Steve Flowers is Alabama’s premier political journalist and commentator. He is also considered by many to be the preeminent authority on Alabama politics and Alabama political history.

March 26, 2015

Weekly Column This Week in Alabama Politics

Our good doctor governor, Robert Bentley, has done a thorough physical exam on the state’s finances and his diagnosis is that the General Fund needs additional revenue. His Republican comrades in the legislature have been trying to starve the patient for the past four years. If the patient is an analogy to the state government, the approach over the past four years has been to put the patient on a rigid diet of starvation and bleeding to death in pretty much the same way that George Washington’s doctors did in his day. The patient according to basic tenets of medicine or government should weigh about 180 pounds. The legislature has starved the patient/government to 120 pounds of skin and bones.

In defense of these ultraconservative legislators, if truth were known, they would probably do away with state government altogether or simply let the patient die. However, in reality, we actually need roads to drive on and state troopers to give aid to motorists. Some people like to have a court system to punish people who commit heinous crimes and if you have a judicial system and the judge sentences someone to prison then you have got to have a prison to house them.

The counter argument or solution that the Republican super majority would offer is to just give everybody the electric chair, then you do not need any prisons. On the other hand, there are some bleeding heart liberals that think the poor wayward lawbreaker may need a trial first. I am afraid the federal judiciary might step in and say that you have to have a court system and penal system and you have to give some backslider a trial.

Indeed, that is one of the acute problems we are facing at this time. The federal courts may very well take over our prison system and run it from their courtroom. The remedy that judge may render could cost a pretty penny to implement. Our state prison system has reached a crisis point. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating physical and sexual abuse at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for women. Our prison system is built to hold 13,000 inmates. It currently holds over 25,000.  That, in itself, would portend a federal jurist to hold the legislature and governor in contempt and place the Alabama prison system into federal receivership.

In short, if the aforementioned patient/government scenario is continued, then more than likely nine out of 10 doctors’ diagnosis would be the same as our doctor governor. We cannot starve the patient any longer. We have to give him some food or pull the plug and allow him to starve to death.

Raising taxes will not be easy. These legislators are real Republicans. They have sworn not to raise any taxes or new revenue. Bentley is just as Republican as they are. He has been a part of the starvation remedy for the past four years. He has had a Damascus Road conversion because he has taken the Hippocratic Oath to not deliberately kill his patients.

He has reluctantly asked his fellow GOP colleagues to raise $540 million in revenue. He is offering a plan that will not require voter approval, only legislative action. He is proposing a revenue package that will include closing corporate loopholes and increasing sales taxes on automobiles and cigarettes.

In his speech to the legislature on March 3rd Bentley said, “I’m the doctor of 5 million people in the state and these Alabamians expect government to operate properly and the General Fund is not doing that.” It will be an interesting and probably contentious session. The legislature has a super majority Senate and House in place. A good many of these legislators are reactionary conservatives who have taken a no tax pledge. Where the Democrats land will be important. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. We will keep you posted on the progress.

See you next week.