While there were several bills that were important to me that did not make it to the Governor’s desk for signing, the 2015 regular legislative session that concluded last month was actually a success. The Alabama State Senate’s productivity increased over previous sessions: we passed 450 bills compared to 354 the previous year.
Numerous were local in nature, but Senate Republicans made sure reforming and streamlining state government were high priorities. I would venture to say that this session saw more major reforms than any other previous one.
A perfect example is the prison reform bill. Alabama’s correctional system is overcrowded (192% of capacity), so much to the point that the federal government is threatening a takeover, which could cost our state millions of dollars. We expect the bill to reduce costs by $380 million over the next six years. It will improve public safety, reduce the prison population, and rehabilitate offenders.
Another major cost-saving reform dealt with Medicaid, specifically long-term care. With our senior population quickly growing, the number of individuals needing long-term care is exploding and will grow even faster in the next ten years. Our goal was to help bend the growth curve to protect taxpayers now and in the future. By doing this, we expect to save $1.5 billion by 2025 while giving the elderly better options for home-based care.
In the education realm, we passed a fully-funded education budget that made strategic increases for classroom learning. It includes additional spending for textbooks and classroom materials, dual enrollment programs, and transportation operations.
To help improve education in the state for everyone, Senate Republicans spearheaded something that 42 states already had – public charter schools. While I realize a lot people reading this publication are satisfied with their kids’ or grandkids’ school, many parts of our state don’t have that same prospect. I believe that your ZIP code should not determine educational opportunities. Accountable public charter schools create flexibility and empower parental choice. The new law requires annual audits to ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely and properly.
The way our students learn is also changing. That is why part of our “Paving a Path for the Future” Senate GOP legislative agenda included the setup of virtual schools. We passed a bill to require every local school system to adopt a virtual schools policy that is district-specific. Offering this alternative learning method will increase educational opportunities and improve student engagement.
Along with strong reforms for state government and education, our next target was fostering a more favorable economic environment so more jobs can be created. Economic incentives are a must to draw new industry to our state and to encourage existing businesses to grow. Just look at Airbus and the incredible impact that business is already having on the Mobile County economy. We want to bring more companies like that to Alabama, which is why we passed pay-as-you-go incentives that are accountable to protect taxpayers but flexible to encourage job growth.
And here in our backyard, I sponsored a bill to allow a tax return check-off contribution to support the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. This is an historical treasure that is funded completely by private donations. Now we are giving every Alabama taxpayer the opportunity to support the battleship by simply checking a box on his or her tax return. Many risked their lives on the USS Alabama, and now more people can directly support the memory of those brave sailors.
As we move into a special legislative session to pass a general fund budget for the fiscal year that doesn’t start until October, remember that Senate Republicans are committed to solving the big challenges. We are fixing problems that have gone unaddressed for years.
That is why we want to not just pass a general fund budget; we want to make structural, long-term reforms that will stop the crisis-to-crisis nature of the state’s budgeting. It will not be easy, but my colleagues and I are up to the challenge of putting Alabama on a strong, stable, and sustainable financial footing.
The tough decisions now will pay dividends in the future.
Senator Rusty Glover represents District 34 (Mobile County) in the Alabama State Senate. He is a retired educator. Sen. Glover is married to Connie Glover, and the couple resides in Semmes with their two daughters.