Tax fears still threaten reform
Montgomery Advertiser
March 15, 2006

Your Help Is Needed Immediately! Call your legislatures

A new statewide poll indicates a strong level of support for a new state constitution, but also reflects broad concern over taxation. The latter finding is especially important, as it reflects the indefatigable efforts of anti-reform forces to paint the constitutional reform movement as a scheme to raise taxes.

The Mobile Register-University of South Alabama poll shows 57 percent of Alabama adults favoring a new constitution to replace the 1901 document under which Alabama now operates. Only 27 percent of respondents said they were opposed.

That's a similar level of support as found in earlier polls. The latest poll also found that more than two-thirds of respondents had some reservations -- were "very" or "somewhat" concerned -- about constitutional reform leading to an increase in taxes.

That surely has the anti-reform forces smiling. For years, those who want to keep the current constitution have touted its protections against taxation, as if no new constitution could have any such safeguards and as if the unjust, unbalanced taxation system this constitution preserves is desirable.

In some perverse ways, the 1901 constitution has been a remarkable success. It was drafted with the clear intention to disfranchise blacks and poor whites, which it did for decades until court decisions struck down these oppressive provisions. It was written with the unmistakable intention of centralizing authority in the Legislature and denying local governments anything resembling the latitude they need to be responsive to the needs of those they serve. It was written to protect large landowners and ensure that taxes were levied far more against people than against wealth.

Its numerous amendments, now approaching 800, are powerful testimony to its absurdly restrictive design. There's very little to recommend it, which is why progressive Alabamians have long argued for drafting a new constitution.

This is hardly some radical notion. Many other states have adopted new constitutions in recent decades.

This poll of Alabama adults is also interesting in light of another recent survey by the polling operation of the Alabama Education Association. That poll, a survey of registered voters, found 72 percent in support of a referendum to decide whether to hold a constitutional convention.

Even that proposal -- not a vote on a new constitution, but simply a vote on whether to hold a referendum on having a constitutional convention -- has so far been stymied. The tax question has been raised again, even thought the measure would simply allow voters to decide whether they want to have a vote on a convention. If they say no, that's that. If they say yes, the convention would be held and elected delegates would draft a new constitution, which voters would then decided to aceept or reject.

Reform advocates have to address the taxation question and the chronic distortions of it by proponents of the status quo.

« back