When the state can’t pay its bills, its leaders can’t devise a solution. They’re frozen, like mannequins in a store window. They’re elected to make decisions that are best for the state, and yet their best solution is no solution. “Let the people decide,” they say.
So, a day after Alabamians decided to raid the state trust fund of $437 million over three years to keep state services afloat, supporters of Amendment 1 crowed as if they’d won the lottery — which Alabama doesn’t have, of course.
In other words, when politicians refuse to do their jobs, when they refuse to find alternative ways to fund state services, and when they put the onus on voters to bail them out, that is a political victory in Alabama.
Or, as state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, said, “(Tuesday’s result) will fund the gap for the next three years, and will give us time to find a way to cut more from the budget.”
C’mon, say it again, Sen. Dial.
“… Cut more from the budget.”
Welcome to your future, Alabama.
Under this version of the state Legislature, Alabamians can expect more of what they have now. Gov. Robert Bentley would rather hopscotch between 18-wheelers on Interstate 20 than even discuss reasonable and moderate tax increases to help, as Dial says, fund the gap. The Republican-controlled Legislature seems wholly incapable of doing anything logical to stem the state’s tide of economic woes.
If this Legislature were a football coaching staff, its playbook would have one play.
On first down, legislators would cut the budget.
On second down, legislators would cut the budget.
On third down, legislators would cut the budget.
There’d be no need for fourth down.
And the governor would be pleased.
We’ll give Bentley a small bit of credit for at least voicing his displeasure over the Amendment 1 authors’ refusal to include a mandate to pay back the $437 million. He promises the state will pay it back nonetheless, though the irony is brutally obvious: The state can’t balance its budget without taking nearly $500 million from a savings account, so where is it going to get that money?
Oh, that’s right. Legislators are banking on an improvement in the economy and on smart decisions in state government that save Montgomery more cash. That, of course, is a euphemism for the Legislature’s one-play playbook — more cuts — since new revenue is heresy.
Fitting, then, it was Wednesday for Bentley to say he is close to offering retirement incentives to state employees, with the same offer to public-school teachers soon after. He claims 5,000 retirements would save the state $100 million, even with filling those positions with younger, less-expensive teachers.
So much for pushing Alabama public education to excellence.
The bottom line is that Alabama’s needs haven’t changed. Voters gave legislators a reprieve, yet the state still has serious funding problems in vital areas — prisons, Medicaid, etc. — and no realistic long-term solution is on the table. None. Meanwhile, political cowardice has spread in Montgomery like kudzu. It’s everywhere, and it’s embarrassing. There’s every reason to think this same decision will face Alabama legislators again in coming years.
We’re not surprised that the amendment passed, particularly considering the support of Alabamians whose jobs were dependent on a balanced state budget. Whether they voted out of political conviction or in self-preservation is neither here nor there.
Alabama is getting what it voted for in 2010: Politicians whose uber-frugalness and reluctance to consider viable options are hampering the state as much as the budget deficit itself.