Even as the Bush administration acted Monday to allow religious organizations to receive federal funding for a wide range of social welfare programs and awarded $30.5 million in grants to encourage religious groups to do more to help the needy, the citizens of Alabama are reeling from the effects of their politicians’ mismanagement of taxpayer funds. They have had to deal with three questions simultaneously:
Is Alabama’s tax system fair to all taxpayers? Because taxes are compulsory (i.e., coercive) payments for government services, nothing is more important to good government than the fair and equitable distribution of tax burdens.
Does Alabama’s tax system provide an efficient distribution of tax dollars? Taxpayers expect efficiency in the management of their tax dollars so that they can be used to the greatest effect. Clearly the Alabama state government has failed to convince taxpayers that they are wisely spending the largess of their constituents.
Does Alabama’s tax system provide adequate funding for essential public services? The tax system must adequately fund the public services that are important to a state’s development. However, what is and what isn’t important is a very subjective question. I read this morning that parents in Alabama are complaining that they might have to pay for their children to ride the school bus. Goodness, has it come to this?
According to a recent Parca Report, “Alabama’s tax structure is characterized by extremes which, taken together, create an environment that makes efficient management of tax dollars almost impossible. Not only are there fewer tax dollars available than in any other state, but the sources are unbalanced in a way that leads to fiscal instability. Flexibility at the state level is missing because of extensive earmarking. Schools and county governments lack a stable base of local funding that would enable them to be more effective.”
The bottom line is that the good people of Alabama are realizing for the first time in a very long time that there is no such thing as a free lunch. They have also had to ask themselves the question: Where does government money come from? They’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t come from the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. They might benefit from reading Economics for Real People: An Introduction to the Austrian School by Gene Callahan, who explains that economics is the study of how real people act to relieve dissatisfaction.
Apparently Gov. Bob Riley is waking up and smelling the coffee. He thought that by using the “You’re a Christian, and therefore you should do what I, a devout Christian, tell you to do” argument, his appeal for the largest tax increase in Alabama history would play out, but the fine work of opponents like the Tax Accountability Coalition, South Alabamians for Real Reform, and the Alabama Christian Coalition kept voters from being misled. With Riley’s $1.2 billion tax increase soundly relegated to the trash heap of history, the only question now is where the state government will cut services. Riley is philosophically against these steps, calling them political suicide. Others would call them sound economics.
Having government pay for your children to ride the school bus is not a constitutional right. Nor are the many other government programs designed to assist people avoid poverty that actually perpetuate poverty. Perhaps the recent referendum in Alabama is a call for government checks to be replaced by church and community “welfare” in the sense of Acts 2:42-47.
September 24, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com. He is currently finishing his latest book, Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon.