New conversation needs to start now

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alabama voters yesterday overwhelmingly gave their support to a Constitutional Amendment that will allow the withdrawal of approximately $146 million per year for three years from the Alabama Trust Fund to save the state from a grave crisis for Medicaid, prisons, public safety, the courts, mental health and other agencies. There is no requirement for repayment of the “loan.”

Sixty-five percent of Alabamians participating in yesterday’s vote said “yes.” Not half of us bothered to go to the polls.

Some say the vote means that Alabamians understand we need time to get out of the economic crunch in which we currently live. But experts on state government have been telling us for years that this day was coming. So far, no one – not the Democrats when they were in control, nor the Republicans now – has been willing to pony up to the bar and order the stiff medicine our General Fund needs.

The governor says he plans to have cut $1 billion from state budgets by the time he leaves office. He and other legislative leaders steadfastly refuse to consider even a cigarette tax this year – a politically safe tax if ever there was one – in keeping with their pledge of no new taxes. That tax alone would have raised $230 million annually, or more than the state will “borrow” from itself each year for the next three years.

It seems impossible to us that without new tax revenues or very painful cuts, we have done anything with yesterday’s vote except delay the crisis for three years.

The time for the legislature to begin seeking solutions to the crisis that was delayed by this legislation is today, rather than wait for the three-year band-aid to wear off and the crisis to be upon us again.