Setting priorities: Tax cuts or money for improvements
Alabamians want a tax cut. They also want their roads paved, unsafe bridges replaced, more troopers on the highways and their school buildings fixed.
It takes tax dollars to do those things, and the $1 billion surplus in state funds isn't nearly enough money.
Gov. Bob Riley, fresh from a solid re-election victory, says the state is so well off financially it can afford to spend on infrastructure and cut taxes. He wants to give tax cuts to all Alabama families who earn up to $100,000.
That's awfully appealing, but would those cuts be enough to matter? And would they, as opponents charged earlier this year, reduce too greatly the amount of tax revenue going to public education?
With a $1 billion surplus, the governor sees education as not being an issue. His strategy, however, appears to be aimed at preventing a disproportionate share of this surplus money from going into teacher pay increases and benefits that will obligate the state in future years.
Cut taxes and the money won't be available for legislators who the Alabama Education Association controls to go on a one-time spending spree.
The governor, given rein to spend massively on infrastructure or cut taxes, might opt for rebuilding the state. But given the allegiance of the Legislature to AEA, he perhaps had rather that money go to taxpayers than to the teachers' union.
The governor quoted several school superintendents early this year on the dire need for improvements in their systems. One superintendent cited school buildings that were 100 years old.
"One school I visited in Cherokee County had police tape around some areas because it was unsafe for the children to walk near that part of the school. Several others I visited don't have a fire alarm," he said.
Legislators really need to debate which is more important — spending this money on the children or getting a few dollars in a tax cut.