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Reform bill gives us hope

A bill made it out of the Senate Constitution and Elections Committee Thursday that could help us begin to fix much that is wrong in Alabama.

The bill would “let the people vote.” Not on whether or not you can play bingo in Dothan or Shorter, but on whether to have a constitutional convention to rewrite the constitution.

Alabama’s 1901 constitution is the longest and most amended of any state constitution. Most scholars believe massive vote fraud was involved in getting it passed.

The problems with the current document are numerous, but among them are the centralization of power and taxation.

It restricts local democracy, depriving counties of local control and forcing county governments to seek legislative approval for even the most mundane of matters, including rodent control, weed control, bingo, prostitution, and burying dead farm animals, among others.

Our state legislature spends nearly have of its time debating local issues, and more than 70 percent of our constitutional amendments apply to a single city or county.

The current constitution forces the state’s poorest citizens to pay a disproportionate share of income in taxes. The wealthiest one percent of Alabamians pay about 4 percent of their income in state taxes, while the poorest fifth of our citizens pay nearly 11 percent. To ensure stabilized state revenue and continuing services, the tax structure should be based on property taxes, which do not decline, as opposed to sales and income taxes, which do.

The constitution also limits flexibility in budgeting, earmarking about 90 percent of the state’s revenues. By comparison, most states earmark 22 percent of their revenues. This gives the governor and the legislature very little flexibility to match available resources with the most pressing needs, particularly when revenues fall short.

Now more than ever, Alabamians should understand why it is important that this issue be addressed. While Gov. Bob Riley has proposed a budget for 2010 that is balanced on the hopes of receiving major stimulus funding from the federal government.

The bill that came of committee last week has little hope of passing the full Senate; similar measures have failed in the past. But it certainly won’t pass without first making it out of committee. It’s a baby step, but one in the right direction.