State does nothing while
our future slips away
March 1, 2001 10 PM
Politics. Some people say it’s synonymous with greed, corruption, self-aggrandizement, megalomania, and a host of other things.
We think it’s not organized and contemplative enough to be any of those things – at least not during this legislative session.
Politicians, particularly our governor and our legislature, seem more content to sit around and do nothing as one of the greatest constitutional crises strikes our state, than to have meaningful debate about the problem.
The current problems started with educational proration – something that we have all heard a lot about. Here’s how it works:
Our legislature, bitterly divided about where to allocate funds from the state’s educational budget, decides that the best it can do is evenly disagree over how to spend tax dollars for education. So while some members clamor for this and that, others scream for that and the other and the positions are evenly divided.
In the heat of debate, members realize the clock is ticking and time is running out in the legislative session; and it’s not just running out. It’s running out in an election year.
So here’s how members "fix" the dilemma: They irresponsibly project the amount of tax dollars that will flow into the educational budget through sales and property taxes. By taking "best case scenario" figures, they find that they can tweak the budget to accommodate almost everyone as the session grinds to a halt. The problem is that they know the budget is irresponsible and are told as much by several key educational and economic leaders.
No matter. They approve the faulty budget in time to make everyone look good as the election draws near.
Fast forward from April to January.
Realizing that sales tax returns didn’t turn out as budgeted, legislators panic, or, some say, they get through the election and then decide to face the reality of their earlier folly.
Murmurs begin. Rumors abound. "Proration" becomes a buzzword and projections like "eight percent" begin popping up in conversations.
Enter Gov. Siegelman, who waits another month to make the announcement in what many people feel was reminiscent of a campaign speech instead of a state-of-the-state address. His self-righteous words echo hollow through the corridors of the state house and through the ears of state school administrators. Both legislators and school officials realize he did say part of what they thought he said – by announcing that we must "tighten our belts" and cut education budgets by 6.2 percent.
Needless to say, most people weren’t surprised. The announcement was delivered to portray the old "good news, bad news" situation. "We are prorating, but it’s only 6.2 percent instead of 8 percent. Halleluiah!" the Governor’s office seems to proclaim.
Here we are now, watching school budgets be ripped into shreds by legislative mismanagement. Here we are, watching the bill climb like a meter on a gas pump as preciously rare dollars are pumped into "special sessions" designed to reach a resolution over a budgetary crisis. The clock is ticking and the hours and costs are adding up, but that doesn’t matter. Intolerable laws won’t allow the money the legislature is burning in special sessions to be used to bail the state out of its current educational mess.
Half way through the legislative session, we are no closer to a solution than we were when the session started a month ago.
We have not addressed redistricting. We have not fixed a poorly designed system of funding education with a widely fluctuating tax base. We have not done anything but make announcements about how much we have done.
In essence, we have wasted time and wasted money to fix a problem that should have never been created.
And by we, I am referring to our elected leaders, from the governor to each member of the house and senate. After all, they are our representatives hired to do as we bid in Montgomery.
But they do nothing except gamble away our future.
We hope our local delegation, which has shown flashes of goodwill and brilliance at times in solving problems that have arisen in the past, will be able push our floundering governmental bodies back on the right track to better our state.
But don’t count on it. A few voices of reason are likely to be deafened by the roar of ignorance – or by the monkey who, hands over ears, hears no evil. It’s politics as usual.
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