There’s a stirring scene taking place at Alabama’s State Capitol, where legislators are twisting themselves in knots over Gov. Kay Ivey’s special session. The urgency is unmistakable. Ivey wants a 10-cent increase in the state’s gasoline tax to pay for road and bridge repairs. Supportive legislators are trying to make it happen, perhaps by the end of this week. It’s state government hopped up on Red Bull.
Think about that.
Alabama lawmakers have identified a problem -- decades of neglect that have crumbled our infrastructure, stunted or delayed expansions and hurt industries that require quality roads, modern bridges and maintenance of egress and access points.
Alabama lawmakers have decided to act -- and not only act, but do so in a special session at the beginning of this year’s regular legislative session, essentially putting off all other state business until March 19. Right now it’s the Rebuild Alabama Act, and nothing else.
Plus, Alabama lawmakers are likely to get it done.
Say what you will about the gas-tax bills getting the once-over in the Legislature. You may side with the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee, which opposes the increase, or the Business Council of Alabama, which supports the increase, or Alabama Democrats, whose opinions are split. Or you may not care.
What you must say, though, is that the Legislature’s ramrod behavior over the state’s first gas-tax increase since 1992 proves Alabama lawmakers aren’t wholly impotent or hopelessly stuck in a pattern of delayed decisions and inaction.
We’ll be blunt. Why can’t Ivey and the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature act just as decisively on issues that affect Alabamians’ lives as much, if not more so, than bad roads and dangerous bridges?
We know why -- politics, greed and cowardice, sometimes in combination. That’s why Alabamians still haven’t been allowed to vote on a state lottery to fund public education. That’s why Alabama’s ethics laws are a few teeth short of a full set. That’s why a sizeable collection of Alabama counties are stricken with poverty, poor health-care options and weak growth -- and still get little attention from Montgomery.
If Ivey indeed wants a better Alabama -- a colorblind Alabama, an equitable Alabama, a modern Alabama -- she should push just as hard for anti-poverty measures, not only in the Black Belt but in places like northeast Alabama, where poverty is rampant and rarely discussed.
If Ivey indeed wants a better Alabama, she should push just as hard for reforms in public education that raise the state far above the bottom-feeder threshold in the nation’s rankings.
If Ivey indeed wants a better Alabama, she should push just as hard for improved social safety nets, for reductions in in-state tuition at Alabama’s public universities and colleges, and for expansion of Medicaid, which would become her legacy achievement.
We’re unclear if this gas-tax crusade is indicative of Ivey’s leadership abilities. But if it is, there’s no reason other than politics or cowardice for her not to attack Alabama’s other illnesses with similar doggedness.