Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Dothan Eagle on having a surplus:
Dothan officials have a fiscal problem. There is far more money coming in than anticipated, creating a growing surplus.
That’s a good problem to have, particularly when so many governmental operations are struggling with a dearth of revenue.
Locally, it’s growth in the sales tax receipts that’s fueling the revenue stream. Generally speaking, sales tax is unreliable as necessary revenue, as it ebbs and flows with the economy. City officials understand the volatility of the sales tax receipts, which is why they’re cautiously optimistic about the 10 consecutive months of bountiful revenue that’s wrecked projection sheets.
It’s difficult to know for sure without intensive review, but it appears that the influx of taxes from internet sales has a lot to do with the positive change. City Finance Director Lisa Reeder reports that internet sales taxes produced about $126,000 last month.
To their credit, city officials aren’t headed for a spending spree, although they are taking another look at some big-ticket projects already in the pipeline to determine how the influx of unexpected revenue might affect the timelines.
In case the money is burning a hole in their pockets, they should consider a chestnut of good stewardship - bank it and forget it. A day will surely come when a healthy reserve will avert potential disaster.
The Gadsden Times on Trump’s anti-Moore efforts:
Alabama is going to give President Donald Trump 9 electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election. There has never been a surer thing in this or any known solar system or galaxy.
But while much of the current political conversation surrounds that race, in which enough Democrats to stock the offense, defense and special teams of a football squad are seeking to turn Donald Trump out of office, Alabamians are going to have to multitask. How that plays out could show just how much influence Trump has here, other than the “R″ attached to his name.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Mountain Brook, next year will have to defend the seat he won in December 2017 in a wild, controversial special election against former state Chief Justice and longtime paladin of the Christian right Roy Moore of Etowah County.
That race drew the attention of the world — literally, check the roster of visitors to these parts while it was going on — because of sexual abuse allegations leveled against Moore by multiple women who were in their teens at the time of the alleged incidents.
We’re not going to revisit the particulars. Unless you were residing in the deepest of caverns, you remember what went on because there was no escaping or avoiding it.
We’ll simply point out that Jones won by a little less than 22,000 votes out of 1.348 million cast, not the most resounding of endorsements and proof to only the most optimistically naive that it was more of an anti-Moore than pro-Jones result.
Democrats talked gamely about having reversed the GOP trend in Alabama; the statewide results of last November showed otherwise and reinforced why Jones is rightfully considered the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the Senate.
Unless he faces the same opponent — and Moore is making noises about entering the Republican race to claim what he’s convinced was stolen from him through various conspiratorial machinations and “fake news.”
There are three declared GOP candidate so far, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and state Rep. Arnold Mooney of Indian Springs. Some of the other rumored possibilities would be formidable.
However, Moore even with his baggage has a devoted group of backers who will show up for the Republican primary and runoff (if he makes it there) and mark his name even if the skies are filled with tornadoes.
Republican leaders in Alabama and Washington understand both that and the urgency for the party to reclaim the Alabama Senate seat, given how many seats the GOP will be defending nationwide. So first Trump’s son, then the president himself fired off tweets urging Moore not to enter the race. The president said Moore “cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating.”
Moore dismissed those admonitions, saying Alabama’s voters not the president will determine who serves in the Senate. Well, Alabamians are a stubborn bunch who don’t like outsiders, even popular ones, telling them what to do; just check Moore’s résumé for one of the most stubborn examples.
Perhaps Trump should count his electoral votes and stay off Twitter where this race is concerned, and let Alabamians take care of matters. Otherwise, he’s risking a “we’ll show you” moment, with Moore potentially benefitting.
The Decatur Daily on the Legislature and justice reform:
Faced with overcrowded prisons and a threatening federal court, Alabama lawmakers still find new ways to keep more people in prison longer. The Legislature talks about criminal justice reform, but its instinct is to pose as tough on crime.
Alabama lawmakers are the poster children for cognitive dissonance. They’re still trying to have it both ways on criminal justice.
They say they want reform. They say they don’t want the federal courts to take over the state’s overcrowded, understaffed, outdated and dangerous prisons. They say they’re willing to consider alternatives to locking people up and throwing away the key.
And yet, time and again, state legislators turn around and do the opposite. They fall prey to demagogues who will attack their opponents as “soft on crime” or say “you don’t support law enforcement” if they don’t go along or if they stand up for the rights of the accused — or even the rights of the exonerated.
The Alabama Legislature ended its 2019 session having done little substantive work to address the deplorable state of the state’s prisons. It did pass a pay hike for prison personnel, politically the easiest thing it could do. But even that is unlikely to attract enough corrections officers to adequately staff the state’s prisons unless much more is done.
Instead, the Legislature has left all of the hard questions to a likely special session, assuming Gov. Kay Ivey calls one.
Lawmakers found it much easier to pass Ivey’s plan to give her more control over the state’s Pardons and Paroles Board, which has become the scapegoat for much that is wrong with the state’s prison system.
Jimmy O’Neal Spencer was a violent offender the parole board OK’d for release to a halfway house, and he then killed three people. The Spencer case pointed to a need for more information and accountability, but the Legislature went further, requiring that those convicted of violent crimes and other Class A felonies serve 15 years in prison or 85 percent of their sentence before being eligible for parole.
Such mandatory, across-the-board minimums are part of how Alabama got one of the nation’s largest prison populations per capita in the first place. It is a step backward while other states and the federal government are moving away from mandatory minimums.
The Legislature then balked at allowing the medical use of marijuana in the state, electing instead for people who use marijuana to relieve chronic ailments to remain criminals, at least for another year, while a state commission studies the issue.
Supporters of medical marijuana expect the commission to come back with a plan that will lead the Legislature to pass medical marijuana in its 2020 session. We can only hope lawmakers don’t find some excuse to put it off again.
Also relegated to the back burner is Sen. Arthur Orr’s proposal to do away with civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government to take the property of people accused of a crime without a criminal conviction — and keep it even if the person is found not guilty or is never charged, forcing the person to sue to get his property back.
Instead, lawmakers passed a bill mandating that law enforcement agencies track their use of civil forfeiture.
More data is always useful, but we don’t need more data to know taking people’s property without a criminal conviction goes against the principle of innocent until proven guilty. Orr promises to bring his bill back next year, and, we hope, with the information the Legislature is now demanding, there will be no more excuses not to pass it.
It’s an occupational hazard, but when it comes to criminal justice, many lawmakers need to stop talking out of both sides of their mouths before the federal government swoops in and tells them to put up or shut up.