A Conversation with Mike About the Issues
Mike, you have said that a family who has a full-time bread winner should not have to be faced with living without heat in the middle of winter. But is that really the government’s problem? Isn’t it up to the family to adjust their budget or add another income?
Remember, in Alabama a family of four with one forty hour a week job at $11.80 an hour is statistically in poverty and if you add a second job at the same pay their situation only gets worse. Is this our vision of economic security for Alabama families? Is this the future we want for our children and grand children? Of course it’s not.
Alabamians that work forty hours a week should be able to afford average housing, an average used car, to pay utility bills and to be able to buy groceries for their family. If we factor in the other expenses that we all encounter: gas, phone, internet, clothing and the incidental expenses that are not always planned for, what do we find? Draw out a simple budget and do the math yourself! It just doesn’t work on $11.80 an hour.
These situations make it virtually impossible for far too many Alabama families to succeed. These factors push families into poverty, onto public assistance, and even worse to predatory lending. We must provide a minimum wage that lifts Alabama families sufficiently above the threshold of public assistance, so that they are not in danger of falling back in. And the reduction in spending we’ll create when we raise the minimum wage, will free up funds needed in order to carry out the next steps in my economic plan.
Many legislators say a minimum wage of $10 or $12 an hour is reasonable. Do you think that would work?
No, because at that rate, as I mentioned earlier, a family might still have to rely on public assistance to make ends meet and our plan is to eliminate as much as possible any reliance on Public Assistance Programs. Think about it: Even if a family was making it paycheck to paycheck on that wage, the cost of a transmission or a new HVAC unit would push families back across the line and compel them to seek public assistance.
Currently Alabama tax payers spend around $260 million a year funding public assistance—that’s money that could be spent on infrastructure or improving our schools. When a working family is able to support themselves with no government help, that not only improves their own lives it improves everyone else’s too because they don’t have to pay into public assistance, and they benefit from better uses of tax money. The minimum wage must be no less than $15.00 an hour.
But won’t raising the minimum wage to $15 hurt small businesses? How can they afford to pay these wages and survive?
The argument that raising workers’ wages would ruin small businesses is just wrong. Let me explain. In my proposal we would allow businesses to increase the cost of goods up to 18%. This would offset the cost of paying a livable wage.
Let’s say for example that a fast food meal costs $4.00. Subtract that amount from the current minimum wage of 7.25 and our customer would have 3.25 left over. But give that customer a $15 minimum wage, and even with an 18% increase in the price of the meal—up to $4.72, our customer would have 10.28 left over.
See, the business AND the worker both win. The customer is no longer drawing assistance, and secondly he now has money to spend on other goods and services, which will eventually lead to the creation of new jobs and to the generation of more sales tax to fund the budget. And the economic engine rolls on!
You say that expanding Medicaid will be good for our state. But won’t it cost Alabama money?
Yes, it’s true that expanding Medicaid could cost an estimated $130 million. But, that is still much less than we’ll gain by reducing spending in the state by enacting a livable wage. So essentially, Medicaid will already be paid for!
It’s also worth mentioning that eight hospitals in Alabama have closed since we refused Medicaid Expansion, and 84% of those that are still open operate in the red. This costs us all, resulting in higher healthcare costs and less availability. A Medicaid expansion would mean that Alabamians see a reduction in their healthcare costs, and enjoy more access to care. And, as many as 15,000 new jobs will be created, strengthening the economy.
As healthcare access improves and becomes more efficient, that will in turn create even more jobs and generate more revenue into the state budget. Some estimates show as high as a 20 to 1 return on your tax dollars by expanding Medicaid. The combination of the first two steps in my economic plan is important. Only by enacting a livable wage can we fund Medicaid Expansion. Medicaid Expansion will then generate even more revenue, thus funding the state budget. This will, in turn, afford the ability to fund other much needed programs.
Mental Healthcare Reform
You want to make Mental Healthcare Reform a priority. But if no one in my family has a mental illness why should I have to pay taxes to fund that?
Great question. I’d like to answer it by first citing an alarming statistic. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. And about 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. experiences a serious mental illness in a given year. So even though you may not think anyone you know is suffering from a mental illness, it’s more likely that you just don’t know they are suffering. Many people can still function in society while suffering from depression and anxiety for example. Of course one of the reasons so many people suffer in silence with these diseases is because our society still stigmatizes them—simply because they don’t show up in an X-ray like cancer or heart disease. These diseases are real, the suffering they cause is real, and the patients deserve access to real treatment.
Furthermore, by funding a functional Mental Healthcare System we can reduce the overcrowding in Alabama jails by as much as a third, avoiding a pending Federal Law Suit that will put Alabama’s budget in peril. And only with a functioning Mental Healthcare System can we begin to address the opioid crisis that is hurting our state, as it is nearly every other state in the country.
Improving Public Schools
You said you want to improve Alabama’s public schools, but what about school choice? Isn’t that a good solution?
“School choice” isn’t working. Although the state’s Accountability Act school choice program was probably started with good intentions it has ended up hurting Alabama students instead of helping them. It was supposed to provide scholarships to children in failing schools so that they could attend a better school. But most of the children receiving the scholarships aren’t even in a failing school! Our tax dollars could be much better spent on improving our public schools where the vast majority of Alabama’s students get their education.
In fact, the private schools that are getting the money from the Accountability Act scholarships aren’t even bound by the state curriculum and don’t require their teachers to be certified. They even evaluate their student performance using their own private methods that no one else uses, so it is impossible to know how they are actually performing. Simply put, there is no accountability in the Accountability Act, and as Senator, I will work to repeal it and to offer real solutions for our students.