Bentley’s version: Unemployment is much less than it was when he took office following the 2010 election.
The other side: When compared state by state, Alabama’s rates of poverty and low-wage jobs without health insurance are embarrassingly high.
Bentley’s version: Spending sprees in Montgomery have been cast aside in favor of frugal budgets and smart budgeting.
The other side: Overwhelming cuts to state budgets have either closed or greatly reduced the effectiveness of many state agencies.
Bentley’s version: His administration’s blowback against the Affordable Care Act is grounded in the belief that Washington shouldn’t have a say in the doctor-patient relationship.
The other side: His administration’s refusal to expand Medicaid and take advantage of the fiscal benefits of that expansion leaves money on Alabama’s table — money the state could sorely use.
Bentley’s version: Raising taxes on Alabamians — any taxes, anything at all — is a failed policy.
The other side: The reluctance of Bentley, along with the Republican-led Legislature, to even consider modest increases in minor areas — such as on tobacco sales — hamstrings Alabama’s government and its state agencies even more. The missed opportunities are immense.
On Saturday, Bentley’s version of Alabama was on full display in Huntsville, where he told a meeting of the Madison County Republican Men’s Club that, in essence, the state was doing fairly well, if not swell, now five years on after the worst of the Great Recession. Unemployment is down, jobs have been brought in and a few notable industries — Airbus, for instance — now call Alabama home.
“When I came in, we had no money at all,” he said. “No state has done more with less than Alabama.”
That’s only half right.
The hidden truth is that Bentley’s gubernatorial legacy is destined to be remembered as a time when Montgomery decided to downsize staffs, reduce costs, close agencies and pick apart state budgets to the bone. Frugalness in a time of recession is one thing. Frugalness to the extreme — and the detriment of Alabamians — is another.
Yet, the budget-cutting governor said, “Alabama has cut programs, and the government has still worked. Could we use more money? Yes, but we’re doing our best to live within our means because that’s what you expect.”
Again, that’s only half right.
Even the most conservative, small-government Alabamians should expect their government to be a helpful nuisance. Instead, Bentley’s version of Alabama is all about making Alabama smaller, making Alabama government less useful, making Alabama less interested in the health and welfare of those who live here.
That’s the message the governor is spreading this summer.