Keep foxes out of hen house-vote no

Published 10:47 am Wednesday, November 1, 2000

By By Sonny Callahan
U.S. Representative
Last year, lottery proponents wrapped gambling in a slick package – scholarships for our children. But when the people of Alabama peeled away the wrapping, they found a bad thing – gambling – that would take more from the people than it would ever give back. The only winners would have been the good-old-boys waiting in the wings to get rich off the lottery.
This year, the wrapping is roads and bridges, docks improvements, research facilities, and economic development. Like scholarships, they are worthy projects – needed projects. I support them and we can do them, but we shouldn't do them with Amendment One in its current form.
What we find under the fancy wrapping is a bill that is fatally flawed, so much so that it allows the politicians to get their hands on $2 billion of your money which is currently locked safely away in the people's savings account.
When oil and gas were discovered off our coast some 20 years ago, the people of Alabama did a smart thing – they locked the foxes out of the hen house by putting the money out of reach of the politicians. By constitutionally protecting the principal and agreeing to spend only the earnings, the people intended this money to be an inheritance for future generations. That inheritance is guaranteed – unless Amendment One passes.
Amendment One would turn the people's savings account into the politicians' checking account. Thirty-five percent of new royalties – all of which are currently deposited to build up the trust – would be skimmed and spent at the will of the politicians. And your children will be saddled with over $600 million in new debt to finance a political spending spree.
Amendment One is a pig-in-a-poke. Nowhere in the bill can you find how much money your county would be getting. Promises have been made, but that's all they are – promises. You give the politicians your $2 billion, and they will decide later where to spend it.
As you would expect, competitive bidding is not required on the bonds. The bond business could still be reserved for political cronies.
And the worst thing about Amendment One is that it is the Trust-Buster Amendment. Through tricky language and loopholes, the principal – not just the interest – could be squandered. The amendment defines the recovery of prior-year losses as gains, and 75 percent of the so-called gains could be spent, thereby reducing trust principal.
Recently, I asked Gov. Siegelman to support – if Amendment One passes – a follow-up constitutional amendment called the Keep the Trust Amendment, which would restore an ironclad guarantee that not one penny of the trust principal could be spent. Sadly, Gov. Siegelman declined to endorse this guarantee to Keep the Trust.
Since that time, some of the media have misreported my position, saying that my opposition has softened on Amendment One. Nothing could be further from the truth. The governor's refusal to restore a guarantee against spending the trust principal has only strengthened my opposition to Amendment One.
My proposal is that we reject Amendment One on Nov. 7 and send it back to the Legislature. We can fix it in February and put it on a special election ballot in May, making sure no politician can squander your savings account. We can also look at alternative ways to fund the projects – like giving you the choice of paying cash for the needed projects thereby avoiding all bond fees and interest. That would save literally hundreds of millions of dollars.
Of course, the good old boys won't like that one since they won't be able to get rich off of the bonds. This "fix" would take a total of five months. This delay is insignificant considering most of the projects are five- to seven-year projects, particularly since we would be protecting the greatest long range plan we have ever adopted.
Today, the foxes are locked out of the hen house. On Election Day, don't let them in.
Vote no on Amendment One.

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