- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Aug. 10

Gadsden (Alabama) Times on state’s Forever Wild land preservation program:

Barring four horses riding through the sky to a trumpet accompaniment, the legislative special session will fizzle out with no solution for Alabama’s General Fund budget crisis.

The expectation is that Gov. Robert Bentley will call another special session to try to accomplish that. We wish we could contemplate the prospect with optimism. We’re more inclined to contemplate whether legislators should get paid for not fulfilling their primary responsibility.

One positive thing is that the idea of using the state’s Forever Wild land preservation program to plug budgetary holes seems to be completely and rightfully dead.

Since 1992, Forever Wild has used interest from the state’s oil and gas trust fund to buy and preserve more than 200,000 acres, virtually all of which are available to the public for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. It’s a tremendously popular program with everyone except land speculators drooling for fresh profit opportunities.

The constitutional amendment establishing Forever Wild passed with 83 percent of the vote in 1992; an amendment reauthorizing it got 75 percent of the vote two years ago. The program’s supporters range from its “father,” Gadsden’s Jim Martin, as stalwart a conservative as has ever served in state government, to utility companies, to environmental groups.

However, the Senate on Aug. 5, by a 32-1 vote, passed a constitutional amendment offered by Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Arab, that would have ended funding for Forever Wild and shifted it to Alabama’s state parks system, whose operations (and, for some individual parks, existence) are threatened by the budget crisis.

The negative response was quick and intense, and within 48 hours Scofield announced he would not send his bill to the House.

We have little doubt it would’ve passed had he let it proceed. We also have little doubt that if the amendment had gotten to the voters, it would’ve been soundly rejected. There’s certainly a disconnect in place, summed up in a plaintive comment by Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, who spoke in support of Scofield’s amendment at a legislative hearing: “We have an almost impossible task, because people don’t want us to raise their taxes.”

Legislators bear some responsibility for that dilemma by making such vehement promises on taxes while campaigning - promises that changing conditions have made difficult if not impossible to keep.

However, voters also deserve some blame. They mobilize and start yelling when something they like is threatened - and we welcome the outrage that stopped this assault on Forever Wild, a program we’ve consistently supported - but don’t realize that’s only treating a symptom.

The disease remains. Does anyone have the will to treat it?




Aug. 5

Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News on state’s General Fund budget:

Well, the Alabama Legislature has begun work on shoring up the estimated $200 million gap in what is needed to float the General Fund budget, which is due in a couple of weeks. As expected, tempers are flaring, and deals are being cut in rapid fashion as the deadline looms.

So, here’s where we are so far: Efforts to legalize gambling are spearheaded by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. That measure cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when a Senate committee voted 6-2 to approve a proposal to allow voters to decide whether to have a state lottery and allow Las Vegas-style casinos at four existing dog tracks, including Greenetrack in nearby Eutaw. Meanwhile, a different House committee killed one of Gov. Robert Bentley’s major proposals to raise $66 million through a 25-cent per pack cigarette tax. And yet another Senate committee approved a contentious proposal to take $225 million from the Education Trust Fund and place it in the General Fund.

That’s the revenue side of things. On the expense side, another House committee proposed an incredible $156 million cut in the state’s Medicaid program.

There’s little doubt that Marsh and his supporters in the Legislature are working all angles to force the gambling proposal to the forefront. Bentley’s proposal to raise $302 million through tax hikes like the cigarette tax is failing quickly, and the governor flat out blames the push for gambling.

“They really do not want a solution because they want to solve this with gambling,” the governor said Tuesday.

For decades now, Alabamians have seen millions in potential revenue cross the state borders into Georgia and Florida and, lately, Tennessee. At the same time, we’ve seen the state spend millions of our tax dollars to fight gambling at the dog tracks. And we already have gambling without the benefit of tax revenue at three existing Poarch Creek Indian casinos. Certainly, as we’ve often said, Alabama voters should get to decide whether to allow gambling, but that choice shouldn’t be offered as a means to avoid more responsible governance.

Marsh and the pro-gambling contingent think the plan should be to take money from the education budget, place it in the general fund and then backfill the education budget with proceeds from a lottery.

But to force that vote by threatening to take money from education, threatening to slash Medicaid funding or failing to exact a voluntary tax on cigarette smokers is shameful politics.

The fiscal year starts in October. Suppose voters in Alabama decide that they don’t want government funded by a lottery or casino gambling. Where does that leave us? The obvious answer is: in even worse shape than we are now.

Again, let voters decide the gambling issues in due time. But lawmakers are gambling with our future when they place all their chips on that table. Don’t force the issue with this current crisis.




Aug. 7

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on America’s voting process and political scene:

This week marked a watershed for the American political scene. With President Barack Obama locked out of the race by the two-term limit, the Oval Office is up for grabs, and candidates are coming out of the woodwork.

An eagerly anticipated televised debate featured 10 of 18 Republican candidates seeking the party’s nomination in the 2016 presidential election. Five Democrats are seeking the nation’s highest office - six, if Vice President Joe Biden decides to run. And that’s not counting the slew of significantly underfunded major party candidates, third-party candidates, write-ins and other hopefuls.

With the campaign season in full swing, one would think the presidential race is the biggest thing going.

They’d be wrong. Perhaps it should be, but it’s not. While there are Americans watching the process with rapt attention, much of America is consumed by other things. A flag from a war that ended 150 years ago. Sexual preference and human rights. A lion killed by a game-hunting dentist.

Last Thursday marked the 50 anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for African-American citizens long blocked from the ballot box by unconstitutional poll taxes and other insurmountable requirements.

The social fights that led to that hard-won measure, like similar efforts that won voting rights for women in 1920, should resonate today. However, voter turnout remains low while a majority of voters simply don’t participate.

The political process is messy and, for most Americans, much too frustrating to follow. However, the process is ours, and the responsibility of selecting our elected officials rests on the shoulders of us all.

When we turn our backs on the electoral process, we get the sort of government our apathy deserves.



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