Crisis building for some time now

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 23, 2002

MONTGOMERY &045; Now that they have finally hired a football coach at that school &uot;up the road&uot; (as opposed to the one &uot;down the road&uot; as it was referred to by a departed coach), we can turn our attention to less important things such as the funding of public schools and finding a solution to the prison crisis.

One might well ask how did the state get into such a mess.

It is easy to blame the financial crisis facing the schools on the downturn of the economy, and certainly that has been a factor.

But the situation would have been far less critical if Gov. Don Siegelman and the Alabama Legislature had shown a little fiscal restraint of their own.

Instead, they got carried away early in the Siegelman administration and passed a bill which over a period of years, would raise the pay of teachers to the national average.

It didn’t seem to bother the governor or the legislators that Alabama’s tax base is far below the national average, that Alabama’s per capita income is far below the national average … and yes … they also overlooked the fact that the cost of living in Alabama is far less than the national average.

Bottom line: The state could not afford such a payraise … and at the risk of creating a tempest among teachers … there is no justification to pay them the national average.

The fact is that while the sluggish economy has impacted enormously on tax collections, scarcely less to blame for the school crisis has been the reckless spending of the Siegelman administration and the legislature.

As to the prison crisis, it has been brewing for years but nobody wanted to do anything about it.

It stated about three decades ago when you … the voters … having taken all you could stand of what you felt was a breakdown of law and order … demanded that tough new laws be enacted. The catchphrase was &uot;lock ’em up and throw away the key.&uot;

The legislature heard your protests and they responded.

All sorts of laws were passed to satisfy your demands. More people were convicted and they were given longer sentences.

The result of this: the prison population has soared from about 6,000 to about 27,000.

We have long since run out of space for these inmates.

When Gov. Siegelman took office in 1999, he was well aware of the prison crisis but like all the governors before him, he looked the other way.

Spending money on prisons is not the sort of project that will get you votes.

Gov.-elect Bob Riley has said he might consider shipping some of the inmates to prisons out of state. That may be the only way he can comply with court orders facing the state.

What could be an ugly confrontation may be in the making between those in charge of the Riley inauguration and black leaders who are demanding that the observation of the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday not be overlooked.

The King holiday coincides with inauguration Day in Alabama.

Black leaders are insisting that the inauguration ceremony include some tribute to King and that the inaugural parade also include floats paying tribute to the civil rights leader.

Riley spokesmen have insisted Dr. King will not be ignored but that did not satisfy Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery. He warned that if civil rights leaders were not allowed to share the same microphone with Gov. Riley that they would arm themselves with bull horns and compete with the public address systems used in the inauguration.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail