- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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Dec. 14

The Montgomery Advertiser on state and local tax collections:

Small government and no-new-taxes proponents are no doubt celebrating the news that Alabama again ranked last nationwide in per capita state and local tax collections.

That’s not a change; the 50th place ranking has been the status quo for more than two decades.

The latest statistics come from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, a Birmingham-based nonprofit think tank interested in good government.

There’s only one problem with the low-taxes record. When you go cheap, you get shoddy.

The services Alabama provides its citizens are substandard and worsening because its bottom-of-the barrel tax policies keep it teetering on the brink of broke.

PARCA’s report spotlights the state’s perpetual fiscal crisis, saying: “The Governor and Legislature struggle to find enough money to adequately support the functions of state government. In the past several years, the government has made cuts to programs, borrowed from the state savings account, and applied one-time sources of money to balance the budget.”

That certainly happened this year when it took two special sessions for lawmakers to cobble together an anemic General Fund budget that level funded some state agencies but inflicted damaging cuts to others, from law enforcement to environmental protection.

In total, Alabama collects $3,046 per capita in state and local taxes, far below the national average of $4,599. And below every other Southeastern state, from Louisiana, ranking 40th at $3,795, to Tennessee, ranking 49th at $3,106.

Here’s where the shoddy comes to bear:

In crumbling roads and infrastructure that endanger drivers and discourage industry from locating in the state. Gov. Robert Bentley says he’ll support a gas tax increase next year to begin to address the transportation crisis, but tax-averse legislators may again stonewall on raising new revenue.

In overcrowded prisons, now at risk of an expensive federal takeover because of years of underfunding.

In starving court systems where justice delayed equals justice denied is standard operating procedure.

In stingily funded schools that serve up low achieving students. In just one example, the state’s community colleges can’t recruit or keep instructors qualified in high-tech fields because of shoddy salaries, the Decatur Daily reported. Instead, they flee to private industry, and education and workforce strength suffers.

The PARCA report also explains in detail how the overall unfairness of Alabama’s antiquated tax system burdens the poor and privileges the rich.

It’s a regressive system that relies far too heavily on sales tax revenue, taxing even the groceries that low-income families put on the table, and taking a greater proportion of their earnings than those of the wealthy.

Alabama is also the nation’s lowest ranking collector of property taxes, with generous perks carved out for wealthy agricultural and timber interests.

None of these problems will be easily solved. But the most disturbing aspect of Alabama’s tax-related financial ills is that very few elected leaders show the courage to begin, somewhere, to right the ship of state.

Online:

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/

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Dec. 11

The Dothan Eagle on poverty in Alabama:

A report released by the child advocacy group Voices for Alabama’s Children reminds us that poverty remains a significant challenge for far too many Alabamians.

The organization’s most recent Alabama Kids Count Data Book reveals that about 25 percent of the state’s children live in poverty stricken households, with half of those in families with less than $1,000 per month in income.

In this season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are ample opportunities to give to the less fortunate among us, and many aid organizations count on increased support during the holidays to buoy their programs throughout the year. That’s an important consideration, as poverty isn’t seasonal.

There are strategies to help lift families out of poverty, but there is no quick fix, just as there is no single culprit. Job growth is a key factor, but if those jobs don’t grow in the most impoverished areas, they’re out of reach for many who would hope to find employment or better-paying jobs. Many areas of the state, such as Geneva County, where child poverty is as high as 33 percent, the jobs lost in the decline of the textile industry haven’t been adequately replaced.

On the bright side, economic recruiters and education leaders work diligently to lure job providers and develop job training programs to adapt a workforce for whatever jobs may materialize.

The challenge is daunting, but not insurmountable. Meanwhile, those who can should consider supporting those programs that give aid to the disadvantaged.

Online:

http://www.dothaneagle.com

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Dec. 12

The Gadsden Times on Alabama’s state auditor:

Alabama’s state auditor is required to report annually to the governor on receipts and disbursements to the treasury, audit the treasury and revenue departments and keep tabs on state property.

It’s the beaniest of bean-counting positions, and traditionally draws little attention except at election time.

Jim Zeigler, the current auditor, is changing that profile - not for the better.

Zeigler, a Mobile attorney, served one term on the Public Service Commission in the 1970s, then became a frequent (and unsuccessful) political candidate. He lost six races - three each as a Democrat and a Republican - before winning the auditor’s post last year on the GOP ticket.

His platform always has been stamping out waste in government. We have no issues there, and bean-counting is a good way to accomplish that goal.

However, Zeigler’s declaration before taking office that “there’s a new sheriff in Montgomery” has gone beyond saving nickels.

Zeigler blasted Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds. He drew criticism for addressing a meeting of the League of the South, which has advocated “a free and independent Southern republic” and has been tagged as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Following this year’s shootings at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., he advised Alabama churchgoers to “pack” (guns) when attending services.

And last week, Zeigler issued a press release warning that three United Nations investigators were launching “a major assault on Alabama laws protecting children.”

He said the trio met with a doctor and an ACLU attorney at a Montgomery abortion clinic to discuss Alabama’s restrictions on abortions, the unavailability of contraceptives to young people and the state’s chemical endangerment law under which pregnant women or new mothers can be prosecuted if drugs are found in their babies’ systems.

Zeigler said the UN may be about to “dictate to Alabama” what it must do on those issues, that he had no confidence in the president or governor’s ability to “block that agenda” and that he’d be “monitoring this developing situation.”

Uh, yeah.

We doubt there’s any cabal hidden away at UN headquarters in New York, furiously working on a plan to conquer Alabama. UN forces have their hands full elsewhere on the planet, so it’s unlikely the organization can spare any personnel for that assignment.

What happened in Montgomery probably was a meeting of like-minded advocates for specific positions - as when anti-abortion folks gather to talk strategy.

Zeigler is carrying on a familiar Alabama political tradition - stirring people up with visions of outsiders coming in to change our way of life (although the UN hasn’t been invoked since the glory days of the John Birch Society).

It generally works, and we’re under no illusions that Zeigler’s views are that far out of line with Alabama’s electorate at this point. Green House Cat Republicans (we just made that up) have replaced Yellow Dog Democrats here.

We just think the state would be better served if its auditor stuck to bean counting.

Online:

http://www.gadsdentimes.com

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