Is a tax increase the best we can do?

By SLADE BLACKWELL / Guest Columnist

With the next legislative session about a month away, discussions have focused heavily on the budgetary challenges facing our state. One of our two major state budgets, the general fund, faces a shortfall that could reach as much as $265 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
Medicaid, transportation infrastructure needs and Alabama’s overcrowded prisons are just a few of the significant state expenditures that depend on resources in the general fund. In addition to the shortfall, we have millions in financial obligations to repay from shifting and shuffling resources. According to Governor Bentley, the cumulative additional financial burden Alabama must bear is somewhere in the $700 million range over the next few years.
At the same time, the governor has repeatedly stated that we have made all the cuts we can to state government in our effort to raise needed revenue. While an improving economy can increase tax revenue on the whole, the lack of growth taxes flowing into the general fund means that “growing” our way out of the current situation will be difficult. Without cutting spending or growing our revenues through more economic activity, the only remaining option would seem to be a tax increase.
Contrary to Governor Bentley’s suggestions, our state government is not yet as fiscally sound as we can make it. Taxpayers have heard that the only remaining savings are “nickel and dime” cuts that may not add up to enough to fill our budgetary gap. The problem is that those nickels and dimes come from Alabama’s taxpayers, and we have an obligation to make sure that they are not wasted before we even think about asking for a penny more.
We have serious budgetary issues, but the Republican majorities were not elected to raise taxes on Alabamians. That is more than a simple political statement. As legislators, we know what it means: Either we find revenues through ending waste and duplication or we must choose which programs to end or reduce. Simply put, our responsibility is to work within the parameters provided by our constituents. If Alabamians would rather pay more taxes than face cuts to state programs, they had a funny way of showing it at the ballot box in November.
Legislators should not be afraid to honor the wishes of our constituents who want a state government that meets their needs while keeping taxes as some of the lowest in the nation. That merely means we have a lot of work ahead of us in the state Legislature.
Slade Blackwell is an Alabama state senator who represents portions of Shelby County.