Thursday, October 29, 2015

Craig Ford: Where’s the beef?

  After five years of Republican leadership in Alabama, are you asking yourself the same thing I am: where's the beef?

  Do you remember that old Wendy’s commercial with the older lady asking, “Where’s the beef?” The point of the commercial was that Wendy’s competitors didn’t deliver what they promised and, more importantly, didn’t give the customer what they wanted.

  When I think about Alabama politics and what’s going on in our state government, I find myself asking that same question: where’s the beef?

  Where are all these savings we were promised five years ago? Where is this “more efficient and more effective” government we were told we would be getting? What about the lower taxes we were promised?

  On December 23, 2013, Governor Bentley and Republican legislators in Montgomery announced they had saved the state over $1 billion by “right-sizing” government. In the press release, which is still posted on the state’s website, Governor Bentley said, “Alabamians elected us to make state government more efficient and live within our means without raising taxes or cutting essential services…Today, I’m honored to announce that we have found over $1 billion in annual savings that will allow us to be better stewards of taxpayer money and operate state government as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

  If the governor and Republicans in the Alabama Legislature really saved us a billion dollars in 2013, why did they turn around and raise taxes this year? Where are the savings?

  I thought the point of making government smaller was so you could cut taxes, not raise them?

  Let’s pretend for a minute that the governor and legislators really did save us a billion dollars. Where did these savings come from? And how have these savings made government “more efficient” without “cutting essential services?”

  Alabama has already lost eight rural hospitals over the last fifteen years, with five of them closing since the Republicans took control of the state: Randolph Medical Center, March 2011; Southwest Alabama Medical Center, August 2011; Chilton Medical Center, March 2013; Elba General Hospital, January 2013; and Florala Memorial Hospital, December 2013. And according to former State Health Officer, Don Williamson, 13 more hospitals in Alabama are on the brink of closing.

  These closings happened primarily because of cuts to Medicaid, and now Alabamians living in these regions no longer have access to a local hospital regardless of whether they are on Medicaid.

  Closing hospitals certainly sounds like “cutting an essential service” to me.

  What about all these parks, armories and drivers license offices the Republicans are closing? Those services may not be “essential” but closing them certainly isn’t making our state government “more effective and efficient.”

  When the governor and legislators announced in December 2013 that they had saved the state a billion dollars, those savings came primarily by cutting state employees’ and educators’ benefits, freezing merit raises and eliminating jobs. In my experience as an employer, cutting my employees' pay and benefits doesn’t make them more efficient or effective.

  So where’s the beef? Where are the benefits we were supposed to get from all these savings they promised? Where are the lower taxes? What have we gotten in return for their leadership?

  The governor and Republican legislators promised they would make government “live within [its] means without raising taxes or cutting essential services.” Not only did they cut essential services, they raised taxes and still failed to live within their means.

  In 2012, the Republicans borrowed $437 million from the state’s Rainy Day account. That money bought them three years to come up with a solution to the budget crisis. But instead of solving the problem, they wasted tax dollars on three legislative sessions in one year, only to come up with a plan that included $86 million in new taxes, $80 million taken out of education and still more cuts.

  After borrowing nearly half a billion dollars from the state’s savings account, $86 million in new taxes (all of which were tax increases on you, and not one corporate loophole closed or one cent raised on out-of-state corporations), plus an $80 million raid on education - and if you take their word for it, over a billion dollars in cuts - the Republicans still haven’t delivered the government they promised.

  Where’s the more efficient and effective government? Where are the lower taxes? Where are the savings?

  After five years of Republican leadership in Alabama, are you wondering the same thing I am: Where’s the beef?

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

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