Steve Flowers - INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state Legislature. Reach him atwww.steveflowers.us.

MONTGOMERY — One of the obvious political changes in Alabama government over the last decade with the Republican takeover of the Legislature has been the reluctance to raise new revenue to fund state government. Many of the current Republican legislators came to Montgomery in 2010 with a no new tax pledge. Voting for any kind of tax or fee increase was considered blasphemous.

In bygone days, powerful governors like Big Jim Folsom and George Wallace would raise taxes

at the drop of a hat. Especially when it came to a gasoline tax to build roads. It was perfunctory

and almost mandatory for a governor to have a road program. That was their legacy and how

they and their legislative allies made friends. It was expected that a governor would build roads.

Raising the gas tax was the only way to create a road program. Folks didn’t seem to mind.

Looks like this current Legislature may have realized it needs a road program.

One day, Gov. Wallace was having a benign news conference to talk politics and garner publicity. A young reporter out of the blue asked him a pointed question.

“Governor, why do you give all the road building contracts and permits to your cronies,

contributors and legislative allies?” Wallace looked at him quizzically and replied, “Who do you

think I ought to give them to, my enemies?”

In 1983, I was a young freshman legislator and Wallace was in his last term as governor, and as

usual, he was going to have a road program. Well, he wasn’t just interested in raising the gas

tax, he was taxing just about everything that wasn’t nailed down. He had already asked us to

pass eight or nine “revenue enhancement measures,” before he came with the whopper — the gas

tax for roads, highways and bridges.

I was actually Wallace’s representative since I represented his home county of Barbour.

Therefore, I was dutifully voting with the governor because, believe me, our area was going to

get more than our fair share with Wallace as governor.

To get his gas tax passed, he went to the wall and resorted to a tactic he had used in past

administrations in his earlier years as governor. He would bring us down to his office, 10-15 at a

time and hot box you and prod a commitment out of you. Well, I was in a group with a

particularly bad boy named W.F. “Noopie” Cosby from Selma. Noopie had voted against all of

Wallace’s revenue enhancement measures. Noopie had acquired his nickname early in life and

I’m not sure anyone in Selma or anywhere else knew his given name.

Wallace, besides being almost completely deaf, had also gotten prematurely senile because of the

tremendous amount of painkillers he had to take every day to even survive because of the

devastating gunshot wounds to his body 10 years earlier. He was hazy this day and he

called Noopie “Nudy.” He must have called him Nudy 20 times. I could hardly contain my

laughter. Several of us in the room laughed so hard we started crying. It was the most humorous

dialogue I ever recall. Wallace said, “Nudy, you need you a road program.” “When I was a

legislator I had a road program for Barbour County.” “Nudy, you need a road program for

Dallas County, and, Nudy, we need these taxes for our road programs, so, Nudy, here’s the way it

works here.” “Nudy, if you vote for my taxes, your road program will be part of my road

program, but, Nudy, if you don’t vote for my taxes, I’m afraid you won’t have a road program and your road program will go to Barbour County.”

Big Jim Folsom had a road program. He built farm-to-market roads in every corner of the state

so that Alabama small farmers who lived on dirt roads could get their crops to market. He made

his legacy with this program.

When I make a speech, in the state from Scottsboro to Dothan, many times I will share Big Jim

stories with my audiences. Invariably, afterwards, some old timer will come up to me and say,

“Flowers, if Big Jim was running for governor today, I’d vote for him. He paved my daddy’s

road.”

See you next week.

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state Legislature. Reach him at www.steveflowers.us.

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