Proposed Amendment Could Lead To Court-Ordered Tax Increases
The author of an amendment designed to remove outdated, segregationist language from Alabama’s constitution is now saying last-minute changes to the amendment during last year’s legislative session could lead to equity funding lawsuits and court-ordered tax increases.Michael Ciamarra, who co-chaired the recompilation subcommittee of the Alabama Citizens’ Constitutional Commission, raised his concerns last fall prior to the Nov. 2 election. Voters subsequently defeated Amendment 2 by a narrow margin. Now, some lawmakers are pledging to reintroduce the exact same amendment in 2005.At issue is the last-minute removal of language that had previously been used by the Alabama Supreme Court as one basis for dismissing Judge Gene Reese’s equity funding lawsuit. In essence, the change would make public education a constitutional right. That means persons could file a lawsuit if they believed their children aren’t getting an adequate education, and a judge could order a tax increase to address that grievance. Under current law, only the legislative branch of government can raise taxes.Ciamarra stated this change was made without consulting the authors of the original amendment and undermined their intent to simply remove segregationist language from the constitution.”It appears Rep. Ken Guin (D-Carbon Hill) took it upon himself to make changes,” Ciamarra said. “As Rep. Guin saw fit not to consult with nor notify members of the governor’s staff, members of the Citizens’ Constitution Commission or even with a majority members of the House (of Representatives), I can only conclude that changes he made in the committee substitute were intended to serve someone else’s agenda rather than to enhance the bill’s effectiveness in honoring it’s purpose–to eliminate inoperative and archaic language from the constitution.”In the months since voters rejected Amendment 2, several lawmakers have said they would work to draft a bill that accomplishes the original intent of the Constitutional Commission without opening the door to court-ordered tax increases. Other legislators, however, have vowed to push for passage of the amendment exactly as it was presented to voters in 2004.Ciamarra said the controversy could have been avoided had the Commission’s original amendment not been altered. “This legislation, as originally written, could have served a valuable purpose–to eliminate language that had long been invalidated as incompatible with the United States Constitution,” he said. “When sleight-of-hand maneuvers and downright dishonesty is discovered, as in this case, it can only erode further confidence in state government,” Ciamarra added. “What had been a ‘no-brainer’ for ratification has now become controversial and opens up needlessly complex legal questions.”EDITOR’S NOTE: Alabama Farmers Federation has supported and continues to support the removal of segregationist language from the state constitution. However, it will oppose any bill that could authorize court-ordered tax increases or transfer the Legislature’s powers to the court system.