Spending amendment is a risk

Published 10:30 pm Thursday, July 19, 2012

In a recent reliable poll Alabamians expressed overwhelming satisfaction with the job that our doctor governor is doing.

The poll done by the Capital Survey Research Center revealed that a whopping two-thirds of Alabama voters approve of Gov. Robert Bentley’s job performance. When asked their impression of Bentley, 63% of the surveyed voters reacted favorably to his performance, 20 percent were unfavorable and 17 percent were neutral or did not recognize the governor’s name.

These are pretty good numbers for an incumbent governor one and a half years into his four year tenure in office. Such favorable approval ratings bode well for reelection possibilities in 2014.

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Lest you think that the poll was performed by a pro-Bentley or conservative leaning polling firm, you are wrong. The poll was taken and analyzed by the most reputable pollster in Alabama, Dr. Gerald Johnson. The Capital Survey Research Center is a polling arm of the Alabama Education Association. If anything, they would tend to be prejudiced against Bentley. He has not exactly been the AEA’s friend or ally in his inaugural year or second year in office.

The most surprising result of the survey revealed that over half of the respondents approved of the job that the legislature is doing. Again, if the teachers’ lobby poll was prejudiced or skewed they would have tweaked the numbers against a legislative body that has made dismantling the achievements of the AEA priority one in their first two legislative sessions. Therefore, the legislature and Bentley’s positive ratings are accurate and believable.

This is the first time I can ever remember a state legislative body in Alabama or anywhere garnering a 50% approval rating. The U.S. Congress certainly does not enjoy this satisfaction rating. The last time I looked they were at about 10 percent.

These numbers for the governor and legislature may drop after October 1st. The harsh realities of the recession ravaged General Fund Budget will begin to be felt as the new fiscal year begins. The severe cuts in state services will be noticeable to Alabamians. These reductions or loss of services will evolve from severe to draconian if the September special election to borrow money from the Alabama Trust Fund fails.

A September 18th special election is set for you to approve of a constitutional amendment to take $145 million a year for three years from a state savings account that holds royalties the state receives from oil companies that drilled natural gas wells in state owned waters along the Alabama coast. This amounts to more than one sixth of the savings account. The money would be used each year through 2015 to help balance the State’s General Fund Budget.

Gov. Bentley and the legislature have banked on the precarious hope that Alabamians will trek to the polls on September 18th to approve this measure. My guess is that you will not approve this borrowing plan. If that is the case, the governor is faced with not only draconian cuts but Armageddon. There will only be 10 days remaining before the fiscal year begins. He will be looking down the barrel of a scenario that is fraught with pain and gnashing of teeth.

The good doctor governor, who has been a champion of Medicaid, may see the entire concept of Medicaid collapse in the Heart of Dixie. Medicaid provides for over 80% of all nursing home patients in Alabama and over 50 percent of all live births in the state. The problem is further exacerbated in fiscal year 2015 when ObamaCare kicks in and even more low income Alabamians will be brought into the Medicaid fold.

The legislature is an equal partner in the financial reckoning. This group is conservative to say the least. Reactionary and right wing is a better description of their philosophical leanings. If left up to their devices they may very well just scrap Medicaid altogether and say good luck to all the folks in the nursing homes and babies that need delivering.

I am not saying our legislature is callous or hardnosed. However, it might be safe to say that they are not RINOs. One might say that they are so far to the right that the Tea Party would look like a socialist organization compared to their view of taxing and spending.

The legislature and governor may not gee haw when the train wreck occurs on October 1st. Their polling numbers may also drop some when the cutting begins and the ramifications of our financial dilemma become reality. However, Alabamians are quite perceptive and conservative. The polling numbers recently released probably reflect that we desire and like a very conservative governor and legislature. We will see.

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.