And yet, Tuesday – the day Gov. Robert Bentley gave his State of the State speech – House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, used Twitter to remind Alabamians of one of his party’s top priorities for 2013. Hubbard’s tweet: “We must also start a separate track that defends our state from @BarackObama and the expanding federal gov’t.”
That’s a priority?
To “defend” Alabama from the president of the United States?
Say this much for Bentley: He remains consistent on his top goal of reducing the size of state government. In its first two years, his administration has been a caretaker of the governor’s office; there’s been no landmark legislation that’s improved the lives of residents, particularly those on the lower end of the economic scale. And don’t forget, Bentley’s signature on the state’s mean-spirited illegal-immigration act may be this governor’s crowning achievement thus far – a signature that’s codified xenophobic attitudes into state law.
Backed by Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, Bentley has spent two years become the Governor of Less: less government, less spending, truncated state services, less funding for vital departments. In Tuesday night’s speech, the governor was quick to tout that his administration has identified $750 million in savings, and that there are 4,000 fewer state employees than when he was elected, mainly through retirements. In that sense, he’s a man of his word. He vowed to make government smaller. Mission accomplished.
To his credit, Bentley used his State of the State speech to call for two worthwhile items: a 2.5 percent wage increase for teachers and increased funding for Alabama’s quality pre-K program, which is used by only 6 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds. We support both of those ideas – ideas that, if implemented, will come with steep price tags. What Bentley didn’t tell us is how he proposes to pay for those ideas, other than hoping an improved economy will do the trick.
In essence, Bentley’s speech backed him into the same dismal corner that traps Alabama. Alabama’s coffers are stretched paper-thin, even with the economic uptick. Whether you’re the governor or the head of a middle-rung state agency, proposing smart increases in state services fights against a harsh reality: the state’s low-tax – or no-tax – policies don’t create enough new revenue to improve services or add new ones.
If the governor wants to move the state forward, as he said Tuesday night, that financial reality must change.
Bentley and the state’s Republican leadership are fond of saying state government should run like a business. In a sense, that’s already happening, but it’s not a thrifty small business that Montgomery emulates. Instead, the actions of Alabama government resemble that of a too-big-to-fail corporation that (a.) has deep-pocketed friends in high places, and (b.) knows that, in the end, the federal government will keep it afloat during lean times.
Alabama’s leaders often sit perched in their Montgomery chambers holding tight to the status quo, too weak-willed to boldly lead. Two faces of Bentley emerged Tuesday: one that held close to talking points like abortion and Second Amendment rights, and one that talked about actually improving Alabama, not just reducing its government.
It’s clear which path Alabama should take, a path of modernization and humanitarianism. Another year of small-government thinking and weak leadership is not in the best interests of this state or its people.