No help for rural Alabama

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 22, 2006

THE 1.2 MILLION souls living in rural Alabama should call up Gov. Bob Riley and their representatives in the Legislature and ask, “Now what?”

Specifically, that query should be directed at Sen. Gerald Dial of rural Clay County, who single-handedly stood on the Senate floor this week and killed legislation that would have created a much-needed Center for Rural Development.

Sen. Dial, D-Lineville, argued for an ill-advised amendment to put the center under the direction of the Alabama Development Office, and purposely talked the legislation into the ground.

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With extra revenues coming in, a shelf-full of studies showing the problems and opportunities for rural Alabama, and after two recent conferences focusing on the problems of the state’s rural counties, this was the year to create the center. There was buzz; there wasn’t the will.

Every other Southern state has a center for rural development. The problems faced by rural communities are so severe and so different from urban centers, only an entity solely devoted to rural issues can adequately address them.

Alabama’s rural counties suffer twice the rate of poverty of urban areas. Their children have the lowest test scores because communities can’t afford to teach them. Their adults have higher rates of health problems and fewer doctors. Their idled workers have fewer opportunities. By every valid indicator, the quality of life in rural Alabama falls far below that of the urban centers.

Without specific attention to the problems of rural Alabama, the divide between prospering urban Alabama and faltering rural Alabama will continue to grow. Moreover, rural Alabama will continue to drag down the fortunes of the entire state. As for ADO, it has squandered its chance to improve Alabama’s rural communities.

Now, state leaders can either continue to ignore the problems of rural Alabama, or they can do what is right and implement the many plans that various studies have indicated are needed.