It’s time for Alabama legislators to end the wasteful practices of subsidizing newspapers to print public notices
Every year, Alabama’s various governments are required by law to take tax dollars collected from their citizens and hand them over to print newspapers to comply with public notice laws.
These laws force these entities to notify the public of matters facing them through the pages of these newspapers. There are no other options.
Local city governments? Yep.
Local boards of education? Yep.
State agencies? Yep.
With each of these requirements, a private entity is subsidized by tax dollars for a service that no one actually uses. To say this is a scam is an understatement.
Current Alabama law requires government entities in Alabama to advertise and pay for legal notices, legislation, constitutional amendments, voter rolls and other public matters in the local print media outlets.
As I have pointed out before, this is not chump change.
- The City of Huntsville spends up to $115,000 each year.
- Madison County spends up to $153,000 each year.
The real cost across the state is clearly into the multiple millions of dollars range.
Last week, Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” and explained that Madison County alone was forced to pay $75,000 to Alabama Media Group, the parent company of AL.com, which runs a sports blog with a liberal bias.
For what? A 112-page list of voters.
Strong says he knows no one is reading this list to see if they are eligible to vote.
“You’re printing a 112-page document that will be used to light fires in people’s burn pits,” he explained. “People don’t even look at it, they throw it in the garbage can.”
The Secretary of State’s Office has a phone number and a website where people can see if they are eligible to vote, so this is all completely unnecessary.
Keep in mind, this is one county. All 67 counties in the state had to pay for this “service,” and they all know it is a waste of their resources.
Strong noted, “I promise you $75,000 practically every two years over 10 years, that’s $375,000, and I can tell you Madison County has a bunch of needs that money could go toward a lot more beneficial than a list.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Multiple lawmakers have attempted to cut in on these legal notices over the years, with little success.
State Representative Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) tried last year. He said in 2019, “I think it’s really hard to make a case in Alabama that we need more taxes while we are not spending the money we have in an efficient manner.”
Sorrell is trying again this year:
Relating to public notices; to provide for electronic publication of public notices on a public notice website operated by the Secretary of State; to provide for fees for publication; to allow counties and municipalities to opt out under certain conditions; and to provide for delivery of public notices to the Secretary of State for publication on the public notice website.
Secretary of State John Merrill is all in on supporting this bill.
The same challenges that came up in 2019 will come up again in 2019. No one wants to fight the newspapers on this because they know the newspapers will fight back.
We all know the old saying: “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”
But it is time to pick this fight. The status quo is a scam that gives tax dollars to newspapers and citizens get little in return. It is time for other legislators to join him and get this done.