Are days of free lunch over?




Billy H. Irvin of Blountsville obtained permission from Harvey “Hardy” Jackson to submit his column for publication in The Blount Countian. It first appeared in The Randolph Leader, whose editor also gave permission for publication here. Jackson is a history professor at Jacksonville State University.

During the last legislative session, 15 Alabama counties were running scared.

If a bill that began working its way through the Legislature had actually passed, those counties would have seen their operating budgets cut 10 percent over the next five years.

“It would basically shut us down,” was how an official in one of those counties put it.

What is going on here?

I’ll tell you.

The 15 counties would not have been facing those cuts if they collected revenue from liquor sales. But they don’t, because years ago they voted themselves dry. Nobody made them do it. It was their decision, freely done. And you can’t collect revenue on what you don’t sell, can you?

Sure you can.

This is Alabama.

Even though voters in these counties voted not to sell liquor and as a consequence voted not to raise the revenue, the Legislature voted to take some of the revenue raised from liquor sales in wet counties and give it to the dry counties.

And why did the Legislature do that?

Well, some said that it was because citizens of dry counties so frequently drove over to the wet counties to purchase what they could not buy back home that it was only fair to give them some of the revenue that the wet counties raised courtesy of their dryness.

Which almost makes sense.

However, the real reason the dry counties got wet county revenue was because they had the votes other counties needed on other issues. So they traded one for the other.

Politics at its purest.

But in 1978, it all started to unravel.

That year Gov. George Wallace called a special session of the Legislature and one of the items on his agenda was a bill to help some counties up in North Alabama. It seems that instead of paying property taxes to the counties it served, the Tennessee Valley Authority, TVA, had been sending the money to Montgomery. The TVA counties didn’t like this and to get their support on other issues the governor proposed to take 80 percent of that money and send it back from whence it came.

Fair enough.

But someone from a wet county noticed that a bunch of the TVA counties were dry counties, and with this legislation they would be getting both liquor revenue and TVA money. So he added an amendment to the bill that stripped the dry counties of their subsidy.

All of them.

Which meant that the dry counties outside TVA would get nothing.

Now in those dry counties were a number of influential politicians, including the Speaker of the House, and they got together with the governor and “splained” to him that if the dry counties lost their money the bills he wanted the special session to pass would go nowhere

So Wallace added an “executive amendment” to the TVA bill that said that instead of getting 80 percent of the TVA pie, TVA counties would get 75 percent, with five percent going to dry counties outside TVA.

Everybody got something. Wet counties got all the liquor money.

TVA counties got TVA money.

Dry counties outside TVA got TVA money.

Is this a great state or what?

But the good times may soon be over. A representative from one of the TVA counties has promised to reintroduce a bill that would take that five percent and give it to folks up in the Valley.

The dry counties should be sweating bullets.

Folks, I have a certain sympathy for the dry counties. They have only been doing what Alabamians with political pull have always done: get what they want and have someone else pay for it.

But on the other hand, these counties voted to be dry, which to me means that they voted for what comes with being dry – no liquor stores, no bars, no honkytonks, no nice restaurants, and no revenue from the sale of alcohol.

They should not expect wet counties to subsidize their dryness.

And because TVA owns no property in these counties, they should not expect the TVA counties to subsidize their dryness either.

But “we have no way whatsoever to recover these funds,” moaned the local official who warned that without this subsidy his county would have to “shut down.”

Balderdash.

The dry counties have a right and honorable way to make up for what is lost.

It’s called taxation.

The citizens of these counties need to act like grown-ups and accept the consequences of their actions.

They should either confirm their commitment to prohibition by taxing themselves to recover the revenue they are losing.

Or they should start shutting down those services the other counties have been subsidizing.

What they shouldn’t do is come running to the rest of us to bail them out.

And what will they do?

I hear the footsteps already. Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson can be reached at hjackson@jsu.edu.