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