Who are we?
If we want to understand ourselves as a state, where should we look? Where is the mirror that reflects our essence?
One option would be to go to our churches on Sunday morning. There we would hear about our compassion and love. We would hear that in Alabama, taking care of the needy is not just a moral imperative but a religious mandate.
Another option would to be to read our travel brochures, which describe our kindness and hospitality, our stewardship of the beautiful land with which we have been blessed.
There is always the risk, of course, that what we say in our churches and travel brochures is not who we are, but who we want to be.
A better way to understand ourselves is to look at the state budget.
The budget is more than a bunch of numbers. It is a statement of our priorities. We cannot delude ourselves when looking at a budget. The self-image depicted by those numbers is unwaveringly accurate, because it describes our choices.
The fiscal 2013 budget proposed by Gov. Robert Bentley is harsh in its assessment of who we are.
We are, according to the budget, a state in which it is more important to have the lowest property taxes in the nation than it is to care for the mentally ill.
We are a state that begrudges eyeglasses and artificial limbs for the neediest, preferring tax deductions that favor the rich. We would prevent the poor from tools that permit them to function, even though our decision almost guarantees that they will remain unemployed and dependent on the state.
We are a state that provides better mental-health care for its felons than for its disadvantaged residents, booting the mentally ill from hospitals to make way for convicts.
We are a state that would rather keep non-violent offenders in prison than provide adequate care for the elderly.
We are a state in which it is a higher priority to keep income tax rates for the wealthy the same as for those near poverty than it is to keep our rivers clean.
The choices the governor has made in his proposed budget reflect his assessment of who we are. Legislators may make changes in the proposal, but they also will render a grim assessment.
Who are we? If we do not like the reflection we see in the budgetary mirror, it is time to make changes. Those changes will require overriding powerful corporate interests in Montgomery. They will require sacrifices for some and unpopular tax reform.
But they will result in a better Alabama.
Who are we?