Bentley was most upset over the Legislature’s refusal to pass a decent charter school bill and the failure of his tax incentive plan that was supposed to create the jobs that the governor promised he would create.
He was right about the charter school fiasco. Anyone seeking an example of how to write a bill to kill it should look no further than this.
As for jobs, which everyone said was the top priority, instead of creating them, the Legislature seems bent on wiping them out. No matter what the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets look like in their final form, many teachers and public sector employees will be out of work. No job creation there.
But it is not entirely the fault of the legislators. Because the tax incentive plan was, in the governor’s words, “the only real jobs bill” that went to the Legislature, the senators and representatives did not have much to work with. Even if it has passed, unemployment in Alabama would have remained high for months, maybe years to come. One bill does not a recovery make.
Meanwhile, as Wednesday’s last day of the session rapidly approaches, senators and representatives are disagreeing over how best to do what past sessions on Goat Hill have done: Rob Peter to pay Paul.
The General Fund needs $184 million more than is available if we are to simply continue doing what we are doing now. The House-approved budget proposes cuts to Medicaid to make up the shortfall. That would decimate the program and hurt senior citizens and the poor. The governor says he will veto such an approach.
The Senate approved a budget that shifted money from our overcrowded prison system to fund Medicaid, a change that House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, says is unacceptable. For its part, the Department of Corrections notes the Senate version could mean a staff reduction of 1,600 and the release of 18,000 inmates. Reversing course would require Alabama voters agreeing to let the prison system tap into a trust fund of oil and gas revenue; as we all know, getting Alabama voters to say “yes” to anything is never guaranteed.
Because the governor and his Republican allies simply refuse to seek new revenue through a cigarette tax to cover Medicaid, a conference committee will try to find a compromise. If it does not, a special session will have to be called. That would make it two, for another special session is expected to convene to redraw district lines.
This is not the first time the Legislature has come down to the last ticks of the clock to get its business done. Nor, we fear, will it be the last. But when one considers the state of our economy and the problems we face, it would have been appropriate for senators and representatives to show a greater sense of urgency and produce results more quickly.
The new Republican majority promised that under their leadership things would be different.
Unfortunately, things aren’t.