- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

June 24

The Decatur (Alabama) Daily on tax code:

Two advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections alleging unconstitutional conditions for inmates, including denying medical treatment. Regardless of the lawsuit’s merits, Alabama’s prison system is on course for federal intervention - again.

Alabama’s prison system again is in the national spotlight, and it’s not a heartening illumination.

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Center have filed suit in federal court seeking to change how inmates are treated, particularly for medical conditions the groups contend largely go untreated.

The latest accusations of unconstitutional prison conditions and inhumane treatment have their roots in the state’s deeply flawed tax system. The state doesn’t have enough money to adequately fund all its services - and given what is now well-documented research on the tax system, the lack of funding can only be viewed as by design.

It’s not yet clear where the Legislature will find additional money to solve the problems, but the first place to look is in the tax code itself. Alabama taxes the working poor and middle class at much higher rates than most states, while the wealthy can take advantage of tax breaks not available to others.

Alabama relies too heavily on sales taxes, while property taxes are the lowest in the nation, which is a decided advantage for the wealthy. In 2006, the Legislature changed the income tax threshold from $4,600 to $12,600, which was welcome relief, but the income tax rate was not changed. Alabama has a relatively flat income-tax rate that is more onerous on the working poor and middle class than on large income earners.

The money to turn around the miserable state prison system, and to properly fund schools and other services, is available if only someone in Montgomery will muster the political courage to rewrite the tax code and establish a progressive system that fairly and equitably taxes its people based on their wealth.




June 23

The Gadsden (Alabama) Times on Riverfront park:

Here’s a new chapter for the perpetual work-in-progress, “The Perils of Dealing with Government Bureaucracy.”

The city of Gadsden last year announced plans for the Coosa Riverfront Park that we praised at the time as a worthwhile addition to the local landscape.

The park will start at the existing Coosa Landing marina and run back along the riverfront toward Interstate 759, both on land that was purchased by the city and wetlands property that is being leased from Alabama Power Co. for $1. It will have trails, boardwalks (lighting is planned for the ones on city property), pavilions, observation decks, floating docks for boats and possibly picnic tables. A pedestrian bridge will link the park to Coosa Landing.

We have zero doubt it will be put to good use if it gets built. The problem is, that’s going to take more than land, money and will.

The city must satisfy four federal agencies - the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (because the area is in Alabama Power’s flood elevation), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (because it’s a potential habitat for the Indiana bat), the Army Corps of Engineers (because it actually will affect the river) and the Coast Guard (because the pedestrian bridge will cross navigable water) - before proceeding with the project. The Alabama Historical Commission already has signed off on it.

City officials, who had hoped work could begin on the park this year, say the process has been “frustrating.” They’ve had to make revisions in the project to try to alleviate the ecological concerns and get the federal permits. It’s nearly doubled the development costs and likely will increase the construction costs. Those are to be covered by funds the city received from a bond refinancing in 2012, that were tagged for riverfront development.

We’re not going to call this bureaucracy run amok, because we’re sure there are good reasons these regulatory hoops were put in place. The whole point of this project is to spotlight and take advantage of Gadsden and Etowah County’s most dominant natural resource, not injure it. Doing this right is more important than doing it quickly.

While they’re frustrated by the slowdown, city officials also are optimistic that once the first permit is approved, the others will follow quickly and work on the park can begin.

We welcome that kind of patience and diligence. This might not be the massive economic development on the Coosa that people have sought for decades, but it’s a good thing for Gadsden. It might even be the start of something more.




June 23

Anniston (Alabama) Star on clean air:

The Environmental Protection Agency is spinning a recent Supreme Court decision allowing the regulation of greenhouse gases as a win in the battle against global warming.

By a 7-2 vote, the court declared, as Justice Antonin Scalia so succinctly put it, that the “EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case.” In a statement released following Monday’s announcement, the EPA noted, “The Supreme Court’s decision is a win for our efforts to reduce carbon pollution because it allows EPA, states and other permitting authorities to continue to require carbon pollution limits in permits for the largest pollution sources.”

So, that’s all good, given the settled science.

Human activity is causing a spike in greenhouse gases. The planet is heating up. Dire consequences are already at hand.

Yet, amid all this positive news in the battle against man-made global warming is a head-shaking reality. The fault goes back to a do-nothing Congress.

Here’s the issue: The tonnage triggers for regulation of pollutants in the Clear Air Act are far too low for greenhouse gases. More conventional pollutants are measured in the hundreds of tons while the danger from greenhouse gases is better regulated in the thousands of tons.

Part of what landed the EPA in federal court was an adjustment in the pollution thresholds, one that attacked the worst offenders and didn’t burden lesser sources. Another section of the court’s ruling criticized that adjustment, as a 5-4 majority said that was an overstep of the EPA’s authority. (The court cited a different section of the law to allow the agency to regulate only large sources of greenhouse gases.)

Reading between the lines, we see a need for some tweaks in a law first passed more than 50 years ago.

Forget fixes. We fret there’s a tea party-flavored faction in Congress that would just as soon kill the entire Clean Air Act, legislation that has been consistently approved by past Republican presidents.

The point is that Congress is earning its do-nothing reputation. A big nation with big problems needs an action-oriented legislative body looking forward to a more prosperous future. Well, we can dream, can’t we?



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