A little late to promise payback

Published 12:19 am Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Supporters of a proposed Constitutional Amendment for which Alabama voters will have the opportunity to approve or reject in September yesterday added a caveat to the $437 million “loan” for which they are asking.

By the way, they said. Trust us, we’ll pay it back.

The proposal, which cleared the Alabama legislature in the spring, would if approved by Alabama voters take $145.8 million a year for three years out of the Alabama Trust Fund to help balance the budget during a time when tax collections are expected to see little growth. The funds would be used to balance the state’s General Fund budget, and are desperately needed to keep Medicaid afloat.

When the legislature approved the measure that created a special election – with a special price tag – to decide this issue, they were passing the buck to Alabama voters. Having boasted they wouldn’t raise taxes, the governor and others in the legislature stubbornly said, “Approve this, or we’ll just make draconian cuts.”

At the time, there was no discussion of the funds being “repaid” to the state trust fund, which earns interest that funds state government. And even though interest rates are low, interest on $437 million adds up.

Yesterday, Bentley and members of the GOP leadership said they’ll pass legislation next year requiring the state to pay itself back, beginning in 2015.

We find that promise of a promissory note a bit lame and a bit late.

We believe the legislature failed Alabama citizens by making 2012-13 budgets hinge on a vote to be taken 12 days before the new fiscal year begins. The strategy for getting this Constitutional Amendment passed is to say very little about it, and hope people who are for it turn out to vote.

They’ve backed Alabamians who don’t want to see residents forced to leave nursing homes or people lose access to health care into a corner, with only this bad plan for fixing this year’s budget as a fix.

It would be hard for us to pull a lever that could cause those things to happen, or state prisoners to be released wholesale.

But the good governor doctor’s remedy as prescribed by the legislature is a bitter, bitter pill for Alabamians to swallow.