Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1639 - Government is powerful in what it does and does not do

  Government is powerful. Government is powerful in what it does. Government is powerful in what it does not do. We often focus on what government does. We also focus on what government fails to do. For this brief moment, let’s explore what government refuses to do. I want to share two recent examples of what government has refused to do. I participated in two press conferences within the last week or so, one concerning each example. Government is powerful in what it does. Government is powerful in what it does not do.

  Uniontown, Alabama has very serious problems with its sewage system. Many of its citizens live with these problems in the form of unprocessed sewage. Raw sewage can determine if we live or die. It can determine if others live sick or well. Still others can experience the terrible smells. Potential industries shy away because the sewage system cannot support the industry. Schools are impacted, putting our children at risk. The sewage also gets in our waterways and water supplies.

  Uniontown has a population of 2,320. The average household income is $17,949. The average household income for the state of Alabama is $46,257. The average household income for the United States is $57,617. Uniontown is a very poor town. U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones of Alabama were concerned about the sewage. Congresswoman Terri Sewell was concerned. I believe other Alabama Congresspersons were concerned. Even far away U.S. Senators were very concerned. I was at meetings more than a year ago when U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey came to Uniontown concerning the sewage and other environmental challenges. So many were concerned.

  Collectively, these leaders secured approximately $27 million to provide a safe sewage system for Uniontown citizens, schools, and businesses. All Alabama had to do was provide the other $3 million to match the money. But Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey refused to allocate the matching money. There is no way Uniontown can borrow or otherwise secure $3 million dollars to match the $27 million. Therefore, the opportunity for a safe sewage disposal system is bypassing this poor town. Government is powerful in what it does. Government is powerful in what it refuses to do.

  I am heartbroken. I remember growing up in Baldwin County, Alabama without running water or indoor plumbing. We had to go behind the chinaberry tree. At night we had a slop jar, which we emptied behind the chinaberry tree the next morning. Government made it possible so I no longer have to go behind chinaberry trees. I want safe sewage for the citizens and schools and businesses of Uniontown. 

  The second example involves Medicaid expansion. The federal government is offering billions of dollars to provide health insurance for hundreds of thousands of working Alabamians whose wages are too low to for them to afford health insurance. No matching money is required for these billions for the first three years. Even after three years, the amount of matching funds increases a little annually until it reaches a ceiling of ten percent. With the increased revenues generated from expanding Medicaid, it pays for itself. But Alabama is one of 17 states that refuses to expand Medicaid. They are all Republican-led States. They refuse to seize this opportunity. The other 33 states accepted the funding, thereby providing health care for many of their citizens, expanding their economies, and collecting increased revenues for their coffers. Government is powerful in what it does. Government is powerful in what it refuses to do.

  Let me tell you why Gov. Kay Ivey’s refusal to expand Medicaid in Alabama is so powerfully wrong. Because she refuses to expand Medicaid, a projected 750 persons will die each year who would otherwise live. Those are lives lost. Hundreds of thousands live in day-to-day fear of seeking medical care without the health insurance or funds to pay. That’s continuing fear for no good reason.

  By not expanding Medicaid, we are rejecting more than 30,000 jobs. That’s massive economic development being rejected. In fact, that is rejecting more jobs than all the auto manufacturing-related jobs produced by Mercedes, Toyota, Hyundai, and Honda in nearly 30 years. State and local funding were provided to entice each auto plant. No such funds are needed to entice Medicaid expansion. Moreover, these rejected jobs would have positively impacted every area, every county, every city, and every town in Alabama. In addition, Medicaid expansion would help thousands of Alabama businesses.

  Then there are the rural hospitals that have closed and or will close because Medicaid expansion has been rejected. Hospitals are institutions that impact our communities in so many ways: medical care; good jobs; economic development; community safety; peace of mind; saving of lives; healing of the sick; etc.

  Then there are the billions of dollars in revenue that would have flowed into the state's coffers through income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, and other means. Alabama’s struggling treasuries could use these monies to lift Alabama from being last in so many positive categories and first in so many negative categories. It’s powerfully negative to reject billions of dollars on the basis of political partisanship. Government is powerful in what it does. Government is powerful in what it refuses to do. Government is just powerful.

Epilogue – There are many ways to measure the impact of government. Some measure the impact by what government does. Others measure impact by what it does not do. Still others measure impact by what it stops. I am saddened by what government refuses to do.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represented District 23 in the Alabama Senate from 1983 to 2018.

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