Go cheap; get shoddy
Published 11:48 pm Thursday, December 17, 2015
Small government and no-new-taxes proponents are no doubt celebrating the news that Alabama again ranked last nationwide in per capita state and local tax collections.
That’s not a change; the 50th place ranking has been the status quo for more than two decades.
The latest statistics come from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, a Birmingham-based nonprofit think tank interested in good government.
There’s only one problem with the low-taxes record. When you go cheap, you get shoddy.
The services Alabama provides its citizens are substandard and worsening because its bottom-of-the barrel tax policies keep it teetering on the brink of broke.
PARCA’s report spotlights the state’s perpetual fiscal crisis, saying: “The Governor and Legislature struggle to find enough money to adequately support the functions of state government. In the past several years, the government has made cuts to programs, borrowed from the state savings account, and applied one-time sources of money to balance the budget.”
That certainly happened this year when it took two special sessions for lawmakers to cobble together an anemic General Fund budget that level funded some state agencies but inflicted damaging cuts to others, from law enforcement to environmental protection.
In total, Alabama collects $3,046 per capita in state and local taxes, far below the national average of $4,599. And below every other Southeastern state, from Louisiana, ranking 40th at $3,795, to Tennessee, ranking 49th at $3,106.
Here’s where the shoddy comes to bear:
In crumbling roads and infrastructure that endanger drivers and discourage industry from locating in the state. Gov. Robert Bentley says he’ll support a gas tax increase next year to begin to address the transportation crisis, but tax-averse legislators may again stonewall on raising new revenue.
In overcrowded prisons, now at risk of an expensive federal takeover because of years of underfunding.
In starving court systems where justice delayed equals justice denied is standard operating procedure.
In stingily funded schools that serve up low achieving students. In just one example, the state’s community colleges can’t recruit or keep instructors qualified in high-tech fields because of shoddy salaries, the Decatur Daily reported. Instead, they flee to private industry, and education and workforce strength suffers.
The PARCA report also explains in detail how the overall unfairness of Alabama’s antiquated tax system burdens the poor and privileges the rich.
It’s a regressive system that relies far too heavily on sales tax revenue, taxing even the groceries that low-income families put on the table, and taking a greater proportion of their earnings than those of the wealthy.
Alabama is also the nation’s lowest ranking collector of property taxes, with generous perks carved out for wealthy agricultural and timber interests.
None of these problems will be easily solved. But the most disturbing aspect of Alabama’s tax-related financial ills is that very few elected leaders show the courage to begin, somewhere, to right the ship of state.
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