To recap recent legislative action – recall that the House passed (53 - 43) an unconscionable General Fund Budget pushing all of the cuts onto Medicaid by some $150M – effectively shuttering the program thousands depend upon in our state. The Senate General Fund Budget Committee replaced the House version by resurrecting a version of the General Fund Budget passed by both bodies in the General Session back in June. Important to note – this near identical budget was pass by the House (61 – 39) and the Senate (20 – 13) AND the House voted to override the Governor’s veto by a vote of 75 – 21; all during the regular session that ended about two months ago. (Click here for insight as to what happened in the final days of the Regular Session).
And yet after the Senate passed a similar budget in the Special Session on Monday in a 19 – 15 vote, the House voted 92 – 2 to non-concur with the Senate changes which replaced the shameful $150M cut to Medicaid with a balanced budget spreading cuts across state agencies (impacting Medicaid by modest 4% cut and fully funding the prison reforms).
And so the First Special Session will come to an end with no budget for our state. Fingers are being pointed in all directions – from the Governor called us back too early to the House and Senate leadership couldn’t develop/garner support for a cohesive unified plan of combined taxes, cuts and moving funds from the Education budget to, now – the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.
The dysfunction across our State Government is in full display in Montgomery. As recent as yesterday afternoon we were briefed that the House had agreed to concur with changes made by the Senate and yet last night the House voted to non-concur with those changes, instead voting to keep the version they passed severely cutting Medicaid by $150M. Would the Governor have vetoed the Senate version of General Fund Budget again? Perhaps but we’ll never know now as the House killed any chance of passing a budget during the Special Session. As early as Monday the Governor stated there wasn’t enough time left in the session for us to send him a budget he could support. Remember, the Governor is looking for nothing less than $300M in tax increases and even the “best” (worse?) plan proposed a combined taxes, cuts and transfers from the Education Budget yielding $200M.
The House went back into session last night and began to carry over numerous Senate bills in apparent retaliation to the Senate carrying over House bills in committee last week. Disregarding the fact that the Senate passed numerous House bills during the day on Monday and legitimate concerns were evident in the House bills carried over in committee, i.e. an un-earmarking bill that did not go into effect until the 2017 budget likely impacted Federal funding. Today the Senate went into session and then recessed to “wait and see how the House would treat Senate bills throughout the day” before we took up any of their bills. Yup, it’s the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s in the Alabama Legislature.
From whispers in the halls of the State House, it appears more tax raising talk as the only alternative is in our future; cigarettes, soda, federal income tax deductions; who knows what else. While constituents in some House and Senate Districts across the state are apparently flush with excess cash and eager to have their taxes raised, I continue to hear from folks in the Senate District I represent that raising taxes is not an option they want me to support. Rest assured I’m hearing from people calling for the legislature to “fully fund” the program they are championing – State Parks, Mental Health, etc. I also receive some emails and phone calls supporting increasing taxes on cigarettes or sodas but that’s because – they freely share - they don’t smoke or drink soda! And some folks have shared that a property tax is the way out of the crisis – but not their property; raise the property tax on someone else, like business or industry – they can “absorb it”. I’ll remind readers that a property tax requires a vote of the people; and rightfully so. Recent property tax votes earlier this year have gone down in flames; Baldwin County defeated 60 – 30, and Lawrence County defeated 80 – 20 to name a few.
Yes, the budget challenge remains before us. While not a perfect solution (but when has such a solution existed?) I maintain that the Senate has now passed two balanced budgets. Again, neither is perfect but both were executable and with proper management could get us into the 2016 Fiscal Year. Agencies could pull from Second Quarter funds when/where justified and with proper oversight from the Executive Branch. The legislature will be back in Regular Session in February of 2016 to then address any lingering budget concerns with much more clarity on specifics within the budget. There was no need for the First Special Session, let alone a second.
The Senate adjourned just before 1:30, Sine Die on the 30th Calendar Day of the First Special Session. I’ll resume the blog when we return. Semper Fi - Bill