Talking prisons, education and taxes, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley got real with Alabamians on Tuesday night. During his annual State of the State address, Bentley said that the state must increase revenues to pull itself out of debt.
“Now, as we look to the future, we must take the steps necessary to help get our state out of debt and find secure financial footing. Revenue must increase. There must be growth money in the State’s General Fund.”
That sounds like a line pulled directly from President Obama.
Bentley didn’t stop there with the Democratic speak, he continued by stating that Alabama families shouldn’t carry the state’s tax burden alone. He mentioned that it was “unfair for certain groups to be taxed for goods and services while others are not taxed for those same goods and services.”
A mighty departure from the generic Republican talk about corporations for a self-proclaimed life long conservative.
Staying with Bentley’s tax increase plan, he said that he will unearmark enough funds to free up almost $300 million for the state’s Education trust fund.
In total, the governor’s plan to gain revenue for the state comes to $541 million. He said that he has eight different “tax increase proposals” but didn’t go into detail for all eight.
It should be enough to stop any legislator in his or her tracks, though. A $541 million tax increase will not sit well with many Alabama residents.
Governor Bentley talked more than just money. He said that the state has to get its prison system in order.
“That is why over the past year, Alabama lawmakers, leaders in the criminal justice system, local and state judges, district attorneys, victims’ rights groups, and many others have collaborated as part of the Prison Reform Task Force to develop a new plan to reform our prison system.”
At almost 200-percent capacity, the Alabama prison system is under threat of takeover by the federal government.
According to statistics, 31 percent of sentences in Alabama prisons are for drug offenses. That percentage ranks second behind property crimes as to who takes up the state’s prison beds. Now that the state’s prisons are bursting at the seams, many are calling for a re-order of how some offenses are classified.
Bentley also talked strengthening the state’s Pre-K program and called for an increase in funding for the program. No number attached but he’s made Pre-K a priority for his second term.
In addition to education and prison reform, Governor Bentley wants Alabamians to take their health more serious. He will develop a panel of 30 experts to recommend how to improve “the quality, accessibility and affordability of healthcare for our people.”
While talking about reforming Medicaid and moving state residents into private programs, he panned the Affordable Care Act and filed it under “federal bureaurcracy.”
“But we cannot allow Federal bureaucracy, and the extremely flawed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to derail our efforts to make sure Alabamians have good quality healthcare, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. We know the Healthcare needs in Alabama, and we intend to create solutions that are specific to the needs of Alabama’s people.”
Overall, Bentley’s talk sounded like a fireside chat. He told Alabamians what needed to be done to get the state’s financial house in order and laid out a vision for doing so over the next year.
The state has a lot of issues to tackle, like prison reform and education, but he attempted to address some of them with his speech.
Now it’s the legislatures turn to figure out just how they’ll engage each problem.