Alabama is finally having to pay the piper with a projected $700 million shortfall staring us straight in the face. Looks like the state is out of budget tricks and is now truly faced with either cutting spending (well, cutting spending even more than in the past) or, gasp, raising revenue. Governor Bentley, much to my surprise, actually has proposed raising some taxes. Sure, it’s mostly on cigarettes, which is about as close to a tax on the poor as you can get without literally having a tax on the poor, but still, it’s a Republican actually proposing a tax increase.
Of course, Bentley is not eligible to run for governor again at the next election. But the proposal of new taxes has gone over about as well as you would think with state congressional representatives in a state in which many citizens believe we should never have a tax increase ever again. A part of me can appreciate how this is karma for Bentley, who while running for office would preach against the evils of taxes and “big government” with the best of them. Unfortunately ultimately it is all of us who live in this state that will feel the impact of the budget shortfall.
So the funny thing is that since the state can’t raise taxes ever ever, it is tying itself in knots trying to find ways to get revenue, ways that are just self-defeating anyway. One way many municipalities have been trying to make up for lack of tax revenue is through court and ticket fines. Now to be sure, I think this is a terrible way to fund government services. But it may not matter soon, because the state has cut funding to the courts so much, its capacity to even function (and collect those fees) will be significantly curtailed.
Now the latest proposal is to take money from the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resource fund. The result would be the closure of 15 of Alabama’s state parks. The insanity of that is that the fund does not receive any money from Alabama’s general fund. Rather the vast vast majority of the money comes from user fees. You know, the ones that come from users using the parks. The very ones that would be closed if the state takes its money. So really you can only hit this well once (I suppose maybe twice as there would be about 6 parks left). Meanwhile you are not only killing a source of revenue directly, you are also doing economic damage to the state tourism, which surely would have a further indirect negative impact on state revenues.
But I guess in a state where you can’t raise taxes no matter what, you have no choice but to propose insane measures. How much more can you cut in a state that already underfunds everything. Troopers? 50% of what we need. Dams? Nah, we just won’t inspect them at all. Prisons? Just keep packing them in. Schools? Teachers work for love, not money, and we can make the parents buy the supplies. The poor? Lazy bums who wouldn’t be in that position if they would love Jesus more.
And parks? Gee, we like parks. Really you should consider taking even more money away from education or social services first. But if it’s taxes or parks? Yep, take away the parks. After all, if we really want parks, the invisible of hand of the free market will cause Wal-Mart to buy the parks and run them themselves!