Borrow from ourselves or tobacco tax?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Alabama’s Senate is expected to debate an “incomplete” 2013 General Fund budget that came out of committee Tuesday.

It’s a version of the budget that the governor has already said he will veto. The largest single expenditure in this version is $418 for Medicaid, and Gov. Bentley has promised to veto a budget with less than $600 million for the Medicaid, the medical safety net that serves the health needs of more than 900,000 Alabamians.

If OK’d by the Senate, this budget would go to a conference committee to work out differences between this version and the version passed by the House of Representatives last month.

The budget relies on the passage of a Constitutional Amendment in November to get Medicaid to the $600 million Bentley and state health officer Dr. Don Williamson said is necessary.

The Education Trust Fund must pay off a $427 million credit line, known as the Rainy Day Fund, in the Alabama Trust Fund by 2015. The constitutional amendment would extend a credit line to the General Fund from the ATF based on money paid back to the Rainy Day Fund by the Education Trust Fund. This plan would put an additional $184 million in the budget for Medicaid.

But it does nothing to address the need for long-term funding of this safety net, nor repayment to the Rainy Day Fund. Since the state’s Medicaid appropriation earns matching federal dollars at an almost two-to-one ratio, any state cut means huge cuts to medical care in Alabama.

In contrast, a proposed tobacco tax would generate $212 million in new revenue. Health experts predict the increased cost would discourage some from smoking, keeping 20,000 people from tobacco-related deaths, and save $26 million in smoking-related treatment costs.

Yet Gov. Robert Bentley and other elected officials don’t want to talk about a tobacco tax increase as a solution because they are committed to “no new taxes.”

It sounds like a no-brainer to us.