- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

March 9

Decatur (Ala.) Daily on lawmakers avoid controversy, not embarrassment:

Before this year’s Legislative session began, Republican leaders in the state House and Senate expressed a desire to avoid controversial issues. That figures. It’s an election year, after all, and few politicians enjoy courting controversy while trying to court voters.

Yet that hasn’t stopped them from courting embarrassment.

Alabama isn’t like other states. Here, when it comes to politics, up is down, black is white and controversial doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Here, stopping lawmakers from getting freebies in the form of tickets to major college sporting events is controversial. Here, removing the state’s sales tax on food is controversial.

What isn’t controversial?

First, there is letting people without pistol permits carry loaded guns within easy reach while driving. Then there is daring the federal courts to strike down a school prayer bill. Then there is the purely symbolic gesture of authorizing all government buildings, including schools, to post the Ten Commandments, so long as they’re posted along with other historical documents.

And then there is the Legislature’s full-court press against abortion. That would be controversial anywhere else, but here it passes easily - a lot more easily than removing a regressive tax on the food poor children eat.

Regardless of which side of these “uncontroversial” issues you land, the debates have been embarrassing, and none more so than the House floor debate about the Ten Commandments bill.

While our representatives in Montgomery are sure you need to read the Ten Commandments, they displayed little evidence of having done so themselves. One lawmaker seemed to have them confused with the Bill of Rights, probably thinking of “The Ten Amendments.”

Rep. DuWayne Bridges, R-Valley, attributed school shootings and children killing their parents to a lack of the Ten Commandments in government buildings. Of course, what then are we to make of juvenile violence currently hovering near a 20-year low?

The Legislature, like the circus, is better enjoyed from outside the center ring. Unfortunately, while the clowns at the circus have no impact on your life, the ones at the Statehouse do.

Online:

http://www.decaturdaily.com

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March 10

The Anniston (Ala.) Star on state’s arduous climb:

For too many in Alabama, the ladder to the top is a rickety, unsteady contraption that’s missing a few rungs. It’s not an easy climb.

The fortunate have a much easier time chasing their version of the American dream. They are Alabama’s middle and upper class, people born into homes in which worries about the necessities of life — paying for food, clothes and shelter — are largely non-existent. Consider them the lucky ones.

It is those on the fiscal edges of Alabama society who don’t enjoy such comforts. Recent data from Harvard University, as explained in a story in Sunday’s Star, confirm what we’ve wholeheartedly believed: In Alabama, upward mobility is often a myth for those who live paycheck-to-paycheck, or worse. Only 5.2 percent of Calhoun County residents born into the bottom 20 percent of wage-earners have a chance of reaching the top 20 percent, the study showed.

The reasons are disastrous. Public education in Alabama too often fails to adequately prepare students for life as adults. Alabama ranks poorly in the affordability of college education. Too many jobs recruited by state government are low-wage and low-skill. And the Republican-controlled state Legislature is a dysfunctional collection of lawmakers that wastes time on ideological bills that do nothing to address what Alabamians need.

Case in point: The four abortion-related bills making their way through the Statehouse. Any, or all, of them that become law will wind up in court, where they will likely be either severely weakened or defeated.

The time lawmakers have spent this session discussing abortion is a complete waste of the legislative calendar. It is the perfect illustration of politicians who prefer throwing chum to their faithful than making progressive decisions that move the state forward.

All Alabamians deserve their chance at their elusive dreams, the well-off and the have-nots. Alabama’s mistake is, as Hoover eludes, refusing to invest in its people. In turn, Alabama gets what it doesn’t pay for: public schools that rank poorly, poverty rates bloated by those who can’t escape its throes, and work forces that aren’t skilled enough for jobs that pay real middle-class wages.

Online:

http://www.annistonstar.com

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March 7

Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser on improving state’s long-term budgeting:

The annual scramble to cobble together the state budgets is a familiar sight for Alabamians, who surely would not be surprised by the findings of a nationwide study on long-term budget planning that gives our state low marks in that area. A great deal of improvement is needed if Alabama is to take a more forward-looking fiscal approach, rather than continuing to simply contrive to get each year’s budgets done by the end of the legislative session.

The report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ranked Alabama 44th among the states in its long-term budget planning practices. The state does a few things well in this regard, but falls short in most relevant factors.

It’s important to note the good things and to ensure that they are maintained. The state’s “rainy day” reserve fund is a strong point, the study found, and Alabama does a good job of monitoring pension contributions and debt obligations. Having a nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office to conduct analysis was also cited favorably.

After that, however, the picture is much less flattering, and it is here that Gov. Robert Bentley and Legislature should look most closely. For example, Alabama is deficient in making multi-year forecasts and the fiscal notes offered on savings or costs don’t reach very far into the future.

Alabama doesn’t establish current services baselines, figures that would show what it will cost to continue to deliver the same quantity and quality of services currently provided. The state also lacks an independent consensus revenue forecast that would put the executive and legislative branches on the same fiscal page when making budget plans.

Such practices would help raise the state’s fiscal eyes from the current focus on the coming fiscal year to a longer look ahead.

Online:

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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