Do you hear that sound?
Listen closely, for it is one that is all too familiar if you’ve lived for long in our fair state. It is one that emanates from the Alabama State Capitol and the Office of the Governor, resounding across hill and hollow, from Alabama’s northern vales to its southern shores. It is the same sound we hear every time our state government faces a fiscal crisis or stands at a moral crossroads.
It is the unmistakable sound of a can being kicked down a road.
The road in this case is the metaphorical one that runs in front of our collective house, this beautiful and bedeviling State in which we reside. And the can? The can is us, the people of Alabama — us and the problems that, in a righteous world, we would look to state government to solve or, at the very least, not make worse.
But righteous the world is not, a piece of information that should not qualify as breaking news to anyone who didn’t fall off a turnip truck coming through the big city within the past 24 hours. The environment in which our state government functions is a foul and swampy miasma of petty corruption and institutionalized misfeasance, made fouler and swampier in recent years by the complete devolution of our political process into a trench war of partisan interests that have no inclination to facilitate government of, by and for the people.
One outgrowth of this squalid ground is the special election the State of Alabama has scheduled for next Tuesday, September 18. I’m going to be accused of partisanship myself here, but let’s just call this one for what it is: An assault on the public treasury; a dastardly and cowardly act by a state government — the executive, legislative and judicial branches, a balance of power without wisdom — conjoined in a conspiracy of inadequacy. When even doing nothing at all would be a better option, they insist upon doing something bad. When faced with hard choices, they defer — past the next election, into the next generation, unto Kingdom Come.
In other words, they kick the can down the road. And here they come again.
What we are being asked…no, that’s too active a word, asked. What is being made available to the voters of Alabama — but only to certain voters, and very quietly, like inside information on a stock that’s about to take off — is an amendment to the Constitution of 1901. The official ballot language tells us that the amendment is intended “to provide adequate funding for the State General Fund budget, to prevent the mass release of prisoners from Alabama prisons, and to protect critical health services to Alabama children, elderly, and mothers by transferring funds from the Alabama Trust Fund to the State General Fund.”
Holy Lord, that’s frightening stuff. Throw some frogs and locusts and boils and fire into the mix with all of those mass-released convicts and endangered children, elderly and mothers, and this little special election that nobody knows about begins to take on Biblical proportions. Can Alabama be saved?
Unfortunately, the outcome of the September 18 referendum will not answer that question, because this election is not about saving the future of Alabama. It is about covering the asses of our state’s political “leadership” by allowing them to continue the grand tradition of kicking the can down the road.
What the amendment actually amounts to is this: The people of Alabama are being asked to loan Governor Bentley — and, perhaps, his successor — and the Alabama Legislature roughly $150 million per year for at least the next three years. They promise to pay it back — at a point in the future that they don’t wish to specify at this time.
This money will come from the Alabama Trust Fund — the people’s savings account, if you want to look at it that way, or our investment portfolio, if you want to look at it otherwise. Either way, it’s our money, created and perpetuated by funds generated from leasing of the rights to drill and develop natural gas reserves in the waters off the Alabama coast.
And now, because they have failed in their mutual responsibility of dealing with the problems that plague our state — prisons overcrowded by bad laws and bad courts; children, elderly and mothers wracked into poverty by inadequate education, health care and nutrition — the governor and the legislature want to raid the people’s savings account of nearly a half-a-billion dollars to cover the depth and gravity of their sins. And so they use scare tactics, flaunting their lack of regard for our intelligence and attention span in the very language of the ballot.
It’s probably going to work, by the way, and shame on us. On the other hand, let’s give them credit for doing a fine job of keeping this election — and its cost to Alabama taxpayers — a secret. They want and need a low turnout, and so rather than hold this election in conjunction with the one scheduled just seven weeks later, they spend $3 million more of our money to stage a facsimile of democracy on a quiet Tuesday in the waning days of summer.
The official reason for this is that the state’s fiscal year starts October 1, and the funds need to be in place by that time to, among other things, avoid disruption of Medicaid-funded services. Alright then. But doesn’t that beg the question of why we’re settling this with less than two weeks to spare? Did it have to come to this point?
Unfortunately, it did, because all our “leaders” do in Alabama is kick the can down the road. But now that it is at that point, let’s make them do their jobs. Let’s get out and vote “No.”
Mark Kelly is the publisher of Weld. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.