Campaigning for president in 1968, '72 and '76, Alabama Democratic Gov. George Wallace said, "Send 'em a message." Wallace believed that a vote for him would send a message to Washington politicians that the people were tired of Washington's dictatorial ways.
On Tuesday, Sept. 9, Alabama voters sent the country a different kind of message than Wallace's, which was mostly based on race and Southern pride. They rejected by more than a 2-1 margin Republican Gov. Bob Riley's plea for a $1.2 billion tax increase to offset a $675 million budget deficit. Riley acknowledged receiving at least part of the message in an election-night statement: "I've heard what the people of Alabama have said, and they said it very clearly tonight, 'We do want you to be good stewards, but we want a smaller government until you prove to us you are good stewards of our money.'"
How about smaller government forever, allowing those who make the money to keep more of it and those who so often misspend it to have less to spend?
Alabama is the latest of several states with voters telling their leaders they've had enough with high taxes and unnecessary spending. Something approaching a national tax revolt may be brewing. In San Diego, voters approved a "supermajority" requirement for any tax hikes in March, 2002; in Missouri, a large fuel and sales tax increase was defeated 3-1 in August, 2002; in Virginia, voters in several suburbs last November rejected a sales tax hike by an overall margin of 10 points. Just the other day, voters in Seattle, Wash., said no to what would have been the nation's first-ever espresso tax. All over this nation, people are showing how tired they are of having their pockets picked by government.
Riley, like most politicians, forecast doom and gloom - from laid-off police to closed libraries - if voters didn't allow government to take more of their money. The public appears to be onto this scheme, especially when disaster never strikes after the tax increases are rejected.
Alabama's problem, notes the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), is that it operates on a very restrictive mandate system. More than 87 percent of Alabama taxes are earmarked for specific budget items. The national average is just 22 percent. Local governments should be given the freedom to consolidate services with other towns and counties. They should also be encouraged to outsource more work that could be done by private industry and not state (and federal) government. The Bush administration is seeking to do this but is fiercely opposed by the liberal labor unions that fill Democratic coffers with campaign money and polling places with votes in exchange for maintaining their political influence.
Texas is a good model for Alabama and other states. In Bowie County, Texas, the school transportation system is shared with a dozen other school districts. The Dallas County school district provides information technology services to 15 other districts. The overhead savings from these shared responsibilities can be large. The NTU recommends an Inspector General process, modeled after the IGs at the federal level, who audit for waste, fraud and abuse. Montgomery County, Maryland's, IG (one of the first of its kind in the nation) has been analyzing about 500 county and school district programs for the last five years. For every dollar budgeted to the IG, the office has challenged almost $10 in costs.
There are plenty of advocates for bigger and ever-expanding government. There should be more advocates for the taxpayers who make the money that government so often misspends.
The core of some popular weight-loss programs is a reduction in carbohydrates. Lower carbs allow the body to burn fat and weight loss follows. Government's "carbohydrate" is money. Reduce the amount and government will shrink. But the cravings of people for more services must also be controlled, just as a dieter must reduce his intake.
Call the Alabama vote a new "commandment": "Thou shalt not raise our taxes."
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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