Grassroots constitutional reform movement comes to Selma

Published 10:14 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

A grassroots movement to see the Alabama Constitution rewritten will come to Selma on Sunday.

The film, “It’s a Thick Book,” on Alabama constitution reform will show from 5-6:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 210 Lauderdale St.

Mark Berte, a member of the board of Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform Foundation, pointed out Alabama’s 1901 constitution contains outdated language and methods of conducting government.

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Berte said the Alabama Constitution prevents local citizens from local control of government, resulting in wasted money on statewide initiatives that affect a city or county government.

“Local governments have to wait for the Legislature to be in session,” he said. “Others will choose your destiny.”

Berte explained the latest efforts to write a new constitution began in 2002 when a group of people led by the late Bailey Thompson, a former newspaperman and professor at the University of Alabama; Thomas Corts, president of Samford University; former Gov. Albert Brewer and others organized Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, which is a grassroots, non-partisan, non-profit organizations.

In October 2005, a petition drive originated out of Huntsville asking legislators to allow Alabama voters to decide on the question of a constitutional convention.

In February 2008, two bills were in the Legislature calling for a constitutional convention. Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton and 18 representatives sponsored one, HB 308. The other was SB 243, sponsored by Sen. Ted Little and 15 other senators.

Here are reasons for a new constitution, according to ACCR:

Home rule: Alabama is the only state in the Southeast that forces county government to seek legislative approval for issues, such as leash law, court costs and fire protection. The state Legislature spends nearly 50 percent of its time talking about local issues. More than 70 percent of constitutional amendments apply to a single municipality or county.

Fair taxation: The constitution disproportionately levies the tax burden on the poorest of Alabama residents. The wealthiest 1 percent of Alabama residents pay about 4 percent of their income in state taxes. The poorest one-fifth of people who live in the state pay nearly 11 percent of their income in state taxes.

Also, families in Alabama begin paying income taxes after earning $4,600. In Mississippi, a family isn’t taxed until it makes more than $19,000 a year.

Economic development: The current constitution does not allow state and local governments to participate in internal improvement or economic development activities. More than 50 amendments in the current document allow different governing bodies various powers to promote economic development and invest in infrastructure projects, meaning the restrictions vary from county to county.

Budget flexibility: Alabama earmarks nearly 90 percent of its revenue, meaning little flexibility when it comes to matching needs and money. This is particularly hurtful for education when sales tax revenues fall short. The state’s education budget has faced proration eight times during the last 17 years.