Major gubernatorial candidates
promote constitutional reform

Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2002
Contact: Kathryn Bowden

MONTGOMERY (Aug.12) — Both major candidates for governor pledged their support here Monday for constitutional reform as they addressed a major forum of Alabama leaders.

   Gov. Don Siegelman, the incumbent Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, his Republican challenger, differed in how to revise the antiquated 1901 Alabama Constitution. Both candidates, however, agreed that the document shackles local government and slows the state’s progress.

   Candidates for other constitutional offices voiced similarsupport for reform as they addressed the audience of about 125 people. The forum’s sponsors were Leadership Alabama and the Public Affairs Research Council.

   Siegelman said constitutional reform was critical for improving education. In particular, he called for granting counties and school boards the authority to seek more revenue from voters without having first to ask the Legislature’s blessing.

   The 1901 constitution does not grant what’s known as “homerule” to these local governing bodies. Instead, they must follow a complicated procedure that allows the Legislature to exercise life and death power over local action.

   Siegelman said the same kind of special interests that fathered the 1901 constitution, mainly large landowners, were trying to stop constitutional reform now. He blamed these interests and their handiwork for holding the state back for the last 100 years.

   Riley agreed that local communities need what he calls “limited” home rule that is the power to run their own affairs without the Legislature’s interference. But any tax increases should first win local voters’ approval, he said.

   Riley also called for comprehensive tax reform and removing restrictions on much of the revenues that now flow into the state’s General Fund and Special Education Trust Fund. Alabama “earmarks” close to 90 percent of state revenues, and most of those designated dollars go to the education fund. Riley insisted, however, that he would not remove earmarking from any school funds.

   Much earmarking occurs under the present constitution. For example, most of the revenues from the state’s income tax support teachers’salaries, in compliance with a constitutional amendment.

   Riley said that people could look at neighboring states to see the kind of progress Alabama might make with a reorganized, more efficient government.

   Revising the 1901constitution is a critical part of this effort, he said.

   Dr. Thomas E. Corts, president of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, noted how far this issue has come in just two years. Not only were both major gubernatorial candidates calling for constitutional change, he said, but also many leading organizations were adding their support for reform.

   Corts made his remarks as Commencement speaker at the University of Alabama Monday. While ACCR favors the convention method, he said, the need for change and renewal is so great, so crucial to the future of Alabama that we accept and applaud support the cause, however reform might be attained.

   He said that many Alabamians were properly blaming the 1901Constitution for providing a poor foundation for the state’s progress. Citizens are worn down by a century of wrestling with the constitution’s failures and by the unending call for change.

   He noted that the University could take great pride that both major gubernatorial candidates were its graduates and that they both embraced the need for major constitutional change.

   ACCR is a non-partisan group that focuses on grassroots activism. It promoted legislation in the last legislative session that would have allowed voters to decide whether to call a constitutional convention.

   Corts, who is president of Samford University in Birmingham, has led ACCR since its inception at a rally in Tuscaloosa on April 7, 2000.

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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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