Yesterday, Alabama voters (well, a small percentage of Alabama voters*) approved Amendment One, which allows a transfer of more than $437 million over the next three years from the state’s oil and gas trust fund to the General Fund. This amendment allows the legislature to balance the state’s budget, at least for now.
The General Fund is something of a catchall for non-education-related programs, including Medicaid, child protective services, public health and safety, prisons, and the court system – not to mention “legislative activities”. It’s funded by a patchwork of revenue sources including insurance company premium taxes, interest on state deposits, some ad valorem taxes, and taxes on cigarettes and booze.
All of these revenues are adversely impacted by a bad economy. Seriously, when interest rates are hovering around 1% and people are cutting back on big purchases, there’s no way to get adequate funding for essential services. A short-term inflow of money is not going to solve the long-term flaws in the system.
So what can we do about it? Alabama Arise has a great call to action that gets right to the core of the problem and offers a real solution – and it does it in three succinct paragraphs:
Tuesday’s “yes” vote saved Alabama from an immediate funding crisis and devastating funding cuts next year, but it wasn’t a cure for our state’s funding shortfalls. The General Fund budget still languishes under a structural deficit: As in many states, our revenues simply don’t grow fast enough to keep up with the rising costs of Medicaid, prisons and other public services. The amendment that voters approved Tuesday is a short-term patch for a long-term problem.
Raiding a savings account every year to pay ongoing expenses is not a sustainable way to fund the health care infrastructure that makes life better for all of us. We must hold our leaders to their pledge that this amendment merely creates a bridge to a sustainable solution. From now on, they must keep the Alabama Trust Fund intact.
When our lawmakers return in February to craft budgets for 2014, we urge them to approve new revenues to stabilize Medicaid, mental health, public safety and other public services for the long term. And they should design a revenue plan that doesn’t make our state’s upside-down tax system even worse. It’s time to make hard decisions and establish an adequate, reliable funding stream to protect the most vulnerable among us. (emphasis mine)
It’s up to each of us to contact our legislators and the Governor with this message and to demand action on comprehensive tax reform in the upcoming legislative session. Click here to personalize the text above and send it directly to your Representative and Senator. Write your own letter or email. Call. Visit. Push and push and push (politely, of course) until you see results. Nothing will change if we don’t make it change.
*The Secretary of State’s website shows 2.6 million plus registered voters; the AP reported 533,742 total votes with 88 percent of the precincts reporting. That’s just over 20% turnout, and it really kinda sucks.