We hate taxes.
Primed for decades by big business and the elected officials who receive their contributions, we have fallen for the idea that all taxes are bad. We assume a tax increase comes out of our pocket, and darn it all, we give enough.
The truth is, though, that it has not been about our taxes. Large businesses and the wealthiest Alabamians recognize that any sensible tax reform would necessarily end the tax holiday they have enjoyed for decades. It is a testament both to their genius and our gullibility that we have accepted the anti-tax mantra as our own.
Until the recession, we were able to bump along with skeletal programming. Lost opportunities for our children and the disadvantaged were enormous, but those losses are hard to quantify. We long ago settled for being at the bottom of state rankings in everything from infant mortality to per-capita income to literacy, yet somehow we take pride in the fact that we also are at the bottom of the list in property taxes.
As Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed state budgets made clear Wednesday, however, we can no longer maintain even the most basic services without increasing revenue. His budget will not make it through the Legislature, but lawmakers cannot significantly improve on it without raising taxes.
If it were not for the tragic implications of the proposed budget cuts, the two ideas that have surfaced for raising revenue would be humorous: a lottery and increased cigarette taxes. Both are methods of extracting more money from the people — especially the poor — without touching the companies that have a strangle-hold on Montgomery.
And even as lawmakers face a crisis in state government, they continue pumping money into the defense of the state immigration law and propose snatching more tax dollars from our public schools to finance a charter-school system.
Bentley gave up his claim to responsible leadership when he said he would honor a no-more-taxes pledge made during his candidacy. He has encouraged lawmakers in private sessions to raise taxes over his veto, a pathetic abdication of his responsibilities.
The only positive that can come out of the state’s budget crisis will be if it prompts some elected official to recognize that the people deserve better than a tax structure that protects corporate interests over the interests of the people. Surely someone in Montgomery has the courage to champion tax reform.
The people of Alabama are waiting.