Voters in Alabama are smart.
Despite what you hear from certain circles in California, Washington, D.C. and beyond, the people of this state have a keen sense of what is best for their families, their quality of life and what will create the type of economic opportunity they seek.
This is why it is time for the Alabama Legislature to get out of the way and let Alabama voters decide how they want to fund certain foundational necessities like statewide access to high-speed internet.
Building out broadband access will change the lives of countless Alabamians for the better. Ensuring every community has high-speed internet access will create jobs, improve health care and enhance educational experiences for all children.
And nowhere will this benefit the state more than in rural communities. High-speed internet access in rural areas will be like rocket fuel for opportunity. Agriculture and industry in rural Alabama will have the tools to compete with anywhere else in the world.
As many have remarked before, so goes rural Alabama, so goes the state. In front of the legislature now is a bill that could make rural Alabama really go.
The bill grants voters the final say in whether to direct proceeds from largely existing gaming activities toward broadband expansion. Because the legislation would enable a constitutional amendment to appear on the ballot, it allows the people of Alabama to finally chart a direction for two areas of public policy it has debated for quite some time: gaming and 21st-century infrastructure.
The first $1 billion in state tax proceeds from gaming dedicated to IT infrastructure will be directed to high-speed broadband expansion, if voters pass the constitutional amendment. This would result in a life-changing infrastructure investment for generations of Alabamians, especially those in rural areas.
Farms will become more efficient. Children will learn more easily. Health care will improve. These are not just possibilities when $1 billion goes to rural broadband expansion. These things will happen.
This is not even to mention the bill also generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for postsecondary education scholarships, rural health care services and mental health care services – additional longtime priorities with broad, bipartisan support.
The entire state will also benefit from some welcome clarity and regulation on the issue of gaming, which has existed under a patchwork structure and in the shadows for years. There has not been any previous proposal that required gaming entities to contribute to the well-being of the state on the level the present proposal does. Control, regulation and revenue – the bill checks all three boxes.
While the legislature has thus far taken a prudent approach in fine-tuning the bill into the best possible proposal for the people to ultimately consider, exhaustive consideration must not again turn into kicking the can down the road – or intentionally barring the voters from having their voices heard on the matter. Debate the matter candidly and openly. But also know that this transformational, generational opportunity will not soon come again.
It is time to let voters decide.
The Yellowhammer Multimedia Editorial Board is comprised of the editor-in-chief and owners of YHM, LLC.