I went to a meeting several years ago where David Bronner, chief executive of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, launched a blistering attack on tightwad state government, saying that the state’s decision to weld shut its purse strings was depriving Alabamians of vital services.
Bronner said the accumulated consequences of such stinginess is hampering economic development and quality of life in Alabama.
Bronner, in his classically blunt talk, accused a long line of governors of deceiving Alabamians into believing they’re overtaxed. Bronner went on to say “We have politician after politician convincing the people of Alabama that we are overtaxed. Instead of finding funds to meet our everyday needs we just cut everything to the bone instead of funding what needs to be done. You just cut and cut everything,” said Bronner. “But cutting to the bone can have serious consequences to small towns, school systems, police departments, fire departments, health and social services. I just hope all Alabamians realize what they are losing. Alabama can do better.”
Bronner launched into a litany of the consequences of low funding. He started with education, saying that ignorance continues to stifle Alabama’s economy. “I can’t overemphasize that if you want industrial development, you have to fund education.” Bronner said there is also a pressing shortage of money in the state General Fund, which is used to pay for almost everything except schools.
“If Alabama is to move forward, you can’t have the quality of life with state services so far below rock bottom that we become the joke of the country,” Bronner said.
In the 2009 fiscal year, Alabama’s state and local governments collected $2,793 per person. That figure ranks Alabama dead last according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even “thank God for Mississippi” collects $3033 per person.
If Alabama’s state and local governments had collected the same amount in taxes per resident that Mississippi’s did, they would have had $1.15 billion more to spend on schools and services such as police and fire protection, health and social services, and paving roads.
As things are, it is impossible for Alabama to pay for adequate, much less premier, state and local government services when it raises less per resident than every other state. Alabama is in a financial straitjacket.
And really it’s no mystery what it would take to make Alabama’s government into one of the best in the country. Make a fairer state tax system that wouldn’t stick it to the poor, raise enough money to provide quality schools and services, and adopt a new constitution that unshackles the 1901 Constitution’s chains on state and local governments. That and leadership from a governor with guts and not worrying about the next election.
Gov. Bentley and the leaders in Montgomery would sooner push for President Obama’s re-election in November than propose a tax increase. Bentley has repeated his “no-new-taxes” vow ad nauseam even as state budgets implode. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Bentley fiddles while Alabama burns. People are hurting, lives are lost, dreams are shattered, hope is starved, and faith is shaken.
The truth is, lives are at stake every day, but too many politicians in both political parties seem to have forgotten that politics is about those who would be served, not about those who serve.
During the 2010 campaign, Dr. Bentley marketed himself as a doctor. Dr. Bentley ran on the following slogan: “The people of Alabama are hurting, and they need a doctor.” Dr. Bentley is hurting people’s lives by his malpractice.
I wish we had a governor like Elwyn Thomas.