On Amendment Two
Huntsville Times, October 12, 2004
By John Ehinger

Nothing in the Nov. 2 ballot measure would raise state taxes

Given the relentlessly negative tone of the national presidential campaign, it's easy to be cynical these days over any debate that purports to be about one thing when it, in fact, could be about another.

Specifically, every time an issue arises that would help Alabama put its racist past behind it, someone objects. And they object, they say, not to the racial aspect of the issue but to some other aspect. Naturally, that makes some people wonder.

On Nov. 2, Alabamians are being asked to decide whether to remove from the state constitution all the racist, segregationist and discriminatory provisions that were put there in another era.

Although the provisions in question have long been invalidated by federal laws and various court rulings, the language remains. And such language is a continuing embarrassment to Alabama as it tries to move into the national mainstream, both socially and economically.

So how could anyone of rational faculties possibly object? Because, according to the Alabama Association for Judeo-Christian Values, a portion of Amendment Two could open the door to huge tax increases. The group's views are shared by former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

The concern centers on part of the amendment that would remove from the state constitution the section that stipulates that no one is entitled to a public education. Once that provision is gone, or so the argument goes, the door could thrown open to big tax increases and legislative excesses of every sort.

Well, no.

To say the scenario seems unlikely would be an understatement. Particularly surprising is the alarm bells being clanged by former Chief Justice Moore. You may recall that Moore was heading the state's high court in 2002 when it struck down portions of a key school funding case stemming from 1991.

The bottom line was that the courts could make all kinds of findings and say what they wanted, but they could not violate the separation of powers. They could not raise taxes themselves and could not step over the line and order the Legislature to raise taxes for education.

Moore himself concurred in that ruling, although he offered a separate opinion.

In endorsing Amendment Two, Gov. Bob Riley says he would have preferred that the original language he offered had not been altered, but he sees no reason to use that to vote against the proposition.

In our view, there is nothing in Amendment Two that would change the present school funding methods, the present tax system or the present levels of taxation. Legislators? Sure, they can always raise taxes, and they often do, but they alone cannot increase property or income taxes for schools without a vote of the people.

To remove language that says citizens are not entitled to a public education does not mean they are entitled to one no matter what the cost. It simply rids the constitution of a 1956 provision enacted for the purpose of thwarting the integration of schools. Amendment Two would also strike other discriminatory provisions, including racially separate schools and the poll tax.

This is not to charge that Moore and the Alabama Association for Judeo-Christian Values harbor racist feelings or opinions. It is merely to point out that they raise fears that are unfounded. They will have to discuss their motives in detail. Unless they do, people will draw their own conclusions.

Amendment Two will help Alabama move beyond its dark past. The debate surrounding it deserves a little proportion and common sense.

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