Friday, June 12, 2015

Craig Ford: Can the Alabama Legislature solve this budget crisis?

  It’s been a joke on the internet for who knows how long: somebody takes a picture of a stop sign missing a letter or the University of Minnesota’s logo painted on the 45 yard line instead of at midfield, and there’s a caption that reads, “You had one job to do.”

  The Alabama Legislature also only has one job it is required by law to do: pass the budgets. But this year, thanks to Republicans in the senate, the legislature didn’t pass a budget, and we are no closer today than we were back in February to solving the budget crisis. Now our state legislature is the butt of the joke, and the taxpayers aren’t laughing.

  Legislators have known since at least 2012 that this budget crisis was coming. That was the year they passed a law to allow themselves to borrow $437 million from the state’s savings account over the following three years, hoping to shore up the General Fund. They knew that money was going to run out this year, but instead of coming up with a solution, the senate Republicans chose to end the legislative session a day early knowing this would mean we would have no solution and no budget!

  After literally buying themselves three years to fix the problem, there’s no excuse for legislators to be going home with no solution and no budget... and certainly no excuse for the senators to leave work a day early. Legislators are paid to work the full 30-day legislative session. At least in the state House of Representatives, we came back and worked the last day and started laying the groundwork for the special legislative session we will be forced to hold this summer.

  Throughout the legislative session, the Republican leadership offered three different plans to address the crisis, all of which included parts of the Democrats’ agenda.

  For example, both house Republicans and the governor have proposed a tobacco tax, which has been a piece of the Democratic legislative agenda for five years. The governor also proposed closing certain corporate tax loopholes that only benefit out-of-state corporations, many of which pay little or no state income taxes. Closing these tax loopholes has also been a part of Democrats' agenda for years.

  And for the first time, Republicans began talking about expanding gambling and letting the people of Alabama finally get to vote on a lottery. But the lottery has always been a part of Democrats' platform, and I’m proud to have personally sponsored a lottery bill each year for the last five years.

  You would think that since Democrats and Republicans seem to be agreeing on so many of these ideas, it would have been easy for legislators to agree on a solution. But instead it looks like legislators are more interested in playing the blame game. And since they can’t blame President Obama or Democrats, we’re seeing senate Republicans blaming house Republicans, and house Republicans blaming senate Republicans.

  If legislators can’t even agree with each other, how can we expect the people of Alabama to agree with any solution that comes out of the legislature?

  I still hold out hope that legislators will reach some sort of agreement that funds the budget without raising taxes on the people of Alabama. But for that to happen, legislators are going to have to quit pointing their fingers at each other and start working together to reach some sort of agreement. The one thing we can’t do is continue to kick the can down the road and fail to do the only job we are required by law to do.

  About the author: Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden representing District 28 and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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