It’s kind of ironic. For two years the infusion of federal dollars has been propping up Alabama’s government and public schools. Now, when the state is forced into coming up with funds to carry out its duties to state citizens by paying its own way, our elected leaders run scared. The question must be: “Gosh, where is Obama and why hasn’t he kept up the flow of federal dollars?”
We already have one of the two or three lowest tax burdens in the nation, so who scares the state politicians? Ordinary citizens might grumble, but I believe most would ante up a reasonable amount to keep the schools open and Medicaid operating.
Our new governor is doing his part, so-tospeak, by not drawing his salary, but he has not taken any significant steps to solve the problem, at least not that I’ve noticed, except cutting funding and prorating state services. Gov. Bentley did tell a group this past week that the state will get tougher on those who haven’t paid their taxes. Wow, I’m sure the giant out-of-state corporations who soak Alabama taxpayers are shaking in their boots.
In short, the problem in Alabama remains the result of a leadership void.
You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned legislators. What’s the use? Most are too busy tilting at windmills and looking out for themselves. Let’s see – what have we gotten so far from Goat Hill… mostly garbage, but surprise, a couple of gems?
First, the garbage: It is imperative that we stop the thousands in Alabama who are voting dozens of times in one election. Surely you have noticed the hundreds of people crowding into the polling places with hunting licenses, Social Security cards, or utility bills they have stolen from mailboxes in violation of federal law, just so they can have the proper identification to vote.
So it must be a matter of prime importance that we eliminate any such possibility by removing those items as valid voting IDs and by requiring that voters have government issued photo ID cards. If you don’t have a driver’s license or another government card with a photo, the state will provide one on the state’s tab. Yep, that piece of foolishness passed the House of Representatives last week and will likely become state law. My only question is since the state is broke, whether or not lawmakers will ask the Obama Administration for money to pay for these cards.
Then there is the bill the Ways and Means Committee has approved which requires the state to provide liability insurance for teachers and other education workers at a cost of several million dollars. This is nothing more than a punitive action against AEA, which provides members with such coverage with their membership dues.
And, by the way, Sen. Paul Sanford of Huntsville has filed legislation that will eliminate all state employee travel pay and repeal annual longevity raises. It would also wipe out a law that allows state troopers to draw a $12-a-day travel allowance for “subsistence,” whether they travel or not. This is typically used for extraordinary expenses associated with their jobs, including dry cleaning their uniforms and equipment expenses. The bill would also end all allowances for most other state law enforcement officers.
Now the gems: On the responsible side of the coin, lawmakers in the House have approved a bill to require elected public officials and candidates for public office to report if they have a paid job or contract with a different public agency or government. The bill would require the information on other public jobs or contracts be posted on a searchable Internet site operated by the Alabama Ethics Commission.
And Rep. Paul Beckman of Prattville has introduced a resolution to rescind the 61 percent legislative pay raise enacted in 2007 and a companion constitutional amendment to also repeal the raise and establish a commission that would fix the compensation of legislators.
Beckman says it is time to remove the process of establishing legislative pay from the province of the Legislature and place it in the hands of an outside body. The commission he proposes would consist of appointees from the governor, state auditor, state treasurer, and two from the Ethics Commission. The terms of office would be staggered, and pay-commission members would assess the pay issue based on a number of factors including what legislative pay is in other states.
I like both the disclosure bill and the measure to take the decision on legislative pay outside the Legislature. They both make sense.
But let’s get back to solving the money problem, which will soon cause the layoff of nearly 400 people in the courts, more than 500 in mental health, nearly 200 in prosecutorial services statewide, nearly a third of the Forestry Commission and a significant number in other critical services such as public health. These cuts will affect important services to the people of Alabama.
Perhaps legislators should start showing some fear of the people who elected them instead of grandstanding on Goat Hill.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: email@example.com