Not the time to give up on reform

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The voters spoke loud and clear on Sept. 9.

They did not like the options presented to them in the tax referendum. I have heard a number of people on both sides of the debate express personal anger and disgust with people working for the other side.

While it is hard to not take things personally in these debates, now is not the time to give up on reform in our state. Many people who were involved in the previous referendum have said they are ready to throw their hands up on making any changes in state government.

I believe now is the time for real leaders to step forward and say if this plan which the people rejected was not the answer to our problems, then we need to work together to find some other solution.

What are some of the things we need to consider in the legislature?

First, we must address the method in which we craft the budgets in state government. Currently, the state legislature drafts its budgets based upon revenue projections for the next fiscal year.

This is an unsound and fiscally irresponsible way to run state government. Many times, these revenue projections have come up short due to a downturn in the economy, and this has led to proration. We need to pass legislation, which would base state budgets on actual revenues received by the state during the previous year.

This way, we could be assured that the state did not budget more money than the state has available and therefore not face the threat of proration.

Second, it is time for the legislature to eliminate all non-education expenditures and non-state agency pork funding from the Education Trust Fund (ETF).

While there are many worthwhile programs funded through the ETF, many of them are not essential enough to fund at the expense of our public school system. In short, education dollars should be spent on education projects.

Finally, we must look at reform in the State Department of Transportation. While we are blessed to have many good people in this agency, we also have a lot of politicians in state government who have undue influence on some of the decisions made on road construction that comes out of Montgomery.

Alabama is one of the highest recipients of road dollars from the federal government in the country, yet why is it that areas like Shelby, Bibb and Jefferson counties continue to struggle to get their fair share of funding for transportation projects?

Our counties continue to send gas taxes to Montgomery and receive little back in the form of improvements from our state government. The only way this will ever change is to take politics out of the decision making process when it comes to transportation infrastructure construction.

These are just a few areas of needed reform. There are others that need to be addressed as well such as certain constitutional reforms, legislative spending practices and most importantly a ban on pass through pork. If we are ever going to restore confidence in state government a ban on pass through pork must be included in any reforms. September 9th may have not been the reform that the people of Alabama were looking for, but is that an excuse to sit back and not do anything to improve our state? Of course not.

Now is the time to step up and look for other options to improve our state. We cannot give up and we should not allow our personal feelings get in the way of making our state a better place to live.

Cam Ward, is the State Representative for District 49, which makes up part of Shelby and Bibb Counties