Brewer continues to share views
Published 2:46 pm Wednesday, April 18, 2007
By By Albert Brewer- former Alabama governor
History has shown that the efforts of the 1901 Constitution to put constraints on local government in Alabama were twofold: (1) the prohibitions of the Constitution requiring amendment of the basic document to enable local governments to engage in some activity otherwise prohibited by the constitution and (2) the virtually absolute control of local governments, particularly counties, by the legislature. The consequences are well known. We talk about the entire state having to amend the constitution to permit Mobile County to engage in a mosquito control program, to authorize Limestone County to dispose of dead farm animals, to ban prostitution in unincorporated areas of Jefferson County, to permit Morgan County to build a jail, and the list goes on and on.
The limitations on taxation have resulted in our having the most regressive tax system in the country. With the constitutional limitations on ad valorem taxes and income taxes, requiring the people to approve any significant change in those taxes, governments are left with only one other form of taxation, the sales tax, a tax which has its greatest impact on those least able to pay. Only by constitutional revision can Alabama's regressive tax system be reformed to make it fair, adequate and flexible.
The 1901 Constitution reflects a basic distrust of government. Just three examples: (1) the constitution provided that the legislature would meet quadrennially, once ever four years, (2) the constitution earmarks revenues for specific purposes denying to elected representatives the right to allocate funds where most needed, and (3) the constitution deliberately denies to local officials the authority to deal with local issues. This attitude is best illustrated by a comment made during the 1901 Convention by a delegate from Tallapoosa County when he said in opposition to home rule, “No gentleman on this floor will contend that his [county commission] at home is more capable of legislating for the people of his county than the [legislature], composed of 100 select men.”
When one looks at all the constraints, prohibitions, restrictions and distrust, is it any wonder the constitution has been amended 706 times, that it is the longest constitution in the world, that it is a constitution of legislative detail rather than a fundamental charter for government, that it burdens our state's ability to compete effectively for new business and industry, that our state government is ranked the least effective in the United States, and that our education system from K-12 through our universities, is in the throes of fiscal chaos?
Numerous calls for constitutional reform have been made over the years. In 1915, Gov. O'Neal called for revision. That call was repeated in the early 1920's by Gov. Kelly. Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom advocated a convention in his terms as governor. Other governors and legislators have tried without success.
This time the impetus for reform comes not from the top, the elected officials, but from the “grass roots,” from the people. This fact assures the movement's ultimate success.