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Tax Sin or Tax Me: Is that the Question? (Opinion)


By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) is expected to introduce a bill this week, that will offer the voters of Alabama an opportunity to decide on a lottery and the future of gaming in our State. 

Governor Bentley has been barnstorming the State, alerting voters on the dire budget crisis we face and presenting a revenue plan to plug the holes.

Both plans deserve serious consideration.

As I have observed before, a coincidence in politics is generally a plan that you have not yet uncovered. It also runs true, in politics, that you should never miss an occasion to capitalize on a crisis.

Alabama’s current budget woes and the introduction of a omnibus gaming bill, fit both criteria, as does the Governor’s plan.

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Personally, I have never advocated gambling. I am troubled by zero sum games played for money. However, I believe that as a US citizen, if an activity is legal, then people have a right to participate in it, freely.

Some people have serious moral objections to gaming, while others see it as a fun and exciting form of recreation. 

In this instance, it is believed that Marsh will present a proposal that will solve many of our State’s financial problems, while creating jobs and bringing entertainment opportunities to areas of the State.

Gov. Bentley has proposed a common sense tax scheme that has met with very little enthusiasm, and Marsh’s plan will certainly not be greeted with applause in many sectors of our society.

While Bentley’s plan asks wealthy, corporate interests like ALFA to pay a fair tax, and doesn’t raise taxes on the working people of the State, that message as fallen mostly on deaf ears. Marsh’s plan will tax gaming interests and the money raised will be at the expense of those who choose to gamble. It is a voluntary tax, if you will.

Perhaps the choice will be seen as a tax sin or tax me question.

Like most things in government, there are no perfect answers or even simple choices. There are those who would have us cut our way out of our budget problems and those who think we can borrow are way out. Both are a bit unrealistic. 

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The State’s Republican supermajority has tried both and we are still in the hole.

Marsh is asking that we look at a new solution that will neither require cuts, borrowing or new taxes. I am not fond of taxes, but they are necessary for a government to do the job that it alone asterisked to do.

What is appealing about the Governor’s plan is that for too long our State has been beholden to the big mules and the landed gentry. His plan would go a long way toward balancing the interests of the working class and the business class.

Under Marsh’s plan, only those who choose to gamble would pay, while providing other benefits such as good paying jobs without the State having to offer massive tax and cash incentives.

Marsh’s plan would allow the people to vote on his plan. Bentley’s would not.

As a citizen and a tax payer, I would advocate a position where both plans would be implemented, even though both are against my personal beliefs. But, there comes a time where the realities on the ground overcome ideological purity.

For the most part, the Republican Party, nationally, has always favored gaming or at least used it to its advantage. It has never advocated taxes, even though serious Republicans have supported taxing, by mostly closing loopholes.

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Perhaps this is a little like the Whiskey speech by Judge Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., on prohibition:

“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it. This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”

To both Bentley and Marsh, I will raise a glass of sweet tea. 

It is the House wine of the South, and no sin that I know of, of course in Alabama it is taxed.

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Bill Britt
Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.


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