Congratulations to the elected officials who roared into office in 2010 with promises of fiscal responsibility.
Not only did you fail to avert a budget shortfall that has been inevitable for at least two years, you convinced the people to drain the Alabama Trust Fund, an important source of General Fund revenue.
The Alabama Trust Fund was created by voters in 1985 not as a rainy day account, but as an “irrevocable, permanent” endowment that would provide revenue to the General Fund in perpetuity.
How did you convince voters to endorse a solution that damages the state? It was not through reasoned arguments. You did so by convincing the people that you were incapable of exhibiting the political courage necessary to balance the budget.
Instead of confronting the budgetary challenge, you distracted voters with social issues. You needed an external enemy to galvanize voters, and you chose the federal government. Whatever side individual voters take on such issues as immigration or abortion or health care or the plethora of other anti-federal bills you embraced in the last two years, the people now understand that it was a diversion.
You were scoring cheap political points to avoid the difficult task of leadership.
You were the victors Tuesday because people believed that you would release prisoners. They accepted that, rather than taking the opportunity to expand Medicaid and provide the poor with an escape route from dependency, you would snip away at the thread-bare safety net.
So what comes next? Our guess is you will quickly pass legislation promising to refund the Alabama Trust Fund. You should do this, but voters will recognize it as mere show. Few of you will be in office when the obligation comes due, and future legislators will blame you when they amend or repeal the legislation.
You should then take the difficult steps necessary to streamline state government. We are a poor state, and every tax dollar needs to be used efficiently.
You then need to look at revenue. Maybe you can work miracles in cutting costs, but the fact that the average tax burden on Alabama citizens is 49th in the nation suggests otherwise.
The fact that the poor and middle class bear the brunt of this tax burden suggests the revenue needs to come not from them, but from the wealthy power brokers that have controlled you and your predecessors since the state Constitution was drafted in 1901. They have bought low tax rates with political contributions, and Alabama has suffered from your complicity.
Voters expected more from you. Now is the time to quit the political games and get at the hard work of leadership.