Can we fix a broken government?

Published 4:40 pm Sunday, August 24, 2003

By By BILL CRIST, Publisher
To say that Alabamians bristle when told they must do something is an understatement. In that respect, citizens of this state are a lot like those in other areas of the country, although I suspect that it is for historically different reasons.
With that mindset comes a resistance to change. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," can be a very powerful argument for the status quo.
But what happens when it is broke? What do we do when the status quo just won't cut it any longer?
Most people in Alabama would probably agree that our state's government is broken. Gov. Riley hopes that on Sept. 9, a majority of the voters in the state will agree with his proposal to fix government. Several groups who oppose the package are taking their own message to the people. However, there is a big difference in those messages, and one that we need to make clear.
Agree or disagree with it, the governor has presented a plan for us, the voters of the state, to approve or disapprove.
Ask those against the package what they suggest if it fails, and you likely won't get a specific answer. After first denying the problem, most members of the 'accountability first' crowd will usually admit they don't have a plan. Rest assured, they tell us, that whatever it takes to solve our problem, the answer will not lie in higher taxes.
Many of those against the governor's proposal say there is more room to cut expenses. They point to national school test results that show our schools are doing all right despite their warnings about not having the money to hire teachers or buy textbooks. They also claim that state revenues are rising, and that our projected deficit is not nearly as large as it is being made out to be.
At a meeting last week, when asked how are state was going to move forward, and not just maintain our inadequate status quo, State Rep. Greg Albritton, who was speaking to the Brewton Rotary Club about the package, did not have an answer. Albritton was not speaking against the plan, he said, but from the perspective of a legislator. However, he did say that he had voted against a majority of the bills that make up the total amendment.
When asked about the 15,000 state prisoners that we do not have prison space for, Albritton said that the state is sending them to neighboring states and paying to have them housed there. He went on to say that the counties would start receiving a higher per diem to house prisoners and that Conecuh County, for example, would realize $15,000 a month in additional state funds.
That's great for Conecuh County, and possibly Escambia County, but where are those funds going to come from? That's the question that goes unanswered, and that's what voters need to get an answer to before they go to the polls in a couple weeks.
Amendment One is going to cost the taxpayers in Alabama money. Some of us will pay considerably more, while a few may actually see a decrease in their tax burden. Statistics can be used to show either side of an argument, and both sides of the issue are using them to their advantage. What the statistics cannot deny, though, is that we have the opportunity to do something good for Alabama. By voting yes, we can set the tone for how our state will grow and move forward over the coming decades. If we vote no, we will also set a tone, but it won't be one of growth. Instead, we'll continue to apply Band-Aids to a gaping hole in our state's budget and settle for less than we deserve.
Is Amendment One perfect? No. But no plan is ever going to please everyone. As voters, we will decide our state's future in just over two weeks. Hopefully we'll choose stability and growth over stagnation and decline.
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