By Craig Ford
Over the past few months, I have been approached by voters from all parts of our great state and have been asked what I think about the proposed constitutional amendment (the Alabama Medicaid Amendment, Amendment 1) that will appear on the Sept. 18 special election ballot.
When the legislature voted on the constitutional amendment, I voted as I always do on constitutional amendments: yes, let the voters of Alabama decide the amendment’s fate.
But it is important to know that my vote in the legislature only means that I support the voters’ right to determine if we are going to change the Alabama constitution.
Please know that my vote does not mean that I support the constitutional amendment itself.
I do NOT support it and I will be voting NO on Sept. 18.
There are several reasons why I am opposed to final passage of the constitutional amendment, and I would like to share a few with you.
First, this amendment will not solve Medicaid’s or the prison system’s financial problems. It only delays the problems for three years (funny how that happens to coincide with the 2014 elections).
After three years, Alabamians will be right back where we are now, with even higher costs.
This amendment is a short-term fix to a long-term problem. It is a temporary bailout of Medicaid and the Alabama prison system.
Secondly, this amendment does not require the borrowed money to be paid back. The amendment allows the state to transfer, or borrow, $145.8 million dollars each year for the next three years from the Alabama Trust Fund to the General Fund.
While the governor and some legislative leaders have said they will support legislation requiring the money be paid back to the Alabama Trust Fund, the amendment does not require it. I believe we need more than just their assurances; we need the repayment to be a requirement. And if they are serious about paying the money back, then why was the repayment requirement not part of the original amendment?
Do you trust your elected officials to pay the money back without it being required by law?
Thirdly, Alabama’s General Fund budget relies on money from the interest payments we receive on the Trust Fund. The Alabama Trust Fund was established to collect royalties from oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. This amendment would take nearly one-fifth of the money out of the Trust Fund, which will drastically reduce the interest payments. Lower interest payments results in even less money for the General Fund budget in the coming years.
Republican leaders have been selling this amendment to the voters of Alabama by arguing that without it, the state will not have enough money for vital services like Medicaid. Yet, at the same time, they have been making this argument, these same Republican leaders have been traveling the state telling us how they are going to cut a billion dollars from the state budgets (mostly from cuts to teachers and education support personnel, law enforcement, firefighters, and other public servants).
So, which is it? Does the state have so much money that we can afford to cut a billion dollars in government spending? Or are we so financially strapped for cash that we have to raid the Trust Fund of $437 million dollars (almost half of what Republicans say they are going to cut from the budgets)?
Republican leaders like to claim that they are fiscally conservative, but raiding the state’s savings account to the tune of $437 million to bailout the prison system and Medicaid is not fiscally conservative. And the billion dollars they claim they will save by cutting the state’s budget is not coming from cuts of wasteful government spending, but from cuts to teachers and public education, law enforcement, firefighters and other public servants.
If the Alabama Medicaid Amendment does not pass on Sept. 18, Governor Bentley should call a special session and consider all options proposed by both parties in the state so that we do not penalize doctors, nurses, nursing homes and other healthcare providers who depend on Medicaid payments. Medicaid is a vital state program that is in serious trouble. Because it is so vital to our state’s economic health, Medicaid needs a permanent fix, not a temporary fix or band-aid that we will have to replace in three years.
If the governor calls a special session, Democrats propose offering a constitutional amendment- again, so that the people of Alabama have a say in how we address and solve this problem on a permanent basis. If Democrats supported allowing the people of Alabama to decide this issue by voting for a constitutional amendment put to the people, then surely the Republicans (who have a supermajority in both houses of our state government) will support us in asking the people to vote on the issues involving their state savings account and how to fund vital services for our people.
The Democrats proposed constitutional amendment will ask the voters to look at different ways to solve our funding crises without raiding the Alabama Trust Fund. It is time once and for all that we close corporate tax loopholes used by out-of-state corporations to rob the people of Alabama from deserved revenue. That is one way in which the people of Alabama could choose to create a permanent solution.
Did you know that Alabama ranks 47th in the nation in tobacco tax imposed on the sale of cigarettes? And, what if you knew that an increase of $1 of tobacco tax would raise much more than the amount of money being raided from the state’s savings account? Would you support an increase in the tobacco tax to avoid raiding or “borrowing” from your state savings account?
Do not misunderstand what is happening – this is your money and your state savings account. And, you would not loan one-fifth of your personal savings to someone without first making sure that all other avenues of funding/assistance or money were not available to the borrower before raiding your personal savings. And I dare say that most everyone would not loan that money without guarantees that it be repaid. Think about this in terms of what you would do with your own savings account – because it is.
I urge you to vote NO on Sept. 18 and urge the governor to call a special session to require the legislature to work together to find a permanent solution to our state’s funding needs. You elected us to make the hard choices and decisions now, not to kick the can down the road three years. Alabamian’s deserve a permanent solution.
State representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.