does not require the borrowed money to be paid back. While the governor and some legislative leaders have said they will support legislation requiring the money to be paid back, the amendment does not require it. I believe we need more than just their assurances. Do you trust your elected officials to pay the money back without it being required by law? And if they are serious about paying the money back, why was the repayment requirement not part of the original amendment?
Alabama’s General Fund relies in part on interest payments from the Trust Fund. This amendment would take nearly one-fifth of the money out of the Trust Fund, which would drastically reduce the interest payments and leave future budgets shortchanged.
Republican leaders have sold this amendment by arguing that without it, the state will not have enough money for vital services like Medicaid. Yet, these same Republican leaders are telling us how they are going to cut a billion dollars from the state budgets (mostly from cuts to education, law enforcement, firefighters and other public servants).
So, which is it? Does the state have so much money that we can afford to cut a billion dollars in government spending? Or are we so strapped for cash that we have to raid the Trust Fund of $437 million dollars (almost half of what Republicans say they are going to cut from the budgets)?
And despite what Republican leaders are saying, raiding the state’s savings account to the tune of $437 million to bail out the prison system and Medicaid is not fiscally conservative.
If the amendment does not pass, Gov. Robert Bentley should call a special session and consider all options proposed by both parties so that we do not penalize doctors, nurses, the nursing homes and other health-care providers who depend on Medicaid payments. Medicaid is a vital state program that is in serious trouble. Because it is so vital to our state’s economic health, Medicaid needs a permanent fix, not a temporary fix that we will have to replace in three years.
If the governor calls a special session, Democrats will offer two proposals that can solve our funding crises without raiding the Trust Fund. Our first proposal will be to close certain corporate tax loopholes used by out-of-state corporations that pay little or no state income taxes.
The second proposal is to raise the tobacco tax. Raising the tobacco tax by $1 would generate an estimated $227.5 million a year in new revenue, which would raise more in two years than the amendment would borrow over the next three. Would you support an increase in the tobacco tax to avoid raiding or “borrowing” from your state savings account? And the tobacco tax could expire after two or three years.
Do not misunderstand what is happening. This is your money, your state savings account. You would not loan one-fifth of your personal savings to someone without first making sure that all other avenues of funding was not available to the borrower before raiding your personal savings. And, I doubt most people would loan that money without guarantees that it be repaid. Think about this in terms of what you would do with your own savings account — because it is.
I urge you to vote no Tuesday, and I urge the governor to call a special session to require the Legislature to work together to find a permanent solution to our state’s funding needs. You elected us to make the hard choices and decisions now, not to kick the can down the road three years.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.