It was as if they were following the Queen in a game of three-card Monte — and, as is the case in that street hustle, observers came away with the uneasy feeling that they were scammed.
To give credit where credit is due, legislators passed an education budget that saves jobs, maintains programs and keeps classes at their current sizes. This was accomplished by finding money outside the Education Trust Fund and trimming Trust spending.
As is so often the case with legislative budgeting, the public in this case is left to hope for the best — but not to expect it.
While the Education Trust Fund may have come off rather well, the General Fund budget is a mess that could get even messier. With revenue down and predictions dismal, lawmakers were faced with what lawmakers hate — hard choices.
Without enough money to fund the prison system and Medicaid, but unwilling to raise taxes to pay the bills, legislators (at the urging of Gov. Robert Bentley) put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that, if approved by the people, would take more than $145 million from the state gas and oil trust fund and move it to the General Fund — this year, next year and the next year.
Supporters of this strategy are predicting doom if the amendment fails. Prisons will have to release thousands of inmates. According to Dr. Donald Williamson of the state Department of Public Health, doctors will leave, public hospitals will close and nursing-home patients will be turned out.
What happens if the amendment passes? Medicaid and the prison system will be saved for a few years, but there will be less money in the gas-and-oil trust fund for future capital projects and Forever Wild land purchases.
Bentley neatly summed up the thinking that brought us here. Speaking to reporters in Montgomery, he said, “(W)e’d rather do this rather than raising taxes.”
Yes, that is the case for Bentley and his allies in the Legislature.
This fall, we will see what the people of Alabama would rather do.