Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Anniston (Alabama) Star on Obamacare's confusing numbers:
One of the Affordable Care Act's bothersome traits is its reliance on numbers to judge its success — and those numbers vary, depending on who provides them.
That said, President Obama's signature legislation is having a profound effect on health care in the United States. By any measure, more Americans have health insurance today than before the law went into effect — a 25 percent reduction in the uninsured this year, by most estimates. Obamacare may be a flawed law, but in that sense, it is working.
Saturday marks the law's second open-enrollment period — a critical phase in Obamacare's growth. But here's where the numbers begin to vary.
On Monday, the Obama administration estimated that 9.1 million people would sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act by the end of 2015. That's several million fewer than most independent projections and those of the Congressional Budget Office, according to The New York Times. The CBO's estimate: 13 million in 2015.
Anne Filipic, the president of the nonprofit Enroll America, which advocates for expanded health care coverage, told The Times that the White House had taken "a pragmatic, analytical approach" to its 2015 projections. It's easy to understand why.
Memories of Obamacare's botched rollout and website issues haven't fully subsided. What was to be the shining moment of Obama's presidency was overwhelmed by a website that crashed under pressure. Months went by before the story about the Affordable Care Act wasn't a story about an administration with a balky, ineffective online signup.
Today, the Obama administration's reserved projections are in sharp contrast to its bold predictions of the past. Understandable? Yes. But it's a byproduct of previous mistakes, an administration that would rather undersell the law's potential now instead of being forced to address missed goals tomorrow.
As we've seen for the last six years, this White House hasn't excelled at messaging and timing, especially on matters as important as the Affordable Care Act. Low-balling its projections on Obamacare may limit future disappointments, but it's hardly the tact of a confident administration.
Decatur (Alabama) Daily on rethinking corporate incentive:
Jobs, jobs, jobs.
Every candidate in Alabama speaks of them, and for good reason. A good job is the most important factor in the quality of life for Alabama families, and it always has been.
In the late 19th century, Alabama and its cities — unrestricted by the state constitution — engaged in unbridled competition for railroad lines. The promise of jobs and commerce from a line or spur was too profound to ignore, and cities and states borrowed huge amounts to lure them. Sometimes the investments paid off. Often, however, taxpayers ended up with massive debt and nothing to show for it.
Recognizing the problem, the drafters of the Constitution of 1901 placed severe limits on the extent to which the state and municipalities could provide incentives to attract private companies. As a general rule, tax money could not be used to benefit private entities.
In the last few decades, the state constitution has been revised with numerous exceptions to that general rule. As other states loosened their restrictions on subsidizing private industry as a method of recruitment, Alabama's elected officials understandably concluded they had to play the game. The state was losing out on thousands of good jobs, and the citizens were suffering for it.
The resulting incentives — usually in the form of tax abatements and infrastructure improvements — were a critical part of developing the local and state economy. They played a role in attracting industries that each employed hundreds and often thousands of workers.
Technology is changing the incentive equation, but cities and the state are struggling to adjust to the change.
Increasingly, expansions come with massive capital investments and no new jobs. Most new industries bring a small number of jobs, replacing labor with expensive robotic technology. On the local and state level, we continue to offer the maximum possible tax abatements — eliminating the ad valorem taxes that would otherwise come with the advanced equipment — even though most produce few new jobs.
There is still a place for incentives, but the city and state need to be more judicious in granting them. The Industrial Development Board of Decatur has never rejected a tax abatement. While many abatements should be approved, some should not. An abatement for an expansion that creates no jobs hurts tax revenue, limiting the flexibility to offer more significant incentives for job-intensive industries. Unwarranted incentives also strain budgets, harming indirect recruitment tools like education, road improvements, entertainment venues and other quality-of-life investments that attract industries and residents.
Instead of constantly seeking ways to offer more lavish incentives, the city and state need to focus on smart incentives. Tax breaks and free infrastructure improvements have become an entitlement that companies expect. Instead, companies should only receive such incentives when they can demonstrate that what they offer to the community is worth the cost.
Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on release of Siegelman:
It's interesting - and embarrassing - how close to the line between right and wrong Alabama politics seem to operate. It has become regrettably routine for politicians to find themselves on the business end of prosecution, so much so that elected officials under indictment haven't seen their legal status make much of a difference in a re-election campaign. Just recently Lee County voters returned indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard to Montgomery for another term, and his party colleagues have cleared him for another stint as Speaker.
Meanwhile, former Gov. Don Siegelman remains in federal prison in Louisiana, where he has been for more than two years serving a six-year term on a 2006 corruption conviction. Siegelman maintains his innocence, saying a $500,000 political contribution from former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy was never a quid pro quo for reappointment to a health care panel Scrushy was already a part of. Siegelman's case has gotten a great deal of attention across the country and is complicated by the lack of recusal of the trial judge, Mark Fuller, who Siegelman had investigated when Fuller was a district attorney and Siegelman was attorney general, and Leura Canary, a U.S. attorney whose husband is politically active in Alabama.
In September, a federal appeals court denied Siegelman's request for freedom during his most recent appeal. But Fuller's own legal problems stemming from a domestic abuse charge in Georgia may give the former governor the break he's been looking for: U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land, who was given part of Fuller's case load, has ordered Siegelman to appear at a hearing on his request for release.
Whether the former governor is guilty or innocent is not for the public to decide, although it's a good bet that most people have an opinion on the matter. What's more clear is that there's no compelling reason to keep a high-profile public figure behind bars pending appeal of a non-violent white collar conviction when there are those convicted of far more dangerous crimes freed routinely while their appeals go through the courts.