The PoliBlog

The Collective
Sunday, March 4, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

From today’s Press-Register

Constitution source of unusual timing
Sunday, March 04, 2024
Special to the Press-Register

This past week, Gov. Bob Riley called the Alabama Legislature into special session. Given that the regular legislative session was scheduled to start this week anyway, why were our legislators called to work early?

I’ll give you a hint: As is the case so often in Alabama, it can be traced to our 106-year-old state constitution.

The governor asked the Legislature to propose a constitutional amendment to the voters of the state that would allow the raising of the cap on the Capital Improvement Trust Fund from $350 million to $750 million.

What that basically means is that it will allow the state to borrow more money to use in attracting business investment in the state.

To accomplish that feat, the Legislature needed to approve the proposal by a three-fifths vote in both chambers, and the people of Alabama will then need to say yes or no to the proposal. The vote will be held June 5.

If it passes, we would add yet another amendment to our already copious constitution. (That would make it No. 778. For comparative purposes, the U.S. Constitution has 27 amendments.)

The proximate cause for the move is because Alabama is competing with Louisiana to attract the construction of a steel plant by the German company ThyssenKrupp AG, which will reportedly cost $2.9 billion to construct and will employ 2,700 people.

Beyond that plant, the overall strategy is aimed at attracting some 30 companies to our state.

The ThyssenKrupp plant sparked the session because of timing: the need to get the Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment that could be voted on by the public in June so that there would be ample time to negotiate before Louisiana is able to acquire the plant instead of Alabama.

For the proposal to make the June ballot, at least 90 days have to pass between the date of the proposal and the vote. As such, the regular session would have pushed the vote even later — perhaps as late as November.

Investment means jobs. Jobs mean more money in the pockets of workers, which in turn means more tax revenues for state and local entities and more dollars spent in local businesses.

More tax revenues mean a greater capacity of government to provide infrastructure, such as roads and schools. Better infrastructure makes the state more attractive to business investment, which in turn could lead to even more jobs, tax revenue and so forth.

It is a virtuous cycle that ought to be encouraged.

That such investment has a ripple effect in the local economy is clear. Just ask the folks in Hope Hull and the counties surrounding Montgomery what happened when Hyundai came to town.

Of course, the Economics 101 aspects of the story are the not the key issue (at least not for a political scientist such as myself). Rather, I would argue that the real story is the fact that we, as a state, have to go through the time and expense of, first, a special session of the Legislature and then a referendum in the matter to do what most states are able to do as a matter of basic legislation.

This situation is yet another example of how the state’s constitution is a deadweight that drags us down and slows our ability to progress.

The framers of the 1901 Constitution of Alabama made it extremely difficult for the state government to promote our state for the purposes of economic development.

Part of the reason for that was because in 1901, the notion of attracting investment from outside the state (let alone from Germany and elsewhere) was hardly a common one.

More to the point, those framers — who were heavily vested in agriculture — really couldn’t have cared less about the long-term development of the state. The status quo of that day served them quite well, so why worry about the rest of the state, let alone the future?

As a result, we have a cumbersome document that makes basic governing difficult and that limits the ability of government to pursue the best interest of the state.

Residents of the Mobile area will recall that this was the reason citizens of the city of Prichard had to ask permission of the entire state electorate to create an Alabama Foreign Trade Investment Zone back in November.

The fact that the citizens of Prichard wanted to create such a zone was irrelevant. The constitution contains prohibitions against allowing government entities in the state to promote business.

As such, special dispensation was required to create the trade zone, and such permission was not granted.

One wonders how long we are going to be willing to shoot ourselves in the economic foot because we allow ourselves to be governed by an antiquated document meant to maintain an economic system from over a century ago.

At the end of the day, all the work of the governor, the Alabama Development Office and the Legislature will be moot if the voters do not approve the amendment on June 5.

One would presume that the measure would overwhelmingly pass. However, one can never tell how these things will play out. Alabamians have all grown so skeptical of state government that we often do not take proposals at face value.

I would argue that part of our distrust is because we have such poor institutions as a result of the 1901 charter. How much longer will we tolerate that situation?

Technorati Tags: , ,

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: My Columns, Alabama Politics | |

No Comments

  • el
  • pt
  • No comments yet.

    RSS feed for comments on this post.

    The trackback url for this post is:

    NOTE: I will delete any TrackBacks that do not actually link and refer to this post.

    Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

    Visitors Since 2/15/03




    Powered by WordPress