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An optimist’s guide to reform for the Alabama Legislature

By Marshall Yates
Alabama Political Reporter

Optimism for the political process has swept across Alabama as our State prepares to make a big contribution toward Making America Great, Again.™ Back in Montgomery, the 2017 Legislative Session is about to begin. But, before the 2018 election cycle can officially begin, this session presents aspiring politicians with a unique opportunity to enact big-time reforms. By either blocking new “revenue enhancements” or standing for conservative principals, this presents legislators the opportunity to convince voters that they are ready for primetime. In keeping with that theme, here are a few big time policy recommendations to Make Alabama Greater.

Call it Groundhog Day, Alabama. Soon the legislature will return to Montgomery, awakening to discover problems with the budgets. Typically, we will find out that the Education Trust Fund (ETF) has grown upwards of a $100 million, but unfortunately, the General Fund Budget (GF) has a shortfall around $25-$100 million. Optimistically, this year the budget shortfall will be lower due to multiple new “revenue” sources enacted over the last few years. Regardless of budget woes, this year presents conservative legislators the opportunity to enact substantive reforms to the State’s budgets. In doing so, the sponsor will likely exemplify their credibility to voters and jump to the front of the 2018 races.

Here are two policy goals that can be bundled into one. Ideally, the proposal from Senator Sanford in the 2014 session to take all tax revenue and distribute it equally at an 80/20 fixed distribution rate would be a great way to balance the revenue between the two budgets. Killing two birds with one shot, this type of reform would also present the Legislature with the opportunity to remove most antiquated earmarks. Alabama is the worst offender for excessive earmarks. Our earmarks cripple the Legislature’s ability to actually influence the majority of the budget and they are forced to split hairs on the margins.

Next up, the Legislature should take steps to lower the tax burden on Alabamians. Taxpayers have not been a major priority for the GOP controlled legislature since the 2010 takeover. The legislative debate has focused more on raising revenue than lowering taxes. So far the revenue raisers are winning the debate. Only a few of the strongest conservatives have kept their pledge against new taxes. Nevertheless, its time for the legislature to remember that the GOP is about limited government and lower taxes by enacting proposals to simplify the State’s tax and revenue structure. For starters, it’s long past time for the State to lower or remove the tax on groceries. Both activist liberals and Reaganesque conservatives agree that this is an area where the State can immediately act. Other serious conservative tax proposals include enacting a true flat tax by eliminating special interest loopholes, phasing out recent tax increases, and evaluating economic freedom zones in areas with chronic and high unemployment rates.

There are also several steps that Alabama could take to encourage economic activity and embolden the free market. We have seen city councils across Alabama attempt to stop the growth of new entrepreneurial ventures like food trucks, Uber, and Airbnb through oppressive regulation. But there are numerous examples of the State taking similar actions, such requiring occupational licenses for jobs that have nothing to do with public safety. From interior decorators and barbers to junk dealers and ticket scalpers, the State requires everyone participating in these activates obtain a license and pay a yearly fee to legally operate. The free market is better equipped to protect the public from bad businesses than the government. If you get a bad haircut at a barbershop, leave a Yelp review and don’t return. If you buy a fake ticket from a ticket scalper you’ll likely call the cops, not the Department of Revenue’s Business Licensing Section. Rolling back these licensing regulations send the signal that Alabama is a state that encourages entrepreneurship, wants to encourage the development of new industries, and will not place barriers to entry.

Even though I doubt that the Legislature will pass any of these conservative ideas, I believe its necessary to ask for more from our elected representatives. All too often we allow politicians to kick the proverbial can down the road without any consequences. In regards to the 2017 Legislature, asking for more means demanding they stop kicking the can down the road and fully address the big issues. If the consequences for politicians can only be at the ballot box, the 2017 Session should act as a line in the sand for voters; we should only grant our politicians reelection or higher office when they prove their leadership with serious legislation designed to unleash the greatness of the State.

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