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The edge of possibility
.A constitutional reform group offers a road map for meeting Alabama's challenges

Opinion
January 19, 2003

   In this cold, crystalline core of winter, Alabama stands poised on the edge of possibility. Public sentiment for reform has never been stronger. The need for reform has never been clearer.

   Last week, the Legislature met and organized itself for the next four years. This week, Governor-elect Bob Riley takes the oath of office. On March 4, the Legislature returns for its regular session, a session that will face challenges that in many cases amount to nothing less than crises.

   At no time in recent memory has the situation been so grave. At no time in many decades has the broad shape of what needs to be done been so far beyond rational dispute.

   Alabama must find the money to pay for its schools this year and in the years beyond. It must find a way to pay for public services without forever being at the mercy of a tax system whose revenues fluctuate wildly with the economy.

   Alabama - its politicians, its civic leaders, its citizenry - must find the will to break with the fears and prejudices of the past. If Alabama is to enter the national mainstream, it must change itself.

   To greet Riley's first week in office, the Alabama Citizens' Commission on Constitutional Reform has issued its long-waited report. The work resulted from months of study and a series of public meetings around the state. The report not only advocates a new constitution but it proposes the provisions of the new document in unprecedented detail.

   The overall categories where the need exists - local democracy, debt and taxation, government operations, education and economic development - have been obvious for years. What this latest report does is provide a road map for making the kind of changes that are needed.

   Jim Bennett, the commission's chairman, notes that the report does not itself constitute a document that could be debated and enacted. Rather, Bennett calls it ''food for thought.'' That's accurate as far as it goes, but it barely goes far enough.

   What Bennett's commission has produced is an authoritative and visionary plan for fixing the things wrong with Alabama. What things?

   The things that leave our citizens often unable to achieve their goals and equally often unable to march shoulder to shoulder with average Americans.

   But Bennett is correct in one regard. The discussion is not over; it has barely begun. Governor-elect Riley has promised to create a blue-ribbon commission to study constitutional reform and to report back in 60 days.

   The Citizens' Commission gives the Riley plan a leg up. It gives the members of the Riley group, whose names are supposed to be made public no later than Tuesday, a starting point in their journey.

   People can disagree over specific proposals. And they will. But formidable tasks sometimes require small steps.

Mandatory reading
  Today, we offer, on Page A28, the Citizens' Commission's presentation in its executive summary form. (Documents more detailed still will go to Riley's blue-ribbon panel.) Not only does the commission outline what ought to be done, but its rationale and explanatory material provide a solid introductory background on where Alabama is and how it got where it is.

   We urge you to read this report. To publish it in its entirety on a single page, we had to use a smaller typeface than usual. We believe completeness justifies the slight inconvenience.

   The Citizens' Commission on Constitutional Reform is the creation of another group you may have heard of: Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform.

   The ACCR needs your support and your membership. It has proven to be the state's strongest and most steadfast voice for change in many years. For more information or to join the organization, go to www.constitutionalreform.org. It's hard to imagine a better investment of your time.

   Alabama stands poised on the edge of possibility - but only on the edge of possibility. The rest is up to you. The rest is up to all of us.

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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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