We believe the people of Alabama should hold their noses and vote for a constitutional amendment that takes $437.4 million from a state savings account.
The Sept. 18 amendment would remove the money from the Alabama Trust Fund. It would cover a major General Fund budgetary shortfall that would hit Medicaid and the prisons hardest.
The state Medicaid program is already among the most poorly funded in the nation. Cutting it more at a time when the economy has pushed hundreds of thousands into poverty is immoral. The elderly and disabled would bear the brunt of any cuts.
Medicaid cuts also are short-sighted. For every $1 the state spends on Medicaid, it receives a $2 federal match. This match not only provides medical care to our neediest neighbors, it pumps money into the state’s economy. Any cuts would jeopardize all federal funding.
The other major cash drain on the General Fund is the prison system. While we suspect sentencing reform would reduce prison expenses, such reform is not possible before fiscal 2013.
The shortfall would require the release of prisoners without the rehabilitation they need to keep them from committing more crimes.
While we believe voters should support the constitutional amendment, we share their frustration.
Gov. Robert Bentley and legislators say the withdrawal buys them time to streamline government. If the shortfall was a surprise, we might accept the argument.
In fact, though, one-time windfalls — from federal stimulus funds and from a recalculation of past natural-gas royalties — have kept the General Fund afloat for the last three years. If more cuts in state expenses were possible, there was plenty of time to make them.
Bentley and legislators promise they will pay back the Alabama Trust Fund. Clearly that was not the intent when the bill authorizing the amendment was passed, or the amendment would have included the requirement.
The only bill supporting the 11th-hour repayment proposal is useless. It does not require repayment for 10 years, after the governor and many legislators will be out of office. Even if the bill passes, it is subject to repeal before the repayment obligation takes effect.
If voting down the constitutional amendment punished our elected officials, we would be all for it. The victims, though, would be innocents: people who need medical care and people who will be harmed by the early release of felons.
The state needs the constitutional amendment to pass. Then it needs lawmakers who have the courage not just to cut assistance to the most vulnerable, but to raise taxes on the most powerful.
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