Vote Gives Elected Officials Opportunity To Focus On Alabama’s Strengths
In the weeks leading up to voters’ recent defeat of Amendment 1, proponents of the tax package continually criticized Alabama for being at the bottom in every economic category. This is simply not true.To the contrary, Alabama is a great place to live, and I, for one, have great faith in our voters’ intelligence and in their desire to do the right thing for education and the state as a whole. In the coming months, the debate about Alabama’s tax structure as well as its ranking in various categories of spending will rage on as the Legislature works on “Plan B.” During this process, our elected leaders should not be misled by statements about how bad things are in Alabama. Instead, they should focus on what is good about our state and work to improve the one area where we do lag far behind much of the nation–wages.We have much to be proud of in Alabama. First and foremost are our people. They are honest, hardworking and God-fearing. They work to provide for their families, and they are charitable when it comes to helping others. They believe in God, country and family, and when our liberties are threatened, Alabamians are first to answer the call. Our state is blessed with abundant natural resources and waterways. We are near the top in the fields of medicine and aerospace technology, and we also are fast becoming the automobile capital of the world with Hyundai, Mercedes, Honda and Toyota all locating in Alabama. Yet, tax reform proponents would have you believe everything in Alabama is broken, and that we are at the bottom in every economic category. The facts, however, tell a different story.According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alabama’s state and local expenditures per capita for education are $1,746.86. That’s well above the Southeastern average of $1,644.03 and higher than the per capita education expenditures of Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas. Teachers’ salaries in Alabama also are higher than those of eight other Southeastern states, and our state employees’ average pay is $10,000 higher than the Southeastern average.Also surprising to many voters is the fact that the Education Trust Fund almost doubled in size during the decade of the ’90s–growing from $2.4 billion in 1990 to $4.2 billion in 2000. Unfortunately, much of that new money never made it to the classroom. Instead, it was consumed by a bloated education bureaucracy that ranks 19th in the nation in terms of tax dollars spent for school administration.Meanwhile, Alabama taxpayers continue to pay higher taxes than much of the country, considering their ability to pay. Alabama ranks 13th in the nation in state property taxes paid, but we rank near the bottom in per capita income. In fact, in the last two years, the median income of a family of four in Alabama dropped by 8 percent while 48 other states saw an increase in income.In light of these facts, it is understandable that voters rejected Gov. Riley’s $1.2 billion tax package. After all, we already are spending a higher percentage of our earnings for government services than people in many other states. During the next several months, we will no doubt hear more talk about how Alabamians aren’t paying their fair share, about how poor our state agencies are and about how we need to rewrite the constitution so voters won’t have the opportunity to say “no” again. Gov. Riley, however, now has an opportunity (and a mandate from the people) to not merely patch a broken system with new taxes, but to “fundamentally change” state government as he promised during his campaign for governor. We want to work with the governor to bring true accountability to state government and restore taxpayers’ confidence in their elected officials. When voters have confidence their tax dollars are being spent wisely, they will be more receptive to increasing state revenue.