Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1470: Alabama's bad tooth syndrome

  “Son, most people have the bad tooth syndrome. I hope you never have the bad tooth syndrome.” These words were spoken by my dear mother who passed 18 years ago. She had a 7th grade education but was one of the wisest persons I've ever known.

  My mother was Ola Mae Sanders who gave birth to 13 children. She was not only wise but really had a way with words. The following is how she explained the bad tooth syndrome.

  We often have a bad tooth that hurts. Sometimes it hurts bad, and sometimes it hurts really bad. We never know when or how much or how long it will hurt. We refuse to have it removed for fear of the intense pain. Therefore, we allow the pain to come and go for years, worsening over time. If we have the bad tooth removed, we will experience intense pain at the dentist, but the pain will be over in a day or two and our mouth will not only be pain free but healthy for years to come. Most people will suffer bad pain a hundred times over rather than suffer intense pain once. That’s the bad tooth syndrome.

  Alabama has the bad tooth syndrome really bad. One of the many ways it manifests itself is in the General Fund Budget. Alabama has 4,849,000 citizens. The total current General Fund Budget, which covers all government except education, is $1,877,263,656. That amounts to $378.90 per citizen expended on general government. That’s one of the lowest sums in the entire country. The regular revenue is not sufficient to even sustain that low ratio. Every year we forge a fake fix just to maintain this dismal budget. We prefer bad pain year after year rather than intense pain one time followed by many pain-free years. We are perpetually caught in the bad tooth syndrome.

  This year we could not find a fake fix, so the Alabama Legislature underfunded the greatly inadequate budget by $250 million resulting in the sum of $1,637,643,643. This amounts to just $337.73 per citizen. We could not bear the pain of raising the revenue to fix the problem. This depleted budget would have caused pain to every Alabamian, hitting some much worse than others. The governor vetoed this proposed budget. That’s why we are back in a Special Session of the Alabama Legislature. We are perpetually caught in bad tooth syndrome.

  Alabama has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. The lower we are on the economic totem pole, the higher we are taxed. We are one of two states in the country that demands the full sales tax on food. On the other hand, there are all kinds of breaks for those who are well off. The state income tax rate is 5 percent across the board for individuals and 6 percent for corporations. However, both can deduct federal income taxes and FICA from their state taxes. We are one of the few states to allow these deductions. There are many other exemptions and deductions that favor the well-off. Therefore, the effective rate is very low for those with big incomes and very high for those with lower incomes. This ultimately results in pain for Alabama citizens over and over again. We are perpetually caught in the bad tooth syndrome.

  There are 34,942 corporations that file income tax returns in Alabama. 23,747 or 68 percent pay no taxes whatsoever. 11,175 or 32 percent pay some taxes and most of these pay at low rates. That amounts to a few carrying the whole load which ultimately results in pain for every Alabamian. The pain comes when we cannot provide adequate basic government services. The pain keeps getting worse because we are not willing to suffer intense pain for a short time so we can be pain free for years to come. We just don’t have the fortitude to fix the problem, so we fake fix it. We are perpetually caught in the bad tooth syndrome.

  Alabama collects the full sales tax on food and half the sales tax on automobiles. Milk for babies is fully taxed whereas feed for calves has no sales tax whatsoever. This dichotomy plays itself out again and again. That’s why we are in pain over and over again. And we don’t have the fortitude to fix the problem. That’s why we are perpetually caught in the bad tooth syndrome.

  Some have pledged not to raise taxes no matter what. It is like saying, “No matter how bad the pain gets, we will not pull the bad tooth. We will just suffer the pain again and again.” In reality, the pain only gets worse. The whole mouth becomes infected. Then the whole body becomes infected. Those of us with the bad tooth syndrome never seem to learn. We just suffer and suffer. We are perpetually caught in the bad tooth syndrome.

EPILOGUE – Fear is a powerful thing. Fear makes us do things we should not do. Fear prevents us from doing things that we ought to do. Fear is powerful. Fear of pain, whether physical, emotional or psychological, is very powerful. Too often it causes us to be perpetually caught in the bad tooth syndrome.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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