The people must demand better in Alabama

Published 8:36 pm Monday, March 23, 2015

The Alabama Legislature has been in session for three weeks, and the people elected to represent you have been hard at work solving the big issues at hand.

Well, that’s what the Republicans are saying.

The truth is, they’re wasting legislative days and your tax dollars pushing issues that appeal to their base, but don’t address real issues in this state.

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And the truth is, we’ve got some big issues that need to be addressed. Without solutions to these major problems, Alabama is going to be in even deeper trouble.

Let’s start first with the $700 million state budget shortfall. For years, Alabama has been borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, propping up the budget with a little borrowed from here and a little from there. Now the bills are coming due and we have to find a way to balance our state budget in a healthy way.

In the past four years, Republicans have addressed these shortfalls by shrinking the size of state government, costing thousands of jobs for people in communities across Alabama.

In addition to the state government budget problems, we have hospitals closing across Alabama, costing communities hundreds of jobs and limiting access to healthcare for the entire region.

And more about those jobs? The Alabama Legislature has fought tooth and nail to keep from addressing the issue of raising the minimum wage. While many of my colleagues will admit (off the record) they agree $7.25 is shameful, they will never publicly support hard-working people trying to make ends meet.

So where does that leave us? Finding reliable, innovative solutions to these problems will be the lynchpin of moving Alabama into the 21st century.

Yet the Republicans in Montgomery have spent three weeks arguing about the best way to kill a man on death row, and guaranteeing protection for pastors who don’t want to perform certain weddings.

They’ve passed the “Truth in Salary Act” to make sure that educators can read their paychecks, but haven’t bothered to put the actual dollars back into their paychecks that they’ve taken out in the past four years.

Because with all of our growth over the past four years, the truth is that Dallas County and the Black Belt are still far behind. The people in my district deserve the same attention and piece of mind as those in a Republican district.

We have real issues facing us here in Alabama — issues that affect all our families and need to be addressed.

We have to address the fact that a 40-hour work week doesn’t earn enough money to put a roof over your head. We have to address the fact that working women only make 76 cents on the dollar compared to working men doing the same jobs.

These issues play into how our hardest working Alabamians are able to provide for their families, creating a backbone for our state’s economy. But there are even more big issues beyond paycheck fairness.

We need to talk about labor and delivery centers closing across the state. We need to talk about the lack of state troopers to adequately protect our highways. We need to talk about improving our public schools and shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline and reforming our sentencing structures. There are big issues here that aren’t easy to solve.

But that’s why we’re called to lead — to serve —not to toe rigid party lines, tip-toe around the issues and pass feel-good legislation. We have to do the work we are called to do.

It’s time to demand better, but demanding better starts with the people of Alabama. I’m going to keep fighting in Montgomery, but I need everyone to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire and put the pressure on to guarantee they allow us to tackle the tough issues.

It won’t work unless we do it together.