Reading back over Gov. Robert Bentley’s recent State of the State address, he makes some good points, whiffs on others and ignores still more.
In a nutshell, Bentley says “Hey Alabama is poor as heck, but we’re adding jobs at a breakneck speed. And we’re doing what we can to improve education as well, but the most important thing we’re doing is keeping Washington out of our bidness!” Most of his fears about DC center on the Medicaid expansion envisioned under Obamacare.
I fundamentally agree with Gov. Bentley about the disaster that is Obamacare and Medicaid in general, but still don’t see why we don’t take the $1.5 billion annually being offered for Medicaid expansion free of charge over the next three years. That’s the deal on the table, but Bentley essentially says the feds could be lying and if so we’d be screwed.
But in the same breath he also claims he’s going to fix the Medicaid system in Alabama so it works well and isn’t a loser. Explain again how Medicaid in Alabama is too big a mess to repair with billions more, but fixable with billions less. To put it in countrified backwoods lingo, that’s like saying you’d rather repair one broken tractor with a quarter of the money someone would pay you to fix two with the exact same problem.
It also seems unlikely Obamacare is going to survive over the long haul. So wouldn’t it be smart to get the money now and put it to good use before the whole thing blows up in DC, especially if you believe states can do a better job with the money. By Bentley’s own numbers, Medicaid currently takes up 35 percent of the state’s general fund annually — about $600 million. So we’re talking about the feds giving Alabama two-and-a-half times the money we’re spending each year on Medicaid to add between 200,000 and 300,000 people to the program. That’s fewer than are on Medicaid currently. In other words, suddenly Alabama has a $2.1 billion Medicaid budget each year. Personally I’d rather have that money down here.
If Dr. Governor really has a sharp plan to fix our current Medicaid woes, just imagine what a bang-up job he could do with so much more dough. Alabama’s healthcare system could become the envy of dirt-poor states across the country.
If you heard or read his speech, though, it feels like most of the Medicaid rejection is simply based upon that populist suspicion of Washington and rejection of Obama that plays so well when you’re standing in the back of a pickup truck giving a campaign speech. But this state is on the federal teat and Bentley knows it.
We get back far more than we give to DC, so let’s not get high and mighty about not adding to the federal deficit. I can’t imagine the governor will be calling Sen. Richard “Somebody Please Name a Building After Me” Shelby to tell him to keep that $120 million the feds want to spend on a new courthouse in downtown Mobile.
Perhaps the biggest irony of Gov. Bentley’s speech was his failure to mention an issue that very well may have Washington bureacrats crawling up our noses — the prison crisis. I doubt many Alabamians realize federal takeover of our prison system is a possibility because of the massive overcrowding in our jails.
I know. Why should we care what happens to a bunch of miscreants who broke the law? For a lot of them that’s probably a reasonable question, but the real answer is because of what it means in terms of criminals getting back out on the streets without serving any real time. The turnstyle jail system is a constant complaint for many citizens.
As I write this, there is a prisoner strike going on at jails across the state, with inmates complaining about inedible food, overcrowding and little access to education, among other things. Even our own county jail is stacking ‘em up like firewood. If all that’s not enough, the U.S. Justice Department just released a report detailing sexual abuse and sexual harrassment at the Julia Tutwiler women’s prison.
It’s to the point where it’s truly affecting the court system. There literally appears to be little way to put new people in jail without letting others out in many instances. My feeling is that white collar crime, at least in our community, is barely prosecuted at all, and certainly unlikely to end in jail time. Most non-violent offenders are also unlikely to spend much time behind bars either. We have nowhere to put them.
But perhaps the biggest letdown in Bentley’s State of the State was his failure to talk about the pervasive corruption that continues to plague Alabama. He addressed Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard at the beginning of the speech, but not surprisingly did not mention the grand jury investigation of Hubbard’s strange mix of business and politics that seems to help his own company so much.
Bentley never called for tightening of the state’s ethics laws to keep people like Hubbard from feeding at the public trough. It would have been amazing to hear the governor talk about the ridiculous open records law in this state, one that charges no agency with enforcement and leaves it up to the citizens to take government to court in order to get public records.
It would have been nice to hear Bentley chastise do-nothing Attorney General Luther Strange for his office’s almost total disinterest in making sure Alabama’s elected officials aren’t trampling the law.
While the state of the state may well be improving from a jobs standpoint, the governor needs to back off the party line a bit and look to the longterm. Obamacare certainly is worth a large degree of skepticism, but the biggest problems facing Alabama are still primarily related to the behavior of those we’ve elected to “serve.”