This week’s column is a continuation of the two-week series written by former Governor Albert Brewer who is a proponent of a new state constitution. This is the culmination of a four-week series regarding Alabama’s antiquated 1901 Constitution.

History has shown that the efforts of the 1901 Constitution to put constraints on local government in Alabama were twofold: (1) the prohibitions of the Constitution requiring amendment of the basic document to enable local governments to engage in some activity otherwise prohibited by the constitution and (2) the virtually absolute control of local governments, particularly counties, by the legislature. The consequences are well known. We talk about the entire state having to amend the constitution to permit Mobile County to engage in a mosquito control program, to authorize Limestone County to dispose of dead farm animals, to ban prostitution in unincorporated areas of Jefferson County, to permit Morgan County to build a jail, and the list goes on and on.

The supplication required of county commissions to their local legislative delegation was vividly demonstrated last year when the Jefferson County legislative delegation agreed to cure the legal defects in the occupational tax but insisted on its right to determine how the proceeds of the tax would be spent, a decision which one expects to be made by the local governing body, the Jefferson County Commission.

The limitations on taxation have resulted in our having the most regressive tax system in the country. With the constitutional limitations on ad valorem taxes and income taxes, requiring the people to approve any significant change in those taxes, governments are left with only one other form of taxation, the sales tax, a tax which has its greatest impact on those least able to pay. Only by constitutional revision can Alabama’s regressive tax system be reformed to make it fair, adequate and flexible.

The 1901 Constitution reflects a basic distrust of government. Just three examples: (1) the constitution provided that the legislature would meet quadrennially, once ever four years, (2) the constitution earmarks revenues for specific purposes denying to elected representatives the right to allocate funds where most needed, and (3) the constitution deliberately denies to local officials the authority to deal with local issues. This attitude is best illustrated by a comment made during the 1901 Convention by a delegate from Tallapoosa County when he said in opposition to home rule, “No gentleman on this floor will contend that his [county commission] at home is more capable of legislating for the people of his county than the [legislature], composed of one hundred select men.”

When one looks at all the constraints, prohibitions, restrictions and distrust, is it any wonder that this constitution has been amended 706 times, that it is the longest constitution in the world, that it is a constitution of legislative detail rather than a fundamental charter for government, that it burdens our state’s ability to compete effectively for new business and industry, that our state government is ranked the least effective in the United States, and that our education system from K-12 through our universities, is in the throes of fiscal chaos?

The issue of constitutional reform is the most fundamental and compelling issue facing Alabama today. We are all affected by it, and we should all be part of it. It is critical that every citizen and every interest be represented in the process, that all have a voice in the deliberations and that the convention’s proposed constitution provide a road map and the infrastructure for realizing our opportunities as a state and as a people.

Numerous calls for constitutional reform have been made over the years. In 1915, Governor O’Neal called for revision. That call was repeated in the early 1920’s by Governor Kilby. Governor “Big Jim” Folsom advocated a convention in his terms as governor. Other governors and legislators have tried without success.

This time the impetus for reform comes not from the top, the elected officials, but from the “grass roots,” from the people. This fact assures the movement’s ultimate success.

This concludes our four-week series on Alabama’s antiquated Constitution. I am appreciative of Governor Albert Brewer contributing the last two week’s columns.