Members of the Alabama Legislature were treated to a bit of déjà vu this week when we found out through the newspaper – and not directly from Gov. Robert Bentley – that the governor is planning to call the legislature back into a special legislative session within the next month or two.
Last summer, Gov. Bentley used a similar strategy (he called it using “the element of surprise”) when he called the legislature back to Montgomery without talking with legislators or reaching any kind of agreement on any issues. Needless to say, nothing was accomplished in that special legislative session. In fact, the legislature met on the first day and immediately “recessed” for a month to buy some time to try to work out a solution.
Now here we are again. The governor has said that he will call a special session without talking with any legislators and without reaching any compromises. He hasn’t even proposed any solutions of his own for legislators to consider, and the House of Representatives has no leader yet to negotiate a solution even if the governor had offered one.
Adding to this mess is the fact that Gov. Bentley has lost his credibility and simply cannot be trusted. The governor misled the people of Alabama when he said he wouldn’t raise taxes and then did so. He misled us about his relationship with Rebekah Mason. He misled us about how he would create jobs, and six years later we still have a job deficit of more than 55,000 from where we were before the recession.
The bottom line is that as much as legislators want to be able to believe Gov. Bentley and work with him to find a solution to the problems with Medicaid and the general fund budget, we just can’t trust him.
Even if Gov. Bentley didn’t have a history of misleading people, he has already started off this special session on the wrong foot.
A couple of weeks ago, the governor’s administration announced that it would begin cutting Medicaid reimbursement payments to doctors and dentists starting on Aug. 1, even though the new budget won’t go into effect until the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
Why cut doctors’ reimbursements and jeopardize hundreds-of-thousands of Alabamians healthcare when you don’t have to? Because it’s a game that’s meant to push doctors and patients to start calling your legislators and supporting whatever tax increase or other plan the governor has for Medicaid.
Just like when he tried to close down state parks and then drivers license offices, Gov. Bentley keeps using the same tricks and political games to try to pressure legislators into going along with his tax increases and other policies.
Alabama is facing some serious issues, and we need serious leadership now more than ever. Playing political games won’t solve these problems, and will only cause more distrust between the governor and legislators.
We also need real solutions and not more temporary “band-aid” approaches that only get us through a few years before we end up right back where we are now.
A lottery can do great things for education, but it won’t fix Medicaid or the general fund. Redirecting the BP money from the coast and infrastructure projects to shore up the hole in Medicaid won’t solve it, either.
And we certainly can’t afford to raid the education budget again like the Republican Supermajority did last year, or borrow more money from the state’s trust fund like the Republican Supermajority did in 2012, when the state borrowed nearly a half-billion dollars to put off the crisis we are facing now.
Legislators want to work with Gov. Bentley. But how can we work with him when he continues to mislead us and continues to rely on political games instead of picking up the phone and calling us himself?
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.