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New constitution is best fix for state’s woes

Staff Editorial

March 17, 2001 10 PM

Alabama’s 100-year-old constitution has been aptly and accurately described as antiquated, bloated, confusing, cumbersome, embarrassing and unworkable. It is all of those things.

Unfortunately, while you can find many people who agree with this statement, there appear to be few in Montgomery who seriously want to tackle the job, least of whom is Gov. Don Siegelman.

Ironically, if one goes back 18 years to when Siegelman was Alabama’s Secretary of State, he was the one highly placed elected official pressing hard for constitutional reform.

In 1983, after the Legislature had written a new constitution that unfortunately was ultimately blocked from adoption by the state Supreme Court, it was Siegelman who organized regional public meetings and who called for a new constitution. In 1983 he wrote:

"(Alabama’s constitution) greatly exceeds the statement of basic principles and structure of government that a constitution is supposed to be. Such detailed provisions … take on a legislative character and place both the Legislature and local governments in a constitutional straitjacket."

"The real problem with our constitution is not the number of amendments or the length of the document, however.

"These are mere symptoms of the real problem, which is a framework that is archaic and illogical in the context of today."

"We have attempted to run state government using a constitutional framework which was ill-suited to the needs of the state on the day it was adopted."

If Alabama needed any better demonstration of how the present constitution fails to serve the people than the failed special session on the crisis in education funding, we cannot think of one.

The constitution, through amendments that siphon off funds meant for schools into non-education projects or amendments that cap taxes generated for schools, clearly needs to be re-written.

Alabama needs Gov. Siegelman to take up the cause he so eloquently championed 18 years ago. If Siegelman truly wants to be the "education" governor, then the place to start is with constitutional reform.

Sure a new amendment adding a 20-mil property tax to generate the money to offset the funding deficit for education would help. But stacking more amendments on an already stacked constitution isn’t the best answer.

What Alabama really needs is a complete overhaul of its constitution and its tax policies – including how it funds education. Maybe then we’d have a real solution to our educational dilemma.  

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