Medicaid remains a nightmare in Montgomery
Published 12:10 pm Wednesday, January 21, 2009
By By Steve Flowers
During my time in the Legislature, we were always wrestling with the money eating monster that is Medicaid. We were constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul and using stopgap band aid solutions to fund this burgeoning agency. It is still growing like kudzu and causing horrific nightmares for the Ways and Means and Finance Committees of the House and Senate.
At the time, Alabama, like most other states in the nation, had found a temporary solution. We were using a shell game with the federal government to put money in places that would parlay more federal Medicaid dollars into our coffers. The federal government matches state dollars almost three to one. It was a transparent approach and the feds warned all the states to quit using this leverage game. We ignored them and continued on with our practice.
They finally called our hand and called all of us to Washington. They sat us down and gave each state our bill. They said Alabama owes $8 million, Oregon owes $6 million, Ohio owes $20 million, and New Jersey owes $22 million. When they finally got around to Louisiana, Louisiana owed $360 million. All of us dutifully paid our debt and moved on with a more prudent and realistic approach to our Medicaid dilemma. However, we all realized that Louisiana would not pay back the federal government. Instead, they simply laughed at the enormous debt and went on their merry way.
Louisiana had accumulated this deficit through overt fraud and deception despite the fact that most of their hospitals were free anyway thanks to Huey Long. This is only one example of how corrupt a state Louisiana is and has always been. People say it started with Huey Long. However, history reveals that they have enjoyed a decadent and corrupt lifestyle and government for over a century.
At conferences, Louisiana’s legislators and senators would boast that they would not consider voting for a bill unless they were paid a bribe to vote for the legislation. This was in the 1990s. The politicians are actually proud of their heritage and continued practice of corruption. They wear it like a badge. The State of Louisiana is like a third world country and nobody can compare to them when it comes to political debauchery.
However, in recent years, our state’s largest county, Jefferson, can easily be compared to Louisiana. Jefferson County is the New Louisiana. Some of our smaller counties have been castigated as being corrupt but our largest metro government has stolen the cake. Even with the state’s best investigative paper, the Birmingham News, revealing the wheeling and dealing and one of the most educated electorates in the state watching the county continues their shenanigans.
The flamboyant and capricious Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford would supercede any politician in the country for financial irresponsibility. He bankrupted Jefferson County with his whimsical financial dalliances. His unorthodox bond swapping deals have placed Jefferson County’s bond rating below that of third world status. He almost comically offers new spending programs daily and is now proposing building a dome stadium for a city that has no professional football team. I wonder what New York bank wants to finance that project? Langford waltzes on like Don Quixote oblivious to the federal indictments surrounding the bond deals that broke the county.
Practically every Jefferson County Commissioner in recent years has gone to jail. Jeff Germany was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to over three years in jail. The venerable Chris McNair was also convicted in 2006 of bribery. He was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay $851,000 in restitution to the county. They dreadfully need the money but don’t bank on it being paid.
Jefferson County State Senator E.B. McClain, is currently being tried in federal court on 48 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery and money laundering.
There is no partisan deference when it comes to crime in Jefferson County. Republican Commissioner Gary White was convicted in January 2008 for conspiracy and bribery. He was in collusion with Langford on the bond dealings, as was Republican Mary Buckelew who served on the Jefferson County Commission from 1990-2006. She pled guilty in September of 2008 for illegally accepting gifts from investment bankers indicted with Langford.
The two newest Republican Commissioners, Jim Carns and Bobby Humphreyes, exemplified the GOP mantle of fiscal responsibility, integrity and thrift by calling for the county to go bankrupt while seeking a 6% pay increase for their personal staff.
Jefferson County, our largest county, teeters on financial oblivion and is working diligently to match Louisiana as a third world country when it comes to corruption in government.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.