Republican legislative agenda passes the buckPublished 9:14pm Monday, January 28, 2013
Last week, the Republicans in the Alabama Legislature announced their agenda for the coming legislative session. Though I agree that these issues should be priorities this year, I have concerns about the specific details of their proposal.
One of the first issues the Republican leadership mentioned was gun regulation. I was disappointed that their only idea is to make Alabama’s courts, which are already backlogged and underfunded, be responsible for “evaluating state laws” for guns. That is not leadership; it’s merely passing the buck. Our focus should be on strengthening mental health care and improving criminal background checks of those seeking to purchase a gun.
Another major agenda item discussed by Republican leaders included taxpayer accountability and paying back the $437 million borrowed from the state’s trust fund. Again, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature are passing the buck. Instead of offering a real solution, they have placed the responsibility on the governor and given him a timetable to repay the amendment without offering any ideas as to where the money will come from. When Democrats announce our legislative agenda, we will give specific details as to how we will pay the constitutional amendment back in full with interest in three years without raising state income, property or sales taxes, or cutting funding for government services.
The Republicans also referred to “streamlining government services” and “cutting wasteful spending.” But let’s be clear about what that means. “Streamlining government services” is just eliminating government jobs – jobs that are a part of Alabama’s economy.
And it is hypocritical to hear the Republicans talk about wasteful spending when they have written the budgets for the past two years. If there was waste, then why didn’t they cut it before? And why did they ask us to borrow $437 million from the state’s savings account if we could have avoided it by cutting wasteful spending in the first place?
On education, the Republicans stressed that their primary goal for this year is more flexibility in our schools. Democrats are all for giving our teachers more freedom and flexibility within the classroom, but it’s going to take more than that to improve our schools. We must look at what we’re doing to recruit and retain the best educators to our schools, starting with a 10 percent pay increase to make up for the rising cost of living and the cuts to educators’ paychecks the Republican supermajority passed when they took over the legislature. But none of that is in the Republicans’ legislative agenda.
As for healthcare, it has been the biggest disappointment of their legislative agenda. The Republicans in Montgomery seem to be more concerned with playing partisan political games than they are with the health of Alabamians. We have had an opportunity to expand Medicaid and bring health insurance to more the 350,000 Alabamians who are uninsured, and be in control of our health insurance exchange — all without costing the state a dime. In fact, the state would gain a billion dollars by participating. Instead of leadership on healthcare issues, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature seem more interested in borrowing nearly half a billion dollars from the state’s savings account to fund Medicaid and rehashing expensive legal battles over Obamacare when those legal issues have already been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
When 53 percent of the babies born in Alabama are born under Medicaid, it makes you wonder just how many abortions could be prevented if we spent those tax dollars on Medicaid instead of legal battles over contraceptives that the Republicans know the state will lose in federal court.
The agenda laid out by the Republicans in the Alabama Legislature lacks leadership. It is hypocritical at times, and passes the buck to the governor and the courts instead of making the tough choices. The Republicans wanted the responsibility; they wanted to lead. But I ask you, where is the leadership?