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Strange: Solve AL’s budget crisis with conservative principles, not tax hikes or gambling

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (Photo: Yellowhammer)
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (Photo: Yellowhammer)

A budget is about more than dollars and cents. It’s about setting priorities and cutting waste while supporting the programs that matter the most. And that’s why the latest budget proposals we’ve seen coming out of Montgomery are so very troubling.

In this day and age, government does many things, but its primary job hasn’t changed—keeping the people safe and secure so they can live their lives as they see fit. But the men and women who are charged with carrying out that duty—the first responders, the police, the prosecutors and courts—are now being asked to carry another burden. They are facing the brunt of the cuts meant to close the current budget gap.

The numbers are simply staggering. Nearly a quarter of Alabama State troopers could lose their jobs, and many trooper posts would close their doors altogether. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency faces a thirty percent cut in funding. VOCAL, a group that for over three decades has protected the rights of crime victims, would see its budget slashed by fifty percent. Courts would be unable to open, and justice for Alabama’s citizens would be much harder to find. Every link in the chain of public safety would be weakened.

There is a better way. But it requires leadership.

First, we should make it clear that public safety is our top priority. No one wants to dial 911 and hear a busy signal. No one wants to sit in a broken down car on a lonely highway with no State Troopers to help. No one wants to see victims of crime have justice delayed or even denied because there are no prosecutors to take up their cases or no open courts to hear them. These are the most basic functions of government, and keeping them efficient and effective should be first and foremost in any budget.

Second, we should reject the call for new tax increases or legalized gambling. I know of no instance in which raising taxes has led to more prosperity. And gambling only increases the burdens on law enforcement and our state’s social services, driving up government expenses even more.

Tax increases and caving in to the gambling lobby are temporary solutions, at best. Pouring more money into a broken system doesn’t fix it. It just makes it worse, while wasting more of our hard earned dollars. Instead, we need fundamental reform.

That fundamental reform begins with a return to conservative principles. A house, no matter how well built, will fall if it does not rest on a solid foundation. But the budget process in our state is cracked and broken.

Alabama leads the nation by far in earmarking tax revenues, at nearly 90 percent while the national average is 25 percent. For too long, we’ve put up with a bifurcated budget that makes no sense, robbing our state of the flexibility we need to face challenges. That has to change. And when we think about how to change it, we should aim towards achieving a more efficient, more effective government that makes the rule of law its founding principle. We’ve seen that approach work before. It’s the same one that made our country the richest and most powerful in the world.

Tax increases, gambling, those are easy. Reform is hard. But that is the path we must take. Before anyone in Montgomery asks the people of this state for one more dime in taxes, before they make deep cuts into our most basic services, they must show that they have done everything in their power to reform our budgeting process. Only then will we have the government we deserve, and only then can we begin to move our state forward.

Law enforcement is watching. Every day, they get up and put their lives on the line for us. They deserve our very best, and we know we can do better.

Luther Strange is Alabama’s Attorney General