A crazy constitution
The Huntsville Times
Monday, November 17, 2008

The November vote puts amendment flaws in the spotlight

Here's the good news: It appears that the issue of whether Limestone County residents must pay higher taxes for their children who attend Madison city schools has been resolved - at least unofficially - before the senatorial races in Alaska, Georgia and Minnesota.

Here's the bad news: Unlike a senatorial race, in which an entire state obviously should be allowed to participate, there's no earthly reason - other than an archaic constitution and an intransigent Legislature - why the Limestone/Madison schools tax vote should have been voted on statewide in the first place. Why not let the affected area decide the question?

Of course, we're not 100 percent sure than those Limestone County property owners who send their children to Madison city schools will have to pay the 10.5-mill school district property tax like Madison County residents of Madison do. That won't be decided until the official state canvass on Nov. 25.

But the unofficial tally with only three boxes uncounted - and what's up with that? - shows the measure ahead by more than 8,600 votes.

Obviously, voters across Alabama understood the fairness of the issue. If Limestone County residents wanted to be annexed and send their children to Madison city schools - and the only way to get annexed is to petition to do so - they should have to pay the freight.

But why in the world are people in counties like Baldwin and Cullman and elsewhere involved in this matter?

Why, in fact, were they involved in any of the five constitutional amendments - because that's what this was - that everybody in the state had to vote on? (The exception, of course, would be the question of whether to increase the amount of money that could be borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund to meet growing state budget shortfalls.)

The quirky state law, though, required all Alabamians to weigh in, if they chose to, on these matters. And, the amendments that passed became part of the world's longest constitution. It's also a racist and out-of-date document and one that's almost impossible for a sane person to navigate.

But, incredibly, it could have been worse. Twenty-nine other constitutional amendments were, under the aforementioned quirky laws, only on local ballots.

Well, that's a step forward. But before you celebrate note that if all of these matters are certified on Nov. 25 as approved, the Alabama Constitution now contains provisions that include:

Raising court costs in Geneva County.

Adding a vehicle license plate fee in Blount County.

Permitting Mobile County to deal with dangerous dogs.

And 26 other, similar and utterly local items.

So not only is the process by which some of the issues decided ineffective, the continuation of additional items to the constitution becomes farcical.

Winston Churchill once said something to the effect that democracy was the worst form of government except for all other forms that had been tried.

One wonders whether Churchill would have been so sanguinely confident in the democratic process if he had known how Alabama governs itself.

By David Prather, for the editorial board. E-mail: david.prather@htimes.com

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