Gambling is just a distraction

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 27, 2010

The notoriously outspoken David Bronner, who heads the Alabama Retirement System, this week warned us Alabamians again.

Bronner has been saying for years that Alabama needs to look hard at how it taxes residents and that eventually, the relatively low property taxes we’ve enjoyed will catch up with us.

It almost happened in the 70s, Bronner said earlier this week. Shortly after his dire predictions in that decade, massive oil discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico made the state’s coffers flush with cash.

Now, he’s making the same prediction. The state cannot cut its way to prosperity, he said. Courts, education, youth services and public safety will all hurt as a result.

And as we heard in Covington County earlier this week, mental health will too. The South Central Alabama Mental Health Board, which serves clients in five counties, has 1,504 clients in our county alone.

If mental health clients don’t have access to counseling and medication, our problems suddenly aren’t just about funding.

“If mental health is not properly funded, we’re going to have a real crisis on our hands,” SCAMH board member Jim Perdue said. “(As a probate judge) I can say those suffering from mental illnesses that I see are a danger to themselves and to others. Funded or not, these people are going to be here.”

If the federal government approves another stimulus package, mental health programs statewide will see a $14 million decrease in funding.

Without a stimulus package, that number could be as high as $45 million.

Time is short, Bronner said, and taxes on gambling won’t fix the problem.

“Gambling and bingo are nickel and dime,” he said. “They won’t solve the problem, but they sure divert attention away from it.”

Perhaps that’s what concerns us most. For weeks, bingo has been a titillating issue.

But focusing on bingo is like fiddling while Rome burns.