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Alabama editorial roundup

June 14, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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June 11

The TimesDaily on cities funding services:

Florence Mayor Steve Holt said last week the loss of big box retail stores is an indication of things to come, and all that may tell of the future is not positive for local government.

Alabama’s municipalities depend heavily on sales tax collection to fund services such as police and fire protection, and maintain public spaces such as parks and ball fields. When collections declines, cuts have to be made.

Property taxes in Alabama are among the lowest in the country, and much of that money is earmarked for schools. So, when the economy takes a downturn, government services suffer.

Florence and other cities have seen the loss of major national retailers. Economists say the growth of online retail, where local sales taxes are almost never collected, plays a big role in the closures.

Research bears out the concerns of those in charge of financing municipal government in Alabama.

A survey by Pew Research Center found that roughly eight in 10 Americans now shop online. The expansion of cell phone capabilities appears to be boosting that trend.

Information compiled by bigcommerce.com is even more worrisome.

It found that 67 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Gen X prefer to shop online. Ecommerce is growing 23 percent year over year, but 46 percent of American small businesses do not have websites.

One of the few bright spots for Alabama cities is that the Alabama Department of Commerce negotiated an agreement with Amazon to charge an 8 percent sales tax for goods sold to Alabama customers.

The state distributes that money to cities and counties based on population, not on where the sales were generated.

Tracking sales by locality within the state would require a substantial investment in technology that likely would not yield greater financial benefits.

So, as retail purchases shift to online businesses, local governments can see a trend developing that worries them.

Holt said the day could come when someone needing the services of the fire department could receive a bill for those services, just as they would when a plumber or electrician is called to a home.

Alabama’s tax code is a wreck, with lawmakers raiding sources of revenue once reserved for schools and local governments. Cities don’t have that option to fund services.

What’s needed is a conversation on how we tax ourselves.

Property taxes must be addressed, certainly, but online technology is changing the way other taxes are collected.

Until sales taxes for online purchases are charged, the quality of services residents receive from the local governments could begin to decline.

Online: http://www.timesdaily.com/

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June 10

Dothan Eagle on voting rights for felons:

Alabama lawmakers approved changes recently that will have a significant positive effect for many felons who have paid their debt to society, and the action was as simple as defining a phrase many believe was deliberately nebulous from its insertion in state law a century ago.

At the heart of the matter is what disqualifies a person from the right to vote. Alabama law has long stated that people convicted of “crimes of moral turpitude” lose that right.

But what’s a crime of moral turpitude?

For roughly 100 years, it was whatever authorities said it was, and that gave wide latitude to those who may want to manipulate the vote for whatever reason. Many who should have been able to vote were not able to do so.

Thanks to diligent campaigns by activists including Dothan’s Rev. Kenny Glasgow, those voting rights will likely be restored for many felons who have returned to society. The new law defines 46 crimes considered moral turpitude — acts such as murder, rape, treason, and assault, among others.

Not on the list are crimes such as felony DUI and drug possession, both of which have wrongly been placed between legions of Alabamians and the ballot box in the past.

We’re pleased to see this matter cleared up, and regret that it’s taken a century to remove this obstacle.

Online: http://www.dothaneagle.com/

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June 12

Decatur Daily on governments worrying about online shopping:

The steady decline of big-box retail stores is not a positive for local government and could be an indication of things to come.

Alabama’s municipalities depend heavily on sales-tax collections to fund services such as police and fire protection, and maintain public spaces such as parks and ball fields. When collections decline, cuts have to be made.

Property taxes in Alabama are among the lowest in the country, and much of that money is earmarked for schools. So, when the economy takes a downturn, government services suffer.

North Alabama cities have seen the loss of major national retailers, including Dillard’s and Sears at Decatur Mall and Kmart in the Kroger plaza off Beltline Road. Economists say the growth of online retail, where local sales taxes are almost never collected, plays a big role in the closures.

Research bears out the concerns of those in charge of financing municipal government in Alabama.

A survey by Pew Research Center found that roughly eight in 10 Americans now shop online. The expansion of cellphone capabilities appears to be boosting that trend.

Information compiled by bigcommerce.com is even more worrisome. It found that 67 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Gen X-ers prefer to shop online. Ecommerce is growing 23 percent year over year, but 46 percent of American small businesses do not have websites.

One of the few bright spots for Alabama cities is that the Alabama Department of Commerce negotiated an agreement with Amazon to charge an 8 percent sales tax for goods sold to Alabama customers. The state distributes that money to cities and counties based on population, not on where the sales were generated. Tracking sales by locality within the state would require a substantial investment in technology that likely would not yield greater financial benefits.

So, as retail purchases shift to online businesses, local governments can see a trend developing that worries them.

The day could come when someone needing the services of the fire department could receive a bill for those services, just as they would when a plumber or electrician is called to a home.

Alabama’s tax code is a wreck, with lawmakers raiding sources of revenue once reserved for schools and local governments. Cities don’t have that option to fund services.

What’s needed is a conversation on how we tax ourselves. Property taxes must be addressed, certainly, but online technology is changing the way other taxes are collected. Until sales taxes for online purchases are charged, the quality of services residents receive from local governments could begin to decline.

Online: http://www.decaturdaily.com/

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