Rule breakers Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform

Constitutional reform at last? It’s a step in right direction, but tax matters will remain

The Anniston Star Editorial Board
July 25, 2011

When the history of constitutional reform in Alabama is studied, there is a good chance people may overlook the fact that it took a Republican Legislature to start the ball rolling.

What they must not overlook is what moved the new majority to action: the recognition that the state’s antiquated and inefficient constitution is — to put it simply — a job killer.

While there is general agreement that the original document was written by the rich to keep the poor — black and white — at the bottom of the social, economic and political ladders, what now is acknowledged is that the Constitution hurts the affluent as well.

By concentrating power in Montgomery, the Constitution made it difficult for county and city governments to address their problems, which in turn made it difficult for the state to prosper as other states do.

Thus, we have the modest beginnings approved in the last session by the Legislature. The nine members of the Constitutional Revision Commission have been selected — three picked by the Senate president pro tem, three by the speaker of the House, and three by the governor. It is a bipartisan group that includes the state’s only openly gay legislator, a leader of the Tea Party, a Democratic pollster, a member of a conservative think tank, a civil rights activist and three lawyers from prominent firms.

When the commission is in place, it will begin to consider revisions on Article III (separation of powers), Article IX (representation) and Article IV (which includes the section on home rule).

This is a positive first step. It’s not the bold move some have advocated, but one that recognized the reality of Alabama politics. Articles III and IX should be relatively easy to deal with; Article IV will be a bit more difficult. While the Legislature may be willing to lift some restrictions on home rule, most legislators are uncomfortable with giving local governments complete control over how tax rates are set within their jurisdictions. That is more power than they are willing to surrender.

Which begs the question, can the Constitution be revised and made more efficient without addressing taxes?

Realizing that Alabama’s constitutionally enshrined tax code with its caps and earmarks has too many influential supporters to make real reform possible, the resolution establishing the Constitutional Revision Commission excluded most tax matters from the commission’s consideration. That eased the fears of those the tax code favors and will make other revisions possible.

However, when all the revisions are done and a shorter, more efficient Constitution is in place, the old, inefficient, unfair system of raising revenue will stand out like a sore thumb. Then the question will be, do we put another Band-Aid on it, or do we actually cure the problem?

Copyright 2011 Anniston Star. All rights reserved.

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