Governor should make the best of term

Published 5:10 pm Monday, January 15, 2007

By By Tray Smith
Tomorrow, I will travel to Montgomery to watch as Gov. Riley is sworn in for his second term. As he takes the oath of office, however, the Governor will, as all politicians are, be less concerned about the occurrences of today and more concerned about what history will say of his tenure in the Governor's Mansion. I purpose several policy recommendations that could be adapted either individually or together as a comprehensive reform plan that will help the Governor not only achieve a positive legacy for himself but also help him successfully continue his drive to move our state into the new century.
First, our state is in dire need of a new Constitution. The Alabama Constitution, implemented in 1901, is forty times longer than the U.S. Constitution, twelve times longer than the average state constitution, and the longest governing charter of any government, at the provincial or national level, in the world. Its length has produced a largely dysfunctional government in which executive power has been unnecessarily diminished. Governor Riley, for instance, cannot pardon convicts and his veto may be overridden by a mere majority vote in both houses of the legislature. Instead of serving as the structural outline for our state's government, the purpose for which we have a constitution in the first place, Alabama's charter sets public policy, requiring the burdensome process of amendment in order to achieve any significant policy reforms. It also contains racist rhetoric shameful of any modern day institution. The Governor has yet to endorse a constitutional convention which would be required in order to form a new governing document for the state under the belief that such a convention would be overrun by special interest. However, our current constitution has already been overrun by such interest. It cannot get any worse.
Second, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are over 600,000 Alabamians who lack health insurance coverage. Several more are covered only after they personally, their employer, or the taxpayers who finance the multitude of health assistance programs currently granted to the poor and indigent incur a considerable financial sacrifice. Additional financial sacrifices are made in the form of higher premiums caused by the free care that hospitals are required to grant uninsured patients when they show up in emergency rooms. In order to improve the quality of health care, ensure everyone has access to our world class medical system, and lower medicine's financial burden on the government, private employers, and citizens; Gov. Riley should follow the lead of former Massachusetts Gov.. Mitt Romney and enact a health care reform bill that prescribes the efficiency of the free market to cure the diseases that currently plague our health care system.
Third, the New Commission on Skills and the Workforce recently put forth an education policy proposal that will not simply reform the school system that we have, but overhaul it so that students can gain the skills they need to compete in the 21st century economy. This proposal will allow all students to graduate high school at sixteen after they have passed state created board exams in order to pursue higher and more industry specific education. The proposal would utilize the savings from reducing the time spent in high school to expand preschool opportunities and increase teacher compensation.
Fourth, Alabama should lead the nation in tax reform by adopting a FairTax to replace our current regressive and complex income tax code. We should use this much needed tax reform to attract economic investment to our state and serve as a catalyst for national reform.
Fifth, the Governor could work to create 200 counties in Alabama to replace the current sixty-seven and then eliminate city governments entirely. Thus, instead of having the cities of Atmore, Flomaton, and Brewton within Escambia County, we would simply have Atmore and Brewton counties. In effect, cities would gain jurisdiction over all of the unincorporated areas surrounding them and counties would dissolve. This change would give cities a broader tax base and allow for the consolidation of revenue levies. It would create significant savings by eliminating duplicate administrative structures at the municipal level, such as having both a Police force and a Sherriff's office.
Sixth, school boards should be eliminated. Though our school board should receive high marks, especially after last year's AYP results were announced, no organization can function effectively over the long term unless there is one person who can be held directly responsible for its success. The head of schools should serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and report directly to him, and the Mayor should be held accountable for academic performance at the polls.
Finally, Gov. Riley must insist that the legislature enact all of the components of Plan2010, his campaign platform. In Pan2010, he has put forth a combination of innovative ideas that deserve to become law and common sense proposals that should have been adopted by the legislature long ago. This sweeping and ambitious agenda deals with everything from education to economic development to ethics in state government (quite an issue with our legislators). Though the special interest will balk at some of the Governor's proposals, the Governor must main determined to carry out the program on which he was elected.
All of these initiatives will be politically difficult to achieve. But pursuing just one of them, such as a Constitutional Convention, will open up serious opportunities to adapt the rest. Governor Riley has amassed a considerable amount of political capital. The question remains, how will he use it?
That is the bottom line.
Tray Smith is a sophomore at ECHS and former intern in the Riley administration. He can be reached for comment at

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