Whether it’s another rural hospital closure or crumbling bridges or country roads riddled with potholes, Alabama Republicans continue to wring their hands in feigned despair and spuriously claim that Alabama needs to just learn to live with underfunding. After all, rich folks and big companies deserve all the huge tax breaks they’re getting, right? Certainly, Alabama needs new prisons and needs to fund basic public services, like healthcare, the judiciary, or the state forensics lab. Yet, Alabama Republicans continue to cut government agency funding and resources to the bone. Their political ideology of ‘starving’ the government to prevent perceived waste prevents them from acknowledging the obvious – Alabama has a huge revenue problem.
In recent talks about Medicaid expansion, Alabama Republicans act like it’s impossible for the state to come up with the $168 million, while the federal government picks up the rest of the tab- the other 90 percent. They said this while they killed the lottery bill. They said this while they refused to modify the tax code to eliminate deductions that clearly just benefit the rich. They stubbornly decline to entertain any discussion of reforming property or land-use taxes. In fact, the only revenue-raising measures they appear to support are regressive taxes, like the grocery tax or the newly passed gas tax.
In Alabama, the rhetoric of we’re “taxed enough already” has become a potent political tool of the extreme right. It works because they’ve engineered a taxation system that’s highly regressive. Indeed, the middle-class and poor are taxed enough and now they must pay outlandish fees for just about every government service. What middle-class and poor voters may not realize is that this is a nefarious strategy to keep taxes low for the wealthiest and for mammoth companies that don’t pay their fair share. It explains why the chasm of wealth disparity continues to get larger each year.
The Republican embrace of ineffective trickle-down economics does nothing but hurt the state. While they should be focused on fixing the revenue problem and the confusing mess we call a budget, they’re busy passing bills to make sure they can have wine mailed to their summer homes.
Alabama’s revenue problem isn’t new. We’ve been doing nothing about it for over a decade. Each time a sensible reform or creative solution is proposed, it’s killed by right-wing hardliners. Then, they try to figure out how to cut agency budgets that can’t be cut any further. It’s become a vicious cycle. They don’t seem to care that hundreds of thousands of Alabamians have no access to healthcare. They don’t care much that our prison system is on the verge of a federal take-over based on human rights concerns. Instead, they’d rather use taxpayer funds to pay legal bills to defend a draconian abortion law that they know has no chance of being upheld.
Soon, this refusal to fix our revenue problem will reach an inflection point. Hopefully, voters will see through the deceptive, extreme conservative rhetoric and elect politicians with the courage to move Alabama forward. In the meantime, more rural hospitals will close, more bridges will crumble, and the poor in Alabama will find themselves with less than what they had.
It’s time to call out Republicans when they clutch their pearls and claim that they’re helpless to fix the problem. They can fix the problem and the people of Alabama need to hold them accountable.
Meanwhile, Republicans will keep kicking the can down the road until they can’t find the can, because it’s landed in a massive pothole that they decided not to fix.