By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Results from the Alabama Political Reporter’s first Influentials poll show that many of our state’s best thinkers see an urgent need to invest in infrastructure, encourage new industry and develop a 21st-century workforce. These are three big ideas that, if executed correctly, will have a profound effect on the state’s economy, quality of life and upward mobility of all citizens who wish to participate.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle speaking with WAAY-TV last week said he would add two items to APR’s poll; funding for public education and having strong leadership in Montgomery. (Battle is running for governor in a field of candidates led by Gov. Kay Ivey.)
Leadership, as Battle points out, is key to success in any venture, public or private. And there is no argument that the state’s education system is flawed, underfunded and perilously misled.
The survey was not intended to address every issue facing our state but to determine the most needful things to move our state forward.
Battle hits on an essential point – that bold leadership is needed to create a better tomorrow. But in Alabama, timid leadership is a significant factor in why our state is near the bottom on every measurable level of success. It’s not that our leaders can’t, it’s that they won’t.
Next in ranking from the poll is a necessity to reform the state’s budgeting process and address an insufficient and unfair tax structure.
Statistically much lower on the list of important items facing our state are strengthening and clarifying existing ethics laws, providing more school choices/charter schools and lastly, building new prisons.
Those individuals who answered the Influentials poll were a cross-section of Republicans and Democrats, lawmakers and constitutional officers along with political consultants, political media analysts and lobbyists.
The first five items in the survey should not be a wish list but rather a guidepost for how to improve our state. If state leaders ignore these issues or only address them in small measure, then the state will tread along as it has for generations.
APR’s survey also asked, “Do you believe the healthcare system in Alabama is at risk with uncertainty related to CHIPS, Medicaid, and Obamacare repeal/changes?” Nearly 80 percent of respondents said yes. Much of what will happen on these issues is in the hands of the U.S. Congress, so it will be a steady-as-she-goes situation.
As for prisons, Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said he didn’t see building new prisons as an agenda item for this session but did say DOC is hiring a consulting company to develop a master plan. Really? Why someone on the joint budget committee didn’t beat him with a rubber chicken is unbelievable. It is outrageous that taxpayer funds will pay for another study for DOC.
Surely liberal groups will call for some bill to undermine payday and small lending in the state, ultimately ignoring the choices of those they claim to represent. But in Alabama, both liberals and conservatives know what’s best for the people (barf bag in use). Heaven forbid the legislature should consider a lottery or recognize the fact that hundreds of millions of would-be tax dollars are leaving the state or going to a small group of individuals.
But, as it is an election year, when there will be a sizable turnover in the Legislature – there are ample reasons to do nothing.
The 2018 Legislative Session is simple; get out as soon as possible, don’t raise a fuss and please don’t do anything controversial that might lead to unwelcome headlines in an election year.
But this is Alabama – where politicians, lobbyists and activists can’t help putting forward their pet projects or trying to answer last session’s grievances.
However, this doesn’t mean that leadership can’t lay the fundamental groundwork to implement a plan that prioritizes economic growth through investment in infrastructure, encouraging new industry and developing a 21st-century workforce.
If the Legislature needs examples of how to implement economic growth ideas, then perhaps a conversation with Mayor Battle or Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox can shed some light on the subject. These men have accomplished this on a local level.
As President Ronald Reagan said, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”