Oh, did we mention the politicians who put this decision before us have not obligated the state to pay back the $437 million they seek to raid from the state nest egg?
Despite all this, voters should hold their nose, pass the amendment and not place more of a burden on Alabama’s poor.
We should make clear who gave us these awful options. The fault lies with our so-called leaders. This is not the sort of leadership Alabama Republicans promised to deliver when they were swept into office in November 2010. Republicans control large majorities in both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor’s office. Yet despite possessing the political math to produce any number of smart fixes to the state’s funding crisis, Republicans froze when the moment called for tough leadership. Statehouse Democrats did no better, as most voted with the majority in passing the constitutional amendment on to the voters.
These politicians placed by the voters into powerful positions in Montgomery have failed the state. Tuesday’s election is Exhibit A.
Faced with a massive budget shortfall that endangered Alabama’s ability to look after the most basic functions of a state government, the Legislature and the governor punted. Lawmakers wrote a General Fund budget dependent on the passage of Tuesday’s constitutional amendment that lifts $437 million from a trust fund in order to supplement the General Fund for three years.
Their message to Alabama voters: Agree to let us raid the trust fund or face the consequences.
Yet, this disaster doesn’t end at political cowardice. Dishonesty comes into play, as well. The ballot language threatens a “mass release” of Alabama prisoners if the vote doesn’t pass. The enabling legislation includes no details that make good on the threat. The head of the state Department of Corrections told The Star he was unaware of any such plan to let loose prison doors should the vote fail this week.
What’s worse, no lawmaker will own up to including the deceptive ballot language.
Of course, it is accurate that without sufficient funds Alabama will face hard choices. Alabama’s prisons, already overpopulated and under-funded, will be at a straining point. The one-fifth of Alabamians eligible for Medicaid will be harmed if the state’s contribution to the program is diminished beyond its already miserly share.
Let us consider those receiving Medicaid in Alabama. Half of Calhoun County’s children depend on Medicaid, a disturbing and shocking fact. In 2011, 18 percent of funds went to Alabamians in nursing care facility. Said differently, two-thirds of people in Alabama nursing homes rely on Medicaid. Many rural hospitals would be forced to shut their doors if it weren‘t for Medicaid.
All this puts to a lie the caricature that portrays Medicaid recipients as lazy, undeserving layabouts living off the backs of working people. Put the squeeze on Medicaid recipients, and understand many of those harmed will be elderly residents living in nursing homes and children with nowhere else to turn.
We can’t in good conscience recommend voting against Tuesday’s constitutional amendment. The hammer would fall too hard on the poorest and sickest of Alabamians who rely on Medicaid, the ones the New Testament refers to as “the least of these.” Likewise, our state’s strained public safety apparatus is too fragile to withstand one more cut.
Another election is on our horizon, however. In 2014, Gov. Robert Bentley, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and the rest of the Republican majority who brought this budgetary calamity upon us will face the voters. They will surely boast of being proud Alabama conservatives, a hollow phrase that in their case can only mean abandoning all financial responsibilities.
When they run for re-election, we will think back to Sept. 18, 2012.
We will recall that when faced with tough budget choices, they took the coward’s path.
We will know that Alabama deserves better leaders.