Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Joseph O. Patton: Governor Bentley: Fence jockey

Knoxville, Tenn. – October 18, 1986

  It was my first foray into the frenzy of college football. Neyland Stadium is fairly overwhelming, especially for a child. Wrapped up in the excitement of the game day atmosphere only SEC rivalry games can provide, I was nonetheless stuck between a crimson rock and a big orange hard place. Third Saturday of October - if you don’t know what it really means, you clearly ain’t from around here.

  As a native of East Tennessee – Union County - and with my loyal Big Orange fan mother and grandmother next to me in the stands, I had opted for the UT sweatshirt, which nonetheless left me gripped by pangs of betrayal considering my father was a long-time Alabama devotee, also sitting next to me.

  The ladies seemed satisfied. Dad offered little more than a good-natured smirk. Alabama was ranked second in the nation. Tennessee wasn’t on the charts.

  The end of the first quarter seemed to be an ideal time for a potty break, and it did not go unnoticed when I returned sans the Tennessee sweatshirt, revealing the Alabama t-shirt underneath. Dad’s smirk disappeared. Roll Tide, y’all. The Crimson die had been cast, and I haven’t wavered since.

  Final score: Alabama 56, Tennessee 28.

                                         *                    *                    *

  Most wouldn’t waste breath nitpicking the nuances of team loyalty. Ultimately no one is affected, even if you flip and flop like a fish out of water depending on how a season unfolds and what the rankings reflect. But the same cannot be applied to matters of public policy… and it especially shouldn’t be a prime characteristic of a state’s chief executive, namely being chronically fickle and unapologetically wading in a pool of contradictions.

  When Gov. Robert Bentley spoke of “school choice,” specifically the “right” for parents to send their children from a failing public school to a public school which isn’t in academic peril, it made sense. It seemed fair. Most Alabamians wouldn’t advocate condemning a child to a dismal and unfulfilling scholastic life.

  But when the Alabama Senate reverted to the depressing days of shady deals struck in smoky back rooms, gutting a “school choice” bill and supplanting it with a naked grab to subsidize private school education, remarkably Bentley didn’t blink. Like an awkward, pimple-ridden teen desperate for acceptance from everyone, he readily jumped on board with the new bill, despite his advocacy for public school choice. The new bill of course not only forces taxpayers to subsidize a private education for others, it would amount to corporate welfare for profit-driven private businesses and further deplete already woefully scarce resources for our public schools.

  And despite Bentley’s overzealous cheerleading routine for the latest bill, he engaged in a half-hearted about-face, tossing out a weak, fence-riding executive amendment that would have delayed implementation of the tax credits for a mere two years.

  If the tax credits were flawed, then why did he sign the bill into law? And worse, if the tax credits constitute bad public policy – and they assuredly do – then what possible difference does delaying the measure make? It will still force the subsidization of a private school education for thousands, and it will still eat into the public coffers that fund our public schools. The laughably named Accountability Act (aka Private School Welfare Act) will likely cost the state up to $65 million in lost tax revenue.

  And worse, stalling tactics and lip service do nothing to address the real issue: public schools that are deemed “failing.” If our state is concerned about “failing” schools, then where is the plan and where are the resources to tackle that problem? Private school tax credits will only drain students and resources from public schools, not improve those schools. It’s the equivalent of a dermatologist claiming he’s going to amputate your arm in order to clear the acne on your face.

  Ultimately both houses of the Alabama Legislature soundly defeated the amendment, and the Private School Welfare Act will go into effect, but it’s the governor’s chronic double talk that is additional cause for concern.

  It’s a proverbial case of having your cake and eating it too for Governor Bentley, but with a serious issue in play affecting our young people and taxpayers statewide. And frankly, this cake tastes pretty damn awful either way. Lawmakers should not be turning their backs on our public schools then adding insult to injury by forcing us to subsidize someone else’s private education.

  The Goldilocks approach to government only benefits Goldilocks, and Alabama taxpayers should recognize and condemn that. Governor Bentley wants to have it both ways, and regrettably both ways lead to a similar failure. Public education will sadly take a step backward when these tax freebies go into effect, resources are drained from our public school system and the pockets of private businesses operating as schools are fattened.

  But more importantly, Governor Bentley, how do you expect to lead when you don’t even have a clue where you want to go?

  About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press. He is a former news editor for the Coosa County News, lead reporter for the Montgomery Independent and editor-in-chief of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn-Montgomery. Patton is also the creator of and writer for the satirical news radio segment "Goat Hill Gossip," which previously aired on WAUD in Auburn, Alabama and has appeared on several Central Alabama radio programs as a political analyst.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

No comments:

Post a Comment