State targets symptoms instead of disease
Published 1:35 am Wednesday, October 31, 2001
By By BRIAN BLACKLEY
Not to kick a dead horse, but Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman is once again putting his mouth where Alabama's money should be by declaring that the state will be able to close loopholes in business tax law and thereby make up a $150 million deficit in tax projections.
If the money isn't found, the future of our children and our state's future is at stake.
Siegelman is suggesting that the state should appoint committees, hire new personnel and spearhead a drive to crack down on tax law and to investigate and determine what legislation would reduce this problem.
But despite the looming likelihood of proration, or a reduction in the dollars our public school systems will see due to poor tax returns in the state in the current economic downturn, the state has decided to target businesses as the sources of the revenue when it should be targeting finding a new system of collecting taxes for eduction.
It works like this. Much of the money used to fund education in Alabama comes from tax bases that vary greatly – sales tax, for example. In a strong economy, sales tax figures are high. As the economy hardens, though, spending slows, therefore reducing the amount collected through sales tax returns.
The state has one of the lowest property tax levels in the nation, and gives its residents their fair share of tax breaks, something for which I am grateful. And the last thing I want to see is increased taxes. But that goes for business as well as personal taxes.
Instead of trying to make up the shortfall by taxing businesses heavier than their current level (noted as "closing loopholes" instead of what they actually are – new taxes and tax increases), why can't we simply fund education through a more stable form of taxes that doesn't have such huge fluctuations.
And the word among superintendents at school systems around the state is that the state knows when the budgets are proposed that their approximations are too high. But a politician's motto is always, "Why take the heat today for something you can take the heat for tomorrow."
So we continue to whittle away the future of our children.
No wonder so many people are losing faith in public education.
We have hardworking people involved in running our local schools, yet we continually strip away their funding, reduce their power to deal with issues at a local level, and bring in government mandates and federal intervention. And this intervention usually is a simple way to make sure that schools make accommodations for a very small percentage of "special needs" students at the expense of the rest of the kids.
Instead of new books, better desks, computers in our classrooms, our government gives us IDEA, a law that basically says that a student with a learning disability cannot be reprimanded, tossed from school or removed from class for virtually any offense.
Our courts continue to burn the state's money, paying judges more than their partners in New York and California make. They squabble over whose comments will be placed in the rotunda of the Supreme Court building in Montgomery and fritter away thousands of dollars to ensure that church and state do not separate. One only needs look to Roy Moore, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, to see a shining example of a fruitless expense of hard-earned cash as he ups his own pay and panders to public opinion. While he puts up statues to a religion he claims to believe in, he hikes his own pay to become one of the highest paid judges in the nation. I think he doesn't know Christianity from his shirt.
What I am saying is this: Alabama may not have the money it needs to do the things it needs to do – including educate children. But if we end abusive spending, revamp the sources of education funding and trim other areas of government to the bone, we can save education.
Instead of fixing the problem, though, we continue to play hide-and-seek with our money.
I hear the marble carving of the Ten Commandments in Supreme Court are splendid and I want to make the trip to Montgomery to see for myself. And should you ever see it, or other examples of the thousands of dollars our state squanders on cheap politics every day, consider the price we paid for it.
It's more than dollars and cents. It was paid for with a little bit of every child who attends public school in the state of Alabama.
That's a sad reality.
Governor Siegelman, cure our disease and quit treating our symptoms. Pain killers don't work for long against a tumor.
Brian Blackley is publisher of The Atmore Advance. Contact him at 368-2123 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.