- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


June 25

Decatur Daily on sin taxes :

Alabama has a long and checkered history of using so-called sin taxes to fund state programs. Lawmakers who fear the wrath of business interests, large landowners and the broad base of taxpayers are usually willing to sock it to those who drink or smoke.

In Alabama, more than a quarter of adults still smoke cigarettes, well above the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 40 percent of people 12 and older have consumed alcohol in the past month, despite a large population of teetotalers, according to a Washington Post analysis of statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services.

So, “sin taxes” impact a large chunk of Alabama’s general taxpaying population, regardless. But one thing Alabamians seem willing to pay for is the privilege of punishing sin, even one’s own.

Still, that’s no way to fund state government, which is why Alabama perpetually is unable to adequately fund the amount of government programs and services voters demand. Whenever something is funded by sin taxes, it makes those parts of government dependent on activities other parts of government - and private organizations and individuals - often are actively discouraging. The left hand may know what the right hand is doing, but they’re still working at cross purposes.

Sin taxes raise still more issues when it’s unelected boards, and not elected lawmakers, raising them.

Effective Nov. 1, the state’s markup on liquor will go up from 30 percent to 35 percent to generate more money for the state’s district attorneys and court system. The price hike is estimated to generate about $8.2 million annually.

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, has tried unsuccessfully to prevent unelected bodies like the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board from enacting such phantom tax increases - price hikes based not on increasing costs and where the revenue goes to fund some outside agency or program.

Holtzclaw, whose district includes Limestone County, has said lawmakers can’t give away the responsibility of tax increases to unelected agency leaders.

“We’re elected, therefore we’re accountable to the people,” he said. “We continue to go down this path where . legislators are basically putting their hands up and saying, ‘It’s in the law and we couldn’t do anything about it.’ Therein lies my concern.”

Holtzclaw is exactly right. It is the responsibility of the state Legislature to fund the courts and district attorneys, and it is the Legislature that has shirked its duty. Not only is a specific group being targeted to pay for services everyone depends upon, the targeting is being done by unaccountable state workers.

In the case of the ABC board raising the price of spirits to pay for state agencies, there is yet another problem. The state of Alabama should not be in the liquor business in the first place. Government agencies and employees who are dependent on being subsidized by state alcohol sales become yet another constituency that will oppose any attempt to end the state’s wholesale liquor monopoly.

So, it’s no surprise the ABC board is willing to subsidize district attorneys and the courts. By so doing, ABC puts out more markers it can call if and when some lawmakers seek to privatize the state’s alcohol sales.

The state’s reliance on sin taxes has created a fine mess: underfunded agencies on the one hand and impossible-to-kill agencies on the other. And it’s all because the same lawmakers who concentrate as much power in Montgomery as possible can’t take the heat when it comes time to pay the bills.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com/


June 21

Opelika-Auburn News on the new Auburn University president:

A new chapter began Monday morning for Auburn University, one that has only 18 such beginnings before it.

Steven Leath assumed his duties as Auburn’s 19th president.

It should be viewed as a time of opportunity for other exciting new beginnings at Auburn.

Leath comes to the friendliest village with a promising wealth of experience, the type that quality universities seek in leadership when striving for excellence in the academic world and in service to their community and state.

Auburn is a land-grant university, which requires it to dedicate efforts to aid the state’s agricultural needs, ranging from research on new ideas in farming to operating a statewide extension service that bridges the span from classroom to backyard garden.

Leath, whose background includes prominent academic and leadership roles at such fine institutions as Iowa State University and the University of North Carolina, understands the importance and administrative needs associated with a land grant school.

The new president also has said and promised the right things in talking about raising the level of recognition and reputation of Auburn’s research and development programs, which cover a wide spectrum that includes veterinary medicine, aviation, engineering, pharmacy, business, and much more.

Auburn already is considered among the best in the land in some of these fields, but research and discovery and development is how a university continues to prove its worth.

It also takes big dollars to pay for big projects, another sign of growth and one already evident on the Auburn campus this summer. It’s also another important skill Leath promises to bring to the table. His record indicates he’s a good at working the crowd and as a fund-raiser.

And, Leath says he’s an outgoing administrator who enjoys having an active presence on the campus. Don’t look for him to be preoccupied only with administrative duties in an office or board room.

Leath already has enjoyed a bit of early exploration on Auburn’s beautiful campus, and he promises to be visible among students and the Auburn family as he tries to stay in close touch with the real needs of real day-to-day life surrounding him.

We should extend a hearty welcome to President Leath and allow him to quickly experience the warm hospitality for which the Auburn family is known.

Opportunity knocks, and it should be a community effort in opening the door to it.

Online: https://www.oanow.com/


June 25

The Gadsden Times on Alabama’s Department of Education:

Alabama’s Department of Education oversees one of the most important - some might put it at the top - responsibilities of the public sector: preparing this state’s children to be productive, functioning citizens.

Given the way things are going right now on North Ripley Street in Montgomery (the department’s headquarters is at No. 50). we’re beginning to wonder if it’s capable of overseeing the average yard sale.

We’ve followed and addressed the turmoil that’s been ongoing in the department’s operations and its dealing with the state Board of Education since last year’s controversial choice of Michael Sentance as superintendent. Two recent events have propelled that turmoil toward outright ignition.

First, the Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C., released its report of an audit of the department’s calculations of Alabama’s high school graduation rate. It found that state officials had been ignoring federal rules and inflating the graduation rate since the 2010-11 school year; an initial audit found discrepancies for 2013-14.

The state must now mark the graduation rates for four consecutive school years as “unreliable.” This is no time to be delicate; basically, they’re garbage.

The report hammered former Superintendent Tommy Bice for - even though he had been specifically instructed not to - counting students who earned alternative diplomas, such as those on Alabama’s Occupational Diploma track, in the graduation rate.

Bice didn’t comment on the new report, but when the 2013-14 discrepancies were flagged, he defended counting those students and said doing otherwise would be “discriminatory toward a group of kids with special needs.”

We previously said we thought his heart was in the right place. The fact that this was more than a one-time slip-up leaves us less sympathetic.

We understand it’s in a teacher’s heart to do everything possible - including envelope pushing - to help students. However, does it really set a good example to willfully disobey instructions and treat rules as optional instead of mandatory?

The department could face severe fines for this fiasco. Is running that risk really in the best interest of this state’s public schools, their faculty and staff, and their students?

Then there was the latest installment of the soap opera over Sentance’s hiring and, more significantly, purported dirty tricks against Craig Pouncey, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools and the runner-up for the job.

The state school board voted to accept the report of an internal investigation, which found that board member Mary Scott Hunter, who represents Etowah County, and four others conspired to smear Pouncey and keep him from being hired as superintendent. That followed the submission of an anonymous letter accusing Pouncey of plagiarizing his doctoral dissertation. The report said that accusation is baseless, and Pouncey is suing Hunter and the others for defamation.

The board voted 6-1 - Hunter dissenting, blasting the report as “bizarre” and “a hack job” - to accept it, even though a retired state Supreme Court justice tapped by Sentance to review its findings disputed whether the evidence it contains is truly convincing. However, Bernard Harwood conceded that “it may raise that suspicion.”

That’s not very reassuring. Neither is the certainty that this controversy will continue to percolate and get even uglier. Every signal from Pouncey is that he’s determined to clear his name and find out for public consumption (a.) who torpedoed his candidacy and (b.) to promote what agenda.

Sentance’s continuing struggles as superintendent - the strife and communication issues between him and the board - aren’t helping.

We consistently, in controversies like this, advise people to give the new guy a chance, but our patience isn’t eternal. It can’t be when dealing with the education of our children. That has to be the only motivation here, and it’s difficult to give it that status when people are having to multi-task and contend with muck.

Online: https://www.gadsdentimes.com/

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