Among the first articles to be tackled was one dealing with a county’s ability to regulate matters within its own jurisdiction. It’s known as home rule.
Alabama counties have little of it because the men who wrote the 1901 Constitution and the men who amended it over and over again did not want counties instituting reforms that might catch on statewide. So they made it all but impossible for counties to do things within their borders without the permission of the state Legislature. High on the list of not-to-do things were any changes that would raise property taxes.
However, today the business community and the Association of County Commissioners consider the lack of home rule as a drawback to economic development, and they would like to see this changed. That’s why most observers believed the home-rule article would be one of the easiest to change and, therefore, the first rewritten.
This opinion was confirmed when the Constitutional Revision Commission announced this week that it would consider the article, beginning with a meeting today in Montgomery. But it became apparent that revising that easy article will not be so easy at all.
The Association of County Commissioners put forth a plan that it would like adopted, a plan that, as you’d expect, would increase the authority of county government. There are plans from the Alabama Law Institute and from anti-poverty groups. There are those who want to keep things the way they are for the same reasons the article was written as it was in the first place — even though none of the plans give the counties new powers to raise taxes.
And there are those who see home rule as just creating one more layer of bureaucracy, this one at the county level. Often it’s been pointed out that the only officials voters trust less than their legislators are their county commissioners. Years of anti-government propaganda have made this an article of faith among many.
What was to be an easy first step is revealing all the prejudice, anxiety and self-interest that helped make the original constitution what it was and what it has continued to be up until today. Until those attitudes are set aside and the state’s special-interest groups work for the common good, the Constitutional Revision Commission’s task will be greater with each step it takes. Increasing home rule for Alabama’s 67 counties should happen, and it needs to be done correctly.