Poverty's roots lie in state constitution
The Press-Register
Monday, September 01, 2008

REPORTS THAT Mobile County and the rest of Alabama continue to have unreasonably high rates of poverty — despite considerable economic growth — should energize citizens and government alike to work for a new Alabama Constitution.

Among counties with more than 250,000 population, Mobile's 21.1 percent poverty rate stands among the 10 worst.

As for the state, 16.9 percent of Alabama's residents lived in poverty in 2007. That compares unfavorably with a national rate of 13 percent.

Granted, personal incomes in Alabama rose slightly in 2007, but so did the state's rate of poverty.

The contradiction isn't coincidental. The framers of the state's 1901 constitution wrote the document to keep poor people poor and wealthy people (themselves) wealthy.

Direct, sometimes racist language declares, among other things, that the state has no responsibility to educate its citizens, and limits local government to keep power in Montgomery.

Moreover, the constitution sets in stone a tax system that rewards wealthy landowners and businesses with low property taxes, and places the burden of taxation on the middle class and the poor by funding the cost of government mostly through regressive income taxes and sales taxes.

Indeed, the constitution helped establish a culture of indifference to public education and pride in low property taxes. Over the decades, that has meant impoverished schools and insufficient and unreliable funding for other state services.

High rates of poverty can be directly related to Alabama's record of poor education and a tax system that sucks money from the poorest citizens.

Because of restrictions in the state constitution, local governments remain hamstrung when it comes to controlling growth, improving education and encouraging economic development.

The Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Foundation appropriately recognizes that the state's constitution continues to condemn thousands of Alabamians to lives of poverty.

That's why it was fitting for the group to give Alabama historian Wayne Flynt its annual Bailey Thomson Award. Dr. Flynt, in speaking to the group last week in Mobile, stressed that there is a direct line between high poverty rates and the abuses of the state constitution.

(The award is named after the former Press-Register editor and University of Alabama journalism professor, Bailey Thomson, who died in 2003.)

Reforming the state's constitution , which works against poor people in the state, would be a fundamental step toward reducing poverty.

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