Time to put party politics aside
By By BILL CRIST - Publisher
Just when I thought it was safe to admit publicly that I was from Texas, the state legislature makes national headlines when the minority party goes AWOL and the majority party, citing state law, sends state troopers to arrest them.
The almost comical stories coming out of Austin, the result of partisan squabbling over re-districting, gives Alabama's legislative body one more state to "thank God for…" as the joke goes. I'm not sure if any Alabama state representatives have ever fled to Tennessee to make a point, but Montgomery has been the scene of plenty of hard-line stances down party and philosophical lines. The coming weeks will provide ample opportunity for partisan bickering, during Gov. Bob Riley's call for a special session to address the state's projected budget shortfall.
Wouldn't it be nice if our elected officials proved the doubters in this state wrong and held a productive session? We would all be well served if they worked together and accomplished the goal of fixing the financial mess our state is in not only for the coming fiscal year, but so that the problem is not a recurring one. Many voters are skeptical of new tax packages, even when they are presented as making the system more equitable for everyone.
In the coming weeks, our legislators will be faced with lobbyists trying to protect the status quo of their constituents. Those appeals often come with strongly worded reminders about campaign donations and past support. Our legislators will be challenged by party leaders to support party lines, positioning themselves to look favorable in future elections and growing the party's power in the capitol. Frankly, our elected officials will be bombarded by messages from the people who voted them into office decrying the injustice of raising taxes, and threatening to withhold votes if those same officials approve the governor's program.
Alabama is not unique in facing a budget crisis next year. Our track record, however, does point to a history of shortsighted decisions about how to fix our financial problems.
Remember the "rainy day" fund approved by voters last year? This one-time, stop-gap measure that was supposed to be a safeguard for the future is gone, absorbed by the current fiscal year's shortage. It should serve as a reminder to our legislators that the situation our state is facing is going to require better solutions than the quick fixes that are so politically appealing. Instead, every member of the house and senate ought to commit to rolling up his or her sleeves and tackling the issue. Maybe Riley's plan is the answer, maybe it's not, but rather than squabble over party lines, now is the time for leadership and teamwork.
Ultimately, any changes in the tax structure are going to have to be approved by the voters. Many of us prefer having options like "rainy day funds" that simple re-allocate money rather then generating new receipts. They are easy to swallow, knowing that the impact on our wallet will be minimal.
That does not appear to be the case any longer, though, and as citizens, we will need to follow the lead of our elected officials. While we should not go to the ballot box blindly, many of us must broaden our perspectives, and look beyond our own personal best interests. Instead, we need to think about the best interests of our state and fellow citizens. If that means cuts to popular programs, an increase in taxes or drastic changes in how our state operates, so be it.
It has become clear the if we continue our policy of "business as usual" we, as a state, are headed for a train wreck. It is time to put aside political, business and personal differences and pull together to help insure that Alabama remains a prosperous state. In that way only will we ever achieve what our potential says we can.
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