Government shouldn’t depend on special sessions

Published 11:39 pm Friday, August 14, 2015

Ever wonder how it feels to write a $400,000 check … and get nothing in return?
That’s just what happened to Alabama taxpayers when Gov. Robert Bentley called a special session of the Legislature in July. That session closed Tuesday with no progress toward resolving the state’s budget crisis, leaving taxpayers footing the nearly $400,000 in expenses for … what exactly?
The governor called the special session in July, weeks before lawmakers were expecting him to do so. His goal was simple: he wanted lawmakers to approve $302 million in tax increases in order to resolve the longstanding budget deficit. His plan included a cigarette tax, a business privilege tax and eliminating certain tax deductions.
And none of this proposals won legislative support. Instead, lawmakers debated the merits of expanding existing gambling interests – and levying taxes on revenues; argued whether or not to combine the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets; and introduced dozens of other proposals – from bills to allow loaded handguns in vehicles to bills to abolish the issuing of marriage licenses.
At the end, what was revealed is just how divided lawmakers are on finding solutions to the state’s ongoing budget woes. For example, the House on Monday defeated a budget that would have reduced spending from the General Fund by $185 million, forcing cuts in Medicaid, mental health, public health and court systems, among other programs. Opponents said the plan would decimate the Medicaid program and leave thousands of Alabamians without health care or mental care services.
Now, Gov. Bentley will be forced to call another special session of the Legislature – with another $300,000-plus price tag – in an effort to put in place a budget before Oct. 1. It’s disappointing that our governor and elected lawmakers likely won’t be able to come to a solution on the state’s budget without another expensive special session and more last-minute political maneuvers.
Governing shouldn’t come down to forced deadlines and special sessions.

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