By Bill Armistead
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” reads The American Crisis* by Thomas Paine who penned these words during the American Revolution. Continuing on, Paine writes “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Alabama legislators are at a crossroads. They will soon have to make a decision on how they will handle the funding short fall in the state budget. After winning re-election in November on a pledge not to raise taxes, Governor Robert Bentley has announced that we have a financial crisis and is asking the legislators to raise taxes on the hard working Alabamians to the tune of three quarters of a billion dollars.
Alabama’s “so called” financial crisis does not compare with the American Crisis of the 18th century but the leaders of our state would do well to heed Paine’s admonition not to “shrink from the service” of our state in resolving the political turmoil over our finances. Governor Bentley and Republican legislators ran on a platform last year of “no new taxes”, yet he is asking these legislators to break their promise to the voters, as he has done, and increase taxes.
Some politicians never think they ever have enough money to run state government. We’ve heard the dire predictions of what will happen if they don’t raise our taxes. They will empty nursing homes of their patients, take state troopers off the highways, release prisoners, etc. And, we won’t be able to educate our children if we don’t pay more in taxes.
No doubt, most Alabamians would like to see an appropriate increase in funding for education, elder care, law enforcement, prisons, and a host of other budgetary items. But, the government needs to do what every family does when they fall on hard economic times. They tighten their belts and cut expenses to make ends meet. It is not pleasant for them, but that is what is required.
Governor Bentley has said that they have already cut all that can be cut. However, we all know there are other things that can be done to reduce the cost of state government. Things such as combining state agencies with similar functions, selling surplus and under-utilized properties, expanding prison industries to make them more self sufficient, eliminating waste and duplication, etc.
We only need to look around the country to find a number of Republican governors elected in blue states that had been run into the ground by liberal Democrat governors who believed the way to achieve economic utopia was by raising taxes and addicting more people to social programs. Fortunately, these Republican Governors turned their states around by balancing their budgets AND cutting taxes.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a good example of a principled conservative Republican governor who inherited a $3.6 billion budget deficit in a union-dominated state teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Governor Walker promised to rein in spending and eliminate the deficit he inherited without raising taxes. And, that is exactly what he did.
Gov. Walker made some hard choices in order to keep his promise to the people of Wisconsin. His cuts in government spending were not popular with some, especially those in those in government unions. Walker was constantly under attack by the Democrats and union bosses who staged massive demonstrations against him and survived an attempt to recall him from office. Even so, Governor Walker not only defeated the attempt to recall him in 2012 but won re-election in 2014 in the liberal state of Wisconsin. Voters rewarded him because he put the state’s fiscal office in order without raising their taxes.
In 2003, voters rejected Governor Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax increase with nearly 70% of the citizens voting against the tax. In Baldwin County just last week the voters rejected proposed new taxes for schools and voted against renewing an existing tax. Both taxes went down to defeat by almost 70%. Alabamians believe that they are taxed enough already and they will revolt against any elected official who tries to raise their taxes.
Governor Bentley is term-limited and does not have to face voters again. But, Republican legislators risk alienating their constituents if they vote for taxes when just a few months ago they pledged not to raise taxes. We all remember what happened to President George H.W. Bush when he pledged, “Read my lips… no new taxes!” Bill Clinton defeated him because he broke his promise with the people and raised their taxes.
The message for Republican legislators is clear: If you ran on a platform of “no new taxes” and you renege on that promise, the people of Alabama will not forget the next time the go to the polls and see your name on the ballot! These are the times that try legislator’s souls but I am confident that they will make the hard choices and reject the call for new taxes.
*The American Crisis, written by 18th century philosopher and author Thomas Paine, was originally published as a pamphlet in 1776 during the American Revolution.
During the American Revolution, General George Washington had suffered humiliating defeats and lost New York City to British troops. Eleven thousand American volunteers gave up the fight and returned to their families. He knew that without an upswing in morale and a significant victory, the American Revolution would come to a swift and humiliating end.
General Washington had Paine’s impassioned words read aloud to his dispirited men and it had its intended effect. The troops mustered their remaining hopes for victory and crossed the icy Delaware River to defeat hung-over Hessians on Christmas night.