For months, we have been told that the state needs at least another $200 million to avoid catastrophe. We have been told that we are broke because the way we budget for our state government is broken.
Unfortunately, what we have been told is true: our government is broke, and it is broken. But you can’t fix something if you don’t believe in it, and our state leaders don’t believe in government.
Now I certainly don’t think that government is the answer to everything. But I also don’t believe that everything government does is bad, either.
Public education is a perfect example. Yes, there are schools that are failing. But over 90 percent of public schools are not failing, and most public schools – even some of the failing ones – continue to show improvement year after year.
Before we had public schools, most people never got more than a few years of elementary school. The creation of public education has been critical for our economic growth, both as a state and as a country. Our biggest economic boom came after World War II, when many returning soldiers got to go to college on the GI Bill.
Even though some public schools struggle, the creation of public schools has been critical to our country. And without public schools, most people couldn’t afford to send their kids to private school.
But most of our current state leaders don’t see public education as a source of opportunity for those who can’t afford private school. Most of our state leaders aren’t interested in fixing failing schools. That’s why they passed the Accountability Act.
The philosophy behind the Accountability Act is that if a school is failing, instead of trying to fix that school, the state will allow some of the kids in that school to transfer to another public or private school, while the rest of the kids are left in the failing school and being asked to do more with fewer resources and less money.
In other words, if the school is broken, we aren’t going to try to fix it. We are just going to let a few kids escape it and give up on the rest of the kids. And now the news has reported that most of the kids getting the Accountability Act scholarships aren’t even the kids in the failing schools!
You can’t fix something if you don’t believe in it. Our state leaders aren’t interested in fixing failing public schools because they don’t believe in public schools.
Our state leaders believe that government fails at everything it does. So I guess it’s not a surprise that when they got in control, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And now that we are facing this enormous budget deficit, our state leaders want to raise our taxes, deny the people our right to vote on a state lottery, and then expect us to believe that they’re going to fix a government they don’t even believe in!
My senator has claimed to be “a giant slayer.” It seems that he and other state leaders don’t seem to understand that there’s a big difference between winning elections versus taking on the responsibility that comes with winning that election and actually leading the state.
Our state leaders won their supermajority in the legislature because they are great at campaigning. But when it comes to actually governing, they’ve focused more on trying to legislate morality and wasted millions of our tax dollars – dollars that could have been much better spent filling the hole in the General Fund budget – in court defending their signature bills that the judges then ruled were unconstitutional.
Our state leaders brag about cutting over a billion dollars out of the budget, only to turn around and tell us they want to raise taxes!
If our state leaders don’t reach some sort of agreement, a lot of people in Alabama are going to be hurt. But right now, I don’t have much hope for our leadership to solve this budget crisis.
If you want to be a teacher, you have to believe in education. If you want to sell insurance for a living, you have to believe in what you are selling. If you want to start a business, you have to believe in the business you are starting. And if you want to fix the government, then you have to believe in the government.
Our state leaders don’t believe in the government they are trying to fix. And you can’t fix something if you don’t believe in it.
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.