A round-up of Sunday editorials from Alabama’s leading newspapers:
The Anniston Star – Our ‘frustration’ over the Alabama Legislature
In recent years, Alabama’s modern-day lawmakers have shown no willingness to right the state’s sinking financial ship. No one in their right mind should have thought these lawmakers would be any different this go-around.
They weren’t, obviously.
Oh, they passed a $1.64 billion General Fund budget Thursday, but it mimicked Monopoly money. Its value was nil.
It didn’t solve the state’s budget crisis. It didn’t repair the $200 million hole in the General Fund. It didn’t remove the specter of closed state agencies, laid off state employees and shuttered state parks. It also didn’t escape the governor’s wrath.
“It annoys me that the Legislature did not do their job within the allotted period of time,” Gov. Robert Bentley said, “but you can’t get frustrated.”
That’s exactly what Alabamians should be — frustrated, or worse, that lawmakers continue to subscribe to the discredited theory that the only way to write a sensible state budget is to cut fat like the grocery-store butcher. They don’t give a hoot about the ramifications: on public safety, on prisons, on state parks, on state employees, on the state’s reputation. All they care about — particularly the Republican members of their ranks — is adhering to a low-tax, small-government mantra that sounds good on Election Day but isn’t practical in reality.
Bentley vetoed the budget because it doesn’t move the ball forward. It checked off a box — budget passed, mission accomplished — and that’s it. Bentley, eschewing his party’s no-new-tax beliefs, rightly prefers the state face reality that new revenue, through tax increases, is the wisest choice.
Feelings of frustration should overtake us all.
Alabama got in this situation because Montgomery’s men (and women) have played their roles well. They’ve fought tax increases. They’ve argued against most forms of revenue creation. They’re preached sermons that say small government equals good government. They’ve played shell games with the state’s finances, moving money from one account to another, borrowing from a rainy day account, relying on federal dollars. Everyone knew that one day, barring a massive influx of new money, that the spigot from which cash flows into the state’s coffers would run dry.
Legislators have been in session since March and found no viable solution. That’s not merely frustrating. That’s reprehensible.
The Decatur Daily: Legislature failed to do its job
Governmental dysfunction is not surprising when an executive branch and legislative branch are controlled by different parties with contrasting ideologies. It’s been a feature of our federal government since Republicans controlled first the House and then the Senate, while a Democrat occupied the White House.
The results at the federal level have been maddening, if not surprising. The Republican Congress doesn’t trust the agenda of the Democratic president, and consequently doesn’t trust his advice. Whether the topic is Iran or international trade pacts or the federal budget, suspicion and mistrust lead to inaction.
Such stalemates come as a surprise when the same party controls both the legislative and executive branches, as has been the case in Alabama since 2010.
When it comes to budgetary matters, Gov. Robert Bentley, a former Republican legislator, is ideologically indistinguishable from the Republicans who control the Statehouse. Bentley is an advocate of smaller government. He resents taxes. He successfully won the governor’s seat twice by touting his fiscal conservatism. He spent his first term acting on these principles, cutting agencies to skeletal levels and swearing the state could function without new revenue.
For Bentley, reality finally intruded. He still favored small government and low taxes, but his day-to-day management of state government convinced him the state would fail its citizens if revenue dropped. And he knew, as did his Republican colleagues in the Legislature, that revenue had to drop. Years of one-time windfalls that had propped up the state finally were at an end. Something had to be done before fiscal 2016, which begins in October.
So Bentley did what no conservative wants to do. He proposed new taxes. He reminded legislators fiscal responsibility is a cornerstone of conservatism. He explained he already had cut $1 billion from state government, and any further cuts would irreparably harm Alabama.
So what did the Legislature do with this information from one of their own? They rejected it. In a rebuff that made two-party Washington look harmonious, one-party Montgomery could not find the level of cooperation needed to run the state.
The result is inefficiency in a government that does not have the luxury of being inefficient. After the Legislature passed a budget the legislators themselves agreed was irresponsibly austere, Bentley vetoed it. State agencies and the people they serve have no idea what preparations to make for fiscal 2016. Bentley has promised a special session, which will cost the state $320,000 it doesn’t have.
Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, received enthusiastic applause from his colleagues on the last day of the session. Yet the Legislature rejected his budgetary advice as well.
Orr called the session “extremely frustrating.”
“Just the inability to come to a consensus,” he said. “It took time for an agreement that there really is a significant problem and that just passing a cut budget is not the best answer to the problem.”
Extremely frustrating? Yes. Also expensive, irresponsible and embarrassing.
The Gadsden Times: Celebrate open meetings
Alabama will soon have a stronger Open Meetings Act, and that’s news worth celebrating.
It’s a common misconception that open meeting laws are for the benefit of media companies. The reality is that open meeting laws are for the benefit of the public. Most people aren’t going to attend public meetings even if they have a direct stake in the actions above and beyond being concerned about how their tax money is being spent. They rely on media outlets to report on the actions. Without open meeting laws, it’s more difficult for media companies to get that information out.
Governmental boards like city councils, county commissions and school boards should operate in a transparent fashion. Yes, there are occasions when private discussions are warranted, but most local government business should be conducted in the full light of day.
The Legislature passed a new version of the Open Meetings Act last week that fixes problems with a 2005 law torn apart by Alabama Supreme Court rulings. The 2005 law was an update of a 1913 statute and was designed to ensure transparency in government. The court rulings had stripped it of any real teeth.
Most significantly, the new law bans “serial meetings,” where board members get together in pairs or small groups to discuss matters that will later come before the full body for action. “Serial meetings” result in little meaningful discussion taking place in public. That’s the opposite of transparency.
The Alabama Press Association was a major supporter of the legislation. APA Executive Director Felicia Mason said she was surprised at the amount of pushback the legislation generated and interpreted that as a sign that the practice was widespread.
Another fix involved the court ruling that civil penalties for violations were payable only to the state, not the public. The new bill says citizens who sue can be paid the fines.
The third significant court ruling related to the Open Meetings Act concerned the Alabama Legislature meeting publicly. The political process is often compared to sausage making in the sense that it’s better not to watch how it’s done, but we think the public should be able to watch if it wants. The new law will ensure that, with certain exceptions.
Here’s hoping that this time around, the courts won’t blow big holes in the law. This bill made it out of the Legislature, but that’s never a sure bet.
The Montgomery Advertiser: Find way to avoid mental health cuts
Nowhere is the moral integrity of the Alabama Legislature more on the line, as it grapples with a deep hole in next year’s General Fund, than in proposed cuts in services for the mentally ill and disabled.
The House this week approved a cut of $5.2 million to mental health programs as part of its no-new-revenue General Fund budget.
Gov. Robert Bentley has rightly vowed to veto the irresponsible package, which includes none of his $541 million funding proposals and would badly damage state agencies across the board.
In short, everything remains dangerously uncertain for the Alabama Department of Mental Health and its vital work.
The agency serves some 3,000 Alabamians in state-operated facilities and more than 100,000 in community-based programs, individuals with afflictions such as schizophrenia, Down syndrome, autism or severe emotional disorders.
It also has an unconscionably long waiting list of more than 3,200 people because of chronic underfunding.
The House’s $5.2 million cut would have unacceptable results, but consider the disastrous consequences ahead for the ADMH if lawmakers continue refusing to approve Bentley’s tax initiatives:
- As many as 24,000 people with mental illness will lose services or see them drastically reduced.
- Group homes and supported housing programs will close, forcing out hundreds of mentally ill or disabled individuals. The lucky ones will go back with their families, but that burden of care will likely cause family members to lose jobs.
As for the rest, they’ll end up homeless, in ERs, or in jails and prisons unequipped to handle them.
- Outpatient psychiatric services for thousands of mentally ill Alabamians will also vanish, including access to medications.
- An estimated 1,080 mental health center employees will lose their jobs, as centers close or scale down. Residents of some counties will have no access to mental health services.
- Employment and day programs for the intellectually disabled would be shuttered or diminished, causing more job losses for family members.
And that’s just the short list.
Bentley has vowed to call a special session if the Legislature doesn’t fulfill its obligation to adequately fund state functions such as those the ADMH provides.
Good for him for not giving up this critical crusade.
But he isn’t entirely the knight in shining armor on mental health care. He has lagged too long in calling for an expansion of Alabama’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.
The expansion wouldn’t solve the crisis, but would greatly increase health-care providers’ ability to serve the mentally ill.
He should take on that mantle too.
The Selma-Times Journal: Why the name of the bridge must be changed
The Edmund Pettus Bridge is a symbol of freedom all over the world. It is also a symbol of Voting Rights and democracy. However, the very name stands for the exact opposite. Symbols are powerful.
Symbols enter into our conscious and subconscious without our screening them. Then they impact us without our knowing it. The effects manifest themselves in manifold ways that we don’t even recognize. The name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a symbol. Symbols are powerful.
Until recently, many knew the name but few knew who Edmund Pettus was. Now that we know we must protect all those who come in contact with the bridge, especially our children. We must change the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Symbols are powerful.
Who was Edmund Pettus? He was many things. The most important for this discussion is Grand Dragon of the Alabama Klu Klux Klan. The Klu Klux Klan was a terrorist organization that killed, maimed, and terrorized African Americans for nearly a century. It also terrorized Catholics and Jews. The Klu Klux Klan was an instrument of wide spread violent oppression. Pettus used his positions as a Grand Dragon, U. S. Senator and other designations to take the right to vote from African Americans and others. In 1940, the bridge in Selma was named after Edmund Pettus, a symbol of that violent oppression. Symbols are powerful.
Every time we say the words Edmund Pettus Bridge, we lift two very powerful but opposite messages. Edmund Pettus sends a message of violence, terror, oppression, white supremacy, the destruction of the right to vote and death.
The bridge sends a message of non-violence, freedom, equality, voting rights for all, democracy and life. We cannot serve two masters with one symbol. Symbols are powerful.
As Grand Dragon of the Alabama Klu Klux Klan in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Edmund Pettus was key in crushing the right to vote of African Americans. This was accomplished through terror, intimidation, violence and death. The Alabama Klan terrorized African Americans who tried to vote. Pettus was a powerful proponent of white supremacy and black inferiority all his life. He continually used his political, legal and other positions to violently oppress African Americans.
Would anyone in Alabama stand for one of its most important monuments to be named after any modern day terrorist? I would be shocked if the answer to this question was yes. At Penn State University, the statue of Joe Paterno was removed. He had not oppressed anyone. He failed to aggressively push a terrible abuse done by another. His name was removed from everything even though he had been one of the greatest college coaches in the history of football. Yet, we allow a bridge to be named after the head of an organization that murdered and terrorized people for nearly a hundred years. Symbols are powerful.
Also, Bill Cosby was accused of multiple oppressive crimes but he was never charged. Yet, his name was taken off of everything at Temple University, Spelman College and other places. For some, the name contradicted everything it once stood for. Only symbols destructive to black people are allowed to stand in the face of oppressive history. Symbols are powerful.
Now that people know who Edmund Pettus was, think of the confusion our children will experience when they see the name Edmund Pettus on this famous bridge. Do we want them to wonder whether we are lifting a vision of terrorism, white supremacy, destruction of the right to vote and death or the vision of freedom, the right to vote, equality and life. Symbols are powerful.
On the 50th Anniversary celebration of Bloody Sunday, many people came to Selma to lift the symbol of freedom. However, others came to lift the symbol of racial terrorism.
At the foot of the bridge stood a large billboard with a picture of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. He sat astride a war horse. The words, “Keep the sceer (scare) in them” was written across the billboard. At the commemoration, members of the Klan, inspired by the example of Edmund Pettus, passed out Klan literature. This, mind you, was in 2015, not 1905. Symbols are powerful.
When we know better, we must do better. It is well within our ability to forge a powerful unified symbol by changing the name of the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the Journey To Freedom Bridge.
Journey to Freedom is an inclusive and unifying symbol. However, it may not be the right name but the current name must be changed. Symbols are powerful.
The Troy Messenger: The EPA’s renegade policies must be reinedin
The Alabama Legislature took an important step toward reining in a rogue federal department this week when it approved a joint resolution opposing certain anti-business activities of the Environmental Protection Agency in Alabama.
When President Richard Nixon established the EPA in 1970, it served a valuable purpose as decades of lax environmental oversight had resulted in measurable damage to air quality, water quality, soil erosion, and other concerns. In the 45 years since, businesses, farmers, and other industries have implemented strong safeguards and protections, and I think we can all agree that the environment has improved greatly in that period.
But despite those dramatic improvements, the EPA continues to demand more restrictive rules and regulations that hamstring business, stymie job growth, and do irreparable harm to our economy. One example of this EPA overreach is currently attacking several industries that operate in Birmingham, Alabama.
A few years ago, one section of north Birmingham was declared a federal Superfund site, which provides the EPA with broad authority to clean up industrial pollution that they claim has built up over time. In their overzealous effort, EPA officials are seeking to punish businesses which have legally permitted air emissions. Specifically, the EPA is alleging that these permitted air emissions are somehow impacting the Superfund site.
The EPA’s current policy would be like finding a piece of trash in your yard, driving across town, picking five houses at random, and knocking on the doors to accuse the owners of allowing the trash to somehow blow from their home to yours. Imagine how you would react, in this comparison, if someone chose to knock upon your door.
Now you have a sense of how the targeted business owners must feel.
The EPA’s “air deposition” theory that emissions can travel for miles like fairy dust, land by coincidence on an already contaminated site, and cause additional identifiable pollution is preposterous at best and knowingly false at worst.
It is obvious that the EPA is seeking to revitalize urban neighborhoods surrounding Birmingham’s 35th Avenue Superfund site by using dollars that are hijacked from the targeted industries, which seems to be less about environmental mitigation and more about engaging in a social engineering experiment.
The members of the Alabama Legislature, who are focused on job creation, industrial recruitment, and creating a positive business environment, understand the innate unfairness of the EPA’s stance, which is why the joint resolution resulted.
In its measure, the Legislature also commended the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for fairly balancing its regulatory functions with the needs and concerns of businesses that employ millions of citizens across the state. And ADEM, recognizing the economically harmful and environmentally unnecessary after-effects of the EPA’s actions, has publicly opposed including the Birmingham site on the agency’s list of priority sites.
With the combined efforts of the governor, the attorney general, the Legislature, and the state’s congressional delegation, Alabama can be successful in beating back the attempted usurpation of authority and force the EPA to operate within the established rules and guidelines that govern it.
Alabama has experienced tremendous success in recruiting industries that provide long-lasting, well-paying, 21st century jobs. Our continually expanding automotive and aviation manufacturing sectors are just two examples of our successes on that front, but if the EPA is allowed to continue its renegade policies, our industrial recruitment advances could soon turn into retreats.
And that is a fight we cannot afford to lose.
The Tuscaloosa News: Morals at stake with Ala. lawmakers
Dear Editor: Alabama is facing a financial crisis unlike any time in our lifetime. This didn’t just happen over night. It is the result of years of irresponsible spending by those in authority — namely those that have been in power too long and are obsessed with the career politician syndrome.
We are the people who are the source of power that can break this up by standing together to limit all elective positions to no more than two four-year terms with no benefits. A fantastic savings would result here, but limited space will not allow me to elaborate.
We are currently being faced with lawmakers and a governor selling out what morals that we have left to all forms of evil, simply to feather their own nests and those of certain special interest groups. There are no provisions in the Constitution that allow such funding for any purpose.
Gambling is liberal and there is no limit to the damage that can occur from it because it is addictive. The ones pushing this gambling issue are in violation of their oaths of office and also the section of the Constitution that forever prohibits it.
Special note here, it is also in violation of the Preamble to the Constitution. I believe such negative leadership will come home to roost in the end.
We could balance the budget by closing all the doors to non-essential services and at the same time provide incentives that would reduce crime, corruption and waste.