Alabama Legislature

The Alabama Legislature

What is an Alabama Republican?

That question isn’t rhetorical. It’s sincere. Is an Alabama Republican a low-tax, small-government conservative who is rock-solid in his or her beliefs? Or is it a pragmatic conservative who understands that political absolutism can be both an admirable trait and a hindrance to improvements?

As the gasoline-tax debate has raced through the state Legislature, that has become the crux of this surprisingly volatile argument. Raising Alabama’s gas tax to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure is now a conduit for a larger discussion about the definition of an Alabama Republican.

It shouldn’t be that way, even if Republicans such as Gov. Kay Ivey and state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, knew their support for the first increase in the state’s gas tax since 1992 would place a political bulls-eye on their backs, which it has.

The Stop The Alabama Gas Tax PAC -- whose name leaves no room for misinterpretation -- is among the most prominent critics of the Ivey- and Marsh-supported increase. At the heart of the PAC’s criticisms is the definition of “real” Republicans and “fake” Republicans -- so-called fake versions being those who support the gas-tax increase. The PAC’s website even includes mug shots of Alabama GOP legislators, with red labels that scream “FAKE REPUBLICAN” over lawmakers’ eyes. It’s comical and serious, all at the same time.

“Stop the Alabama Gas Tax will make certain that each tax-raising Republican’s constituents are exhaustively made aware of his or her betrayal of hardworking taxpayers when it comes time for voters to go to the ballot box …,” the PAC’s website reads. “Each official labeled ‘FAKE REPUBLICAN’ is precisely that — and should be voted out of office.”

That won’t happen, obviously. While we have questions about the details for this gas-tax increase, we also applaud Ivey, Marsh and other supportive Republicans for acknowledging one of our long-standing premises: that new revenue streams are occasionally needed to improve Alabamians’ lives, repair our cities and towns, fund our schools and universities and make the wheels of government turn for all residents, regardless of their ZIP codes. Alabama’s dedication to cut-and-slash government produces nasty byproducts.

The larger argument involves more than a gas-tax increase. It’s that sales taxes are regressive actions that cut the poor more than the well-to-do, and modern-day Alabama politicians -- Republicans, mainly -- rarely support policies that help people raise themselves from the bottom so they can weather these storms. As needed as the gas-tax increase is, it’s legitimate to criticize it given the state’s tepid concern for those most affected by the fiscal pain.

Republicans control Alabama government, and they will for the foreseeable future. What the gas-tax debate proves is that it’s possible for those politicians to publicly acknowledge, as we long have, that improving our state -- and the lives of its residents -- isn’t possible by merely cutting, slashing and eliminating.