‘A solid foundation’
Constitution group’s report not perfect, but great start

January 19, 2003

   The members of the Alabama Citizens' Commission on Constitutional Reform can't be accused of being shrinking violets. Their final report, presented Thursday to Gov.-elect Bob Riley and members of the Legislature, has enough in it to anger and alarm some of the most powerful special-interest groups living large off the current grievously flawed document.

   Nobody ever said, though, that finding a way to overhaul Alabama's outdated, immoral 1901 constitution would be easy. In fact, the past two years of birthing a grass-roots reform movement, prodding elected officials further along the path to reform and getting together a commission that held meetings around Alabama and drafted an impressive, thorough report was the easy part.

   From here, the job gets much harder.

   Those who make their living protecting the status quo will comb through the commission's report looking for threats to their interests like a mother searches for head lice in her child's scalp. They'll do so with the same intent to crush them out.

Look at a few of the commission's more controversial (and most necessary) recommendations:

   Home rule. The report recommends granting counties, cities and towns the authority they need to decide local matters without having to go to the state Legislature for approval. The Alabama Farmers Federation, in particular, won't be happy, because home rule makes it easier for a local government to call an election to raise property taxes or to pass zoning laws.

   Alabama's tax structure. The report advocates taking many of the limitations and restrictions on tax types and levels out of the constitution and putting them in the state code. Those limitations and restrictions are a main reason the tax structure is so unfair to the poor. Alfa won't like this one either, because a fairer tax structure, by any definition, will require higher property taxes, especially on timber and farm interests.

Earmarking. The report says all earmarking the tying of certain tax dollars to specific spending should be ended. Paul Hubbert and the Alabama Education Association will work to kill this, since the current constitution earmarks money for teacher salaries.

   As mad as special interests that rule Montgomery may get, millions of Alabama citizens who deserve a fundamental charter that allows for an efficient, adequate state government ought to be ecstatic.

   Not that this is a perfect document. It has some recommendations that cause concern, such as keeping some form of the "lid bill" and current use provisions so favored by Alfa, and not incorporating citizens' initiative.
But as ACCR chairman Thomas E. Corts said of commissioners' work, "Their report is an invaluable resource for serious proponents of reform. ... The commission's work on these areas provides a solid foundation for future reform efforts."

   From that solid foundation, Alabama can and must build a new constitution for a new century.
The commission's report can be downloaded from ACCR's Web site, www.constitutionalreform.org.

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Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 34
Montgomery, Alabama 36101-0034

E-mail: accr@constitutionalreform.org
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