Bentley spoke about the Alabama Economic Alliance, which he formed, to help put together a comprehensive statewide economic development plan.
He talked about new investment in the state’s workforce development and better roads and bridges. He promised to protect the Department of Public Safety, the safety net provided by the Department of Human Resources and not to release prisoners.
He promised to create a Health Alliance to help combat the state’s consistently low health rankings, particularly in the areas of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality.
He wants to form a “Teacher Cabinet” made up of teachers, administrators, school board members and parents to provide his administration with “unfiltered feedback on the needs of our public schools.”
He wants to add charter schools to the state’s systems of public schools, and pass a “School Flexibility Act” to “allow more decision-making at the local level.”
And he promises to do these things without raising taxes.
Tuesday night, he talked about streamlining government to do part of that.
“We’re facing some adversity right now. It’s a time that demands courageous leadership and sacrifice,” he said.
When legislators got the governor’s budgets Wednesday, they saw where part of the governor’s plan involved using money from the Education budget to fund $185 million in Medicaid costs for children – an item previously funded in the General Fund budget — and he proposed transferring an additional $45 million in revenue from the Education budget to the general fund. His proposed Education budget, $5.4 billion, would result in a loss of more than a thousand teachers and administrators.
“We are not here to protect the status quo,” Bentley said in remarks Tuesday.
Bentley’s Education budget met immediate stiff resistance from members of his own party Wednesday, with budget committee chairman Trip Pittman flatly calling it a “bad proposal” that’s not going anywhere.
The governor’s proposal last month to unify the state’s budget instead of having a separate Education budget and General Fund budget was shot down before the session started.
It’s going to be a challenging session for the legislature, with some predictions of cuts as much as 25 percent in some state agencies.
State Republican Chairman issued a statement Wednesday praising the governor’s strong leadership, and touting the state’s December drop in unemployment figures, from 8.7 percent to 8.1 percent. That was the biggest drop for any state in the union that month, and it was touted as a sign that the new Republican leadership was successfully moving the state forward.
One set of numbers that hasn’t gotten much notice are the Revenue Abstracts, available online at the Alabama Department of Revenue’s website. Those numbers seem to show tax revenue improving. For three of the first four months in the current fiscal year, revenue outpaced the previous year, and in January revenue was even higher than it was in the same month in 2006 – before the recession began ($842 million this year, $778 million in 2006).
One line in Bentley’s speech might help explain how there is a shortfall now when there wasn’t then. “Unfortunately, government always expands to meet the amount of money we have,” he said.
The governor seems to have a good diagnosis for the state’s financial health problem. We wish him all the best in working with the legislature on writing the right prescription.