In Bible belt, we’re not willing to care for ‘least of these?’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sen. Paul Sanford has done more to fill the gaping hole in Alabama’s General Fund in the past seven days than the rest of the legislature has done in all the legislative days of the 2015 regular session and first special session combined.

A week ago, Sanford, a Huntsville Republican, established a GoFundMe account for the state’s General Fund budget, which is about $300 million away from being balanced. The legislature hasn’t passed any revenue measures to fix the budget, even though we’ve known for years this day of reckoning was coming. They agreed once to slash General Fund agencies by about 5 percent across the board, but Gov. Robert Bentley vetoed that proposed budget. Then, the House proposed $156 million in cuts to Medicaid, a move that would have a $450 million impact on the state’s economy and cripple many medical facilities. The Senate wisely rejected that notion.

Bottom line: no budget.

Meanwhile, Sanford, perhaps tongue in cheek, started a GoFundMe account, giving people the option of voluntarily contributing toward the $300 million deficit, and designating where their dollars should go. In seven days, he raised $1,315 – not much, but far more than anyone else has done to stop the bleeding.

There have been complaints about the use of a site regularly used to raise money for sick or disabled children or adults for this cause. Many cried foul at the notion of using GoFundMe to balance a state budget.

But when it comes right down to it, the task before the legislature is to help sick or disabled children or adults, just like most of the worthy GoFundMe causes. In Alabama, Medicaid is the source of healthcare for 40 percent of our children, and more than half of our infant deliveries. Medicaid also funds care for 68 percent of the nursing home residents in Covington County.

The Department of Mental Health, also funded by the General Fund and the recipient of Medicaid dollars, provides care for disabled Alabamians, as well as mental health services. The Department of Human Resources investigates child abuse, child sex abuse, and elder abuse. The list goes on and on.

There are very few among us who wouldn’t donate to fundraisers – online or otherwise – to help a sick child or coworker; to make the life of an elderly person better; or to protect children. So why is it, that in a state that prides itself for being part of the Bible Belt and in which most voters identify themselves as Christians, the legislature fears the backlash of voting for funding to do the right thing?

It would take approximately $62.50 from every man, woman and child in Alabama to balance the budget. The governor has proposed a tax package that touches lots of people a little, but the legislature has scarcely given his proposals the time of day. Legislative leaders have proposed the legalization of additional gambling as one possible solution; others have suggested taking the money needed from the education budget. Thus far, there has been nothing that looked like consensus, and we are about to get charged with the cost of a second Special Session, estimated at more than $300,000.

Balance it with cuts, you say? There have been a number of cuts in state government in recent years, and there probably could be more. I’m willing to cut state-funded travel to association meetings on the coast, for starters; or to reduce the number of state holidays; or not pay for extra days when the legislature doesn’t get its job done on time. In business, when the budget is tight, the first expenses cut are those one can live without.

But I’ll also willingly contribute my $62.50 to the effort to keep children healthy, to care for the elderly, and take care of the disabled. Pass the collection plate, please.


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.