Scrooge Stuffs Your Stocking — Alabama Governor Gives a Wad of Glop

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Sunset on Mobile Bay: Carol Adams-Davis

By David Underhill

MOBILE, Ala. – You must have been naughty children. Although you didn’t get a lump of coal in your stocking, you got a wad of glop.

It’s your present from Alabama governor Robert Bentley, often confused with creepy Mr Burns in The Simpsons show. But that’s only because of their eerily similar outward appearance, like twins separated at birth. The governor has just revealed that inwardly he’s more akin to Ebenezer Scrooge.

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Bentley and Burns: Separated at Birth?

For Christmas he gave the state a soggy crumb. Indirectly. The workshop creating the gift was BP’s reckless offshore drilling operation. Fines and compensation for its exploded well five years ago are still washing ashore along the gulf coast. Alabama’s portion—from a bewildering array of funding routes—amounts to a couple billion dollars.

As recently reported by the shrunken Mobile Press-Register, governor Bentley dipped into the state’s share and dribbled out enough (less than one half of one percent of the total) to buy 900 swampy and woody acres adjoining Mobile bay. The tract was for sale because the economic bust of 2008 had deflated plans to “develop” it into an upscale residential enclave.

Bentley made this purchase reluctantly and tardily. The money to acquire land, for public access to the water or for preservation, has long been available. But Alabama has done the least of any gulf coast state. Texas has bought 22,000 coastal acres with BP funds.

Mobile Bay

Mobile Bay

The Bentley administration defends its sparse record by claiming it has been awaiting federal decisions about BP spending. If the feds intend to use some of their BP share for land acquisition, then the state needn’t do so. Instead Alabama can aim its BP bonanza toward other worthy projects.

That’s an odd argument to make in a state whose leaders rarely miss an opportunity to cuss the feds for usurping local authority and disrespecting states’ rights. Here’s a chance to exercise local control, as Texas and others have done with land purchases. Yet Alabama authorities spurn it—until they change their minds and buy a small coastal patch anyway without waiting for the feds.

This is so erratic and irrational that it reeks of unstated motives behind such behavior.

Obamacareless Conduct

A similar pattern appears in Alabama’s awkward dance with Obamacare. The initial official reaction was refusal, then grumpy acquiescence to parts of it, but then refusal to expand Medicaid, which left hundreds of thousands stranded in the “coverage gap”—too much income to qualify for the un-expanded Medicaid but too little income to afford private insurance through Obamacare.

The excuse for abandoning citizens in this gap was that the state couldn’t afford to extricate them, even though the feds would pay the entire early cost of expanding Medicaid to close the gap. Gradually the state would have to pay a bit of this, rising eventually to 10% of the bill. Meaning: Alabama is refusing benefits financed 90% by someone else.

A study by the state university medical school estimated the cost of this refusal.

The minimum projected direct loss from federal Medicaid payments not received was $1.4 billion in 2015. If doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, etc had received these payments, this income boost would have spread by spending in the surroundings for an additional $960 million economic spark. Total benefit: $2.3 billion.

The doctor is not in the budget

The doctor is not in the budget

Those numbers assume a low participation rate. If almost everybody in the state eligible for expanded Medicaid enrolled, then the total benefit would be nearly $5 billion for this year, and similarly for future years.

As the magnitude of these numbers became apparent and as some health care providers—especially in poor rural areas—faced bankruptcy without the expanded Medicaid receipts, the supposed objections to Obamacare on principle began to falter.

A full reversal hasn’t happened yet, but the governor is publicly wavering. And the legislature is leaning slightly toward discovering some way to afford the previously impossible 10% of expanded Medicaid costs so the state can reap the other 90% from the detested feds.

This stumbling, toe-stubbing performance suggests that cost wasn’t the real objection to Obamacare, just as the bogus explanation for hesitating to spend BP’s money on coastal land wasn’t the real reason for the delay.

Strategic Pandering

Some of the actual explanation for this bizarre behavior is cunning political calculation. The hospitals on the verge of ruin from missed Medicaid payments began complaining publicly (besides whatever hissy fits they were pitching in private). Medical professionals will get the attention of politicians, even if sick citizens don’t.

And governor Bentley has recently revealed that he’s spending $1.5 million of “left over” BP money to restore a mansion for himself. A hurricane damaged this Alabama gulf beach governor’s retreat in l997 and it has never been repaired—until now. The governor swears he’s not fixing the mansion for his own pleasure. No, the place will be used to meet and entertain business executives considering economic development projects in the state. This claim, even if true, hardly placates lesser locals with projects of their own in mind that could have gotten a jump start from some of that “left over” money.

One result of the revelation about the resurrected mansion is calls for impeachment of the governor. Only someone suffering from a cynicism shortage would suppose the mansion appeared in the news by coincidence around the same
time as the announcement of the decision to buy the 900 acre tract on the bay shore. For every seething citizen contemplating impeachment, there is now an offsetting one—or a bunch—delighted that Bentley has finally deployed some BP bucks to preserve coastal land (and it is a choice acquisition, with varied terrain and vegetation, whether left alone or coaxed into a park).

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Typical gulf coast area not yet “developed”

This tract can also be cited to dampen ire over other misuses of the BP billions as this money spreads across the state for purposes with little, or no, link to the oil assault on the coast. If the political porky abuses stoke further fury, expect additional token land purchases or other gestures seeming in keeping with the original visions of restoration from the BP effects. Then the fury will dwindle. Governor Bentley and his cronies are shrew political operators engaged in strategic pandering.

Mammon in Conservative Christian Drag

But something else also drives their bizarre behavior about the BP stash, Obamacare, and many other matters. They are True Believers in an ideology that disguises itself as conservative Christianity. Actually they are neither.

True conservatives would conserve. Given the opportunity to spend a couple billion dollars reviving and protecting an area battered by oily negligence, they would devise plans to steer sharply away from such practices and replace them with sustainable ones. But the governor and crew have fled from such a role.

True conservatives would never jeopardize basic rights by passing strict voter identification laws and then closing numerous driver license bureaus, especially in poor counties, while knowing these licenses are the main form of ID used for voting. But Bentley’s administration has done this.

True conservatives would not sacrifice state parks in a ritual of refusal to finance them adequately with taxes or other revenues and start closing or selling parks. But this administration has done exactly that.

True conservatives would not do a host of other such things this gang has done.

Nor would true Christians have an opportunity to provide medical care for hundreds of thousands of needy people in their jurisdiction but refuse to let that happen, and would instead do all within their power to prevent this—at the cost of both money and lives.

This is not the behavior of conservatives or Christians. It is the behavior of shriveled souls who have surrendered themselves to the warped urges which the Bible calls Mammon. Their actual motivating ideology holds that nobody deserves anything desirable unless they can pay for it individually.

If you can afford waterfront property, you deserve it. If you can’t, you don’t, and any access you might receive is a blessing not a right. Be thankful if some disaster spawns a fund that can purchase for your use scraps left behind by a private coastal venture gone bust.

If you need medical care but can’t pay for it, you don’t deserve it. If that means suffer, then you must. If that means die, then you must.

This is the sort of policy that the True Believers’ ideology decrees.

Land of the free car tags

Land of the free car tags

And to show you how godly this is, they’re offering a special deal on car tags. Owners who want their vehicles to convey a selected message must pay $50 to have it inscribed on the license plate. Except you can choose one message that’s free: God Bless America.

The authorities promoting all these policies in homage to Mammon are devout Christians. They wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

A righteous God looking down upon this would be pissed.

© 2015, David Underhill. All rights reserved.

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  1 comment for “Scrooge Stuffs Your Stocking — Alabama Governor Gives a Wad of Glop

  1. Susan Granade
    January 2, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Preach it, brother! In this article, you’ve laid ’em bare, all their “conservative Christian” motivation revealed for what it really is in the simplest, most direct terms possible.

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