This legislative session, the Alabama Republicans have demonstrated that the party is incapable of governing this state.
After the 2014 election, the Republicans came roaring into this legislative session with a supermajority capable of crushing all Democratic opposition. To make things even better, the GOP’s traditional nemesis, the once-mighty Alabama Education Association, is now crippled from a recent financial crisis and the loss of long-time boss Paul Hubbert, once widely-acknowledged to be the most powerful person in Montgomery.
Republican heaven, right?
The problem is that the GOP legislators were all elected based on an Alabama version of Poppy Bush’s “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge. With a General Fund budget that had been temporarily propped up for the last possible time, pledging not to raise taxes in the 2014 election campaign demonstrated either a calamitous lack of foresight or such a desire to be elected that the realities of governing a state were brushed aside.
I suspect it was some of both. The freshman legislators elected in the Republican landslide may not have known that the Legislature had run out of all options other than raising taxes or cutting essential state services. Republican leaders Robert Bentley, Del Marsh, and Mike Hubbard, however, knew the budgetary score and ran a no-new-taxes campaign in 2014 anyway.
The reckoning for the GOP’s ill-considered 2014 election strategy is now upon us.
Governor Bentley, who is not eligible for reelection to a third term, and who won reelection with all the rest pledging not to raise taxes, was the first to publicly admit that the General Fund cannot continue without raising taxes. He proposed $541 million in tax hikes and, to his credit, has crisscrossed the state seeking support for them.
The Legislature has ignored the governor’s proposal.
Senate leader Del Marsh caved next, floating a proposal to fund the General Fund’s shortfall through a lottery and taxes on legalized gambling.
Marsh’s proposal might have gained traction, except that it would only help in future years and would do nothing to help with the shortfall for the fiscal year beginning this October. Marsh’s proposal is going nowhere fast.
Next, a majority of House Republicans released a budget that would (gasp!) raise taxes, although not as much as under Bentley’s still-born proposal, and cover the rest of the projected shortfall by taking a $250 million grant from the Poarch Creek Indians in exchange for granting the tribe exclusive rights to run gambling operations in the state.
It was starting to almost look like the Republicans were acting reasonably. The House caucus took elements from Bentley’s tax-hike and Marsh’s gambling idea, and cobbled them together into a plan that might at least allow the state to limp along at its current inadequate levels of spending on essential state services.
The Senate Republicans, however, protested loudly that they would not support the House plan. Rather than pass a budget with any sense, the House Republicans backed off their own proposal and yesterday passed a shameful, hurtful General Fund budget lopping off funding to prisons, Medicaid, and mental health care.
Governor Bentley has threatened to veto the House’s budget bill if the Senate passes it, stating:
This is a totally unworkable budget. It’s irresponsible and it hurts people. I absolutely am opposed to the budget. It’d be better if we did not have a budget than for this budget to be passed and them to override my veto, which will happen.
Sounds like someone who is finally willing to admit, now that he is safely elected, that there is nothing more to cut from the General Fund budget. Alabama Media Group’s in-house professional anti-tax right-winger Cameron Smith, on the other hand, thinks the Legislature should just “hold its breath” and pass this “irresponsible” budget.
All of this squabbling is among Republicans. After the 2014 election, Democrats are largely irrelevant in Montgomery.
The GOP’s inability to reach any consensus and govern the state is on full display. The sponsor of the awful budget that Governor Bentley has threatened to veto, Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, stated after the bill’s passage that he hoped the Legislature would pass tax increases so his budget, the one he sponsored, would not ultimately be enacted. He stated: “I don’t think any House members are satisfied with this ”
Wait a minute.
So the Representative who proposed this hateful budget that nearly every Republican in the House voted for hopes his own bill does not pass the full Legislature and that others in the Legislature, hopefully the Senate Republicans, do the dirty work of coming up with a bill that raises taxes to cover the budgetary shortfall.
Mix one part incompetence with two parts political cowardice and you have the homemade concoction that is the 2015 Alabama Legislature Republican caucus.
It would be a joke, except it is not funny. The General Fund budget provides medical care for the poor, institutional care for the mentally sick, and houses prisoners. These, the most helpless among us, are the human beings who will suffer harm if the Keystone Cops in the Alabama Republican Party do not fulfill their obligation to govern this state.
The Republicans won the election. They won the right to govern. Now it is time for them to do it.
Cutting essential services in a way that hurts people is not governing.