by Greg Markley

Political Writer


Just four days away, the Sept. 18 special election on a constitutional amendment has been “under the radar” as most Alabamians are more interested in punting than polling and in raking leaves than in debating the best way to shore up Medicaid. But Tuesday’s vote is expected to have wide consequence, as voters decide whether to approve taking $437 million from the Alabama Trust Fund.

That money would be used to fill gaps in the General Fund budget for this fiscal year which is currently $145.8 million below the $1.67 billion budgeted. The state must balance its budget before Oct. 1. Spending must be cut significantly or money must come from somewhere to cover the bills. Gerald Johnson, a leading Alabama pollster who lives in Auburn, said the proposed amendment might not be perfect but it still has value.

“Although Alabama has the lowest and most regressive taxes in the nation, and the budget is 100s of millions of dollars out of balance, the Legislature will not increase taxes,’’ Johnson told the Lee County Democratic Club in August. ” Johnson is affiliated with the Alabama Education Association.

“Taking money from the ATF is not sound fiscally, but if the amendment fails, the result could be high proration; cutting of Medicaid, mental health, and prison funds; and using the monies in the Educational Trust Fund to cover the budget deficit,” Johnson reflected.

Secretary of State Beth Chapman noted Friday turnout for special elections involving only constitutional amendments is usually very light. For instance, just seven percent of registered voters turned out for one in March 2000. Exceptions: High-profile, highly-publicized elections such as the vote on a state lottery promoted by Gov. Don Siegleman in 1999, which drew 52 percent of eligible voters, and Gov. Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax plan in 2003, which drew 55 percent. Both were overwhelmingly rejected.

State Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R.-Montgomery) disagrees with those like the AEA’s Johnson who see the constitutional amendment as worthy. Brewbaker serves as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. He suggests citizens vote against because fears that funding for key governmental services such as education are in danger are unfounded.

“Proponents aren’t shooting quite straight either, “Brewbaker told the AP. “By now most have heard of the release of violent felons, the closure of hospitals and nursing homes, and the general demise of state government that will follow if the referendum fails. I don’t think so.

“Any politician, particularly the Governor, who presides over the release of felons and the eviction of the elderly from nursing homes can kiss their political career goodbye. Remember that all these terrible things only happen if the Governor and the legislature do nothing,” the senator said. Gov. Robert Bentley recommends voters approve Tuesday’s amendment.

The League of Women Voters of Alabama notes that Tuesday’s ballot item is often called “the Medicaid amendment.” A large part of the amendment transfers money from the Alabama Trust Fund to the General Fund; obviously, Medicaid will be affected as it receives the most money from the General Fund. Indeed, the combination of Medicaid (34{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}) and Corrections (20{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0}) account for more than half of the allocations from the General Fund.

Established by the Social Security Amendments of 1965, Medicaid pays for health services for various sectors of the poor: children, mothers, pregnant women, the elderly, and the disabled.

In 2011, Alabama’s population was estimated at 4,876,660. Of that number of citizens, 21{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0} were eligible for Medicaid. That included 43.5{44c616e11cf70d617c8dd92fb0bc15f41001df771f775c6b004238009c89a3f0} of the state’s children under age 21.