A Publication of The League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham
Published September 2004
Why Does Alabama Need a New Constitution?
Contributed by Nancy Ekberg
- Our State Constitution limits options for county governments. Many citizens are frustrated with the Jefferson County Commissionís recent vote to add one penny sales tax to pay for school construction. If counties had Home Rule, they could propose a property tax (the best means of paying for schools) and submit the decision to the voters just as cities do. But County governments have only one avenue to raise funds for schools, and the Commission took that route. Lack of Home Rule means County governments can't zone for land development (or to prevent development) like cities can. Home Rule will put counties on equal footing with cities and make them more accountable to voters.
- An unfair tax system is imbedded in our State Constitution. With the lowest state property tax and one of the lowest income taxes in the nation, our state relies on sales taxes to provide necessary services. This places an unfair burden on the lowest paid of our residents, who pay a larger percentage of their income on sales taxes than do wealthier residents. Economically depressed Wilcox County has one of the highest sales taxes because property and state income taxes don't bring in enough money to pay for schools and local needs. And Greene County has turned to taxing bingo in an effort to fund schools and the local fire departments!
- Our State Constitution prohibits local governments from initiating internal improvements or economic development without approval of the State Legislature. Local governments have requested 50 separate amendments toward this end. When approved, local governments must create an authority to carry out each specific improvement or development. These authorities are costly governmental units required to carry out what should be routine operations.
- Ninety percent of state money is earmarked to areas specified by the Constitution. If excess exists in one fund, the state cannot use those funds in an area with a deficit. The state, like your own home budget, needs the ability to use funds where they are most needed.
- Racist language is found throughout the Constitution, which was written in 1901. Amendment 2 on the November ballot proposes to eliminate this language. Passing this amendment is an important first step toward constitutional reform.
For more information on this topic, browse http://www.constitutionalreform.org
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