Let’s make ‘em think. Let’s vote no.
Though loudly proclaiming there’s no money to spare, our state government is going to blow a lot of it next Tuesday on an unnecessary special election. If the legislature and the governor hadn’t wussed out and had done their jobs right, we would not be facing a no-win statewide election to lengthen Alabama’s interminable constitution.
The sordid situation? Alabama’s broke. That’s not unusual; a lot of states face shortfalls in their budgets. However, because Governor Doctor Bentley is a nimrod, he has promised Republican uber-scold Grover Norquist that he will not raise any taxes to bring any additional revenue into the General Fund (even though there are a lot of loopholes in our tax laws that out-of-state corporations have neatly exploited to avoid paying for the privilege of doing business in Alabama).
Our General Fund can’t cover the cost of vital services such as running courts and prisons, operating the mental health system and funding Medicaid. However, we have a savings account, if you will, called the Alabama Trust Fund, with $2.5 billion in assets derived from royalties paid the state by natural gas producers. Interest on that nest egg is paid into the General Fund, becoming part of the usual state budget.
Legislators can’t get their hands on all that money…yet.
The amendment to be voted on September 18 will shrink the nest egg, allowing the transfer of $437 million into the General Fund over the next three years, to create the stopgap funding the legislature could not or would not enact.
Is there a provision in the amendment to pay the trust fund back? There is not.
A curious coalition backs passing the amendment. You’ve got the usual suspects with vested interests in the outcome, but also progressive outfits like Alabama Arise, an advocacy group for the impoverished. Said Jim Carnes, that organization’s communications director, “We’re asking people to vote yes and voice their dissatisfaction with the temporary solution.”
Seems like voting no would be a more audible way to voice that dissatisfaction.
If the amendment fails, the result on Goat Hill will be like knocking down a wasp nest in an outhouse. With the state budget about 10.8% in the red, the governor would be obliged to declare proration, cut the budget overall or make the legislators balance the budget in a special session that would wind up in an economic Wrestlemania among the state’s special interest groups.
The latter option would force the Republican-run legislature to confront its schizophrenic tendencies. In the name of fiscal conservatism, House Speaker Mike Hubbard and the gang assert they can cut a billion dollars from a bloated state budget, but at the same time they insist they need to tap the Alabama Trust Fund for nearly a half-billion just to make ends meet.
Short of A&E making a reality show out of state government, there’s not much way to get citizens interested in what’s being done in their name in Montgomery. Alas, Nielsen TV ratings suggest that it doesn’t even work at the national level. This year’s Democratic and Republican convention/reality show audience topped out at 36 and 30 million viewers respectively, a fraction of the 236 million people of voting age in the US.
We talked about the GOP last week, so fair’s fair. In a blaze of hubbub, in a fanfaronade of flapdoodle, the Democratic convention closed out as uneventfully as its Republican counterpart. What’s interesting is that the nominees in both were upstaged by ancillary speakers, so that the 2012 conventions might well go down in history as Clinton vs. Clint.
On the surface, it is easy to conclude, as both Paul Ryan and Barack Obama stated in their acceptance speeches, that November 6 offers a clear choice. What disturbs some folks is how many tenets the two parties share, from the need to absolve greedy bankers and cut deficits at the expense of the middle class (check out the lingering love for the Simpson-Bowles commission) to a refusal to acknowledge the need to extricate American forces in Afghanistan now.
Mitt Romney did not mention that haunted land once in his acceptance speech—“You talk about the things you think are important,” he tried to explain to Fox News afterwards—but the Obama administration is committed to prosecuting our longest war through 2014, absent compelling evidence that the US needs to sustain its presence there and despite national poll results overwhelmingly in favor of withdrawal.
Kyle Rookey. Alec Terwiske. Jonathan Schmidt. Jeremie Border. Shane Cantu. They came from New York, Indiana, Virginia, Texas and Michigan. They all died for you, in Afghanistan. The Pentagon announced their deaths last week.
Many more may have died as a result of their Middle Eastern tenure, but the Pentagon does not release their names, since suicide is not technically a service-related casualty. In July, the most recent month for which figures are available, 38 present and former soldiers took their own lives. The suicide rate among military personnel this year is averaging one per day, and, according to a report by the National Center for Veterans Studies, the root cause is intense emotional distress.
One place designated to help is the Veterans Administration. In Tuscaloosa, the VA Medical Center is going a little above and beyond the call this Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., hosting a “Welcome Home” ceremony for veterans returning from Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. Maybe it’s not a ticker-tape parade, but it is an acknowledgment missing elsewhere in a society that owes these troops immensely. It’s an appreciation of duty done. It’s an attempt to say thanks for a sacrifice that was not shared by the rest of their fellow citizens.
Somebody will win that presidential election in November. His first official act should be to end that war in Afghanistan and bring our people home.