Today the Alabama House of Representatives holds floor debate on the grocery tax bill. That’s H.B. 116, John Knight’s bill to eliminate the state portion of sales tax on groceries, making up the difference by eliminating a state income tax deduction that benefits those who pay a high federal income tax rate. In other words, it takes from the rich to give to the poor, which means that despite the bill’s popularity and good fiscal sense (reducing the state’s over-reliance on excise taxes), its passage is by no means assured.
Also today, the board of trustees responsible for the PACT program (Prepaid Affordable College Tuition, discussed earlier) are meeting to determine just how badly they miscalculated by betting on the stock market. The trustees’ decision on whether to honor their implicit commitment to PACT contract holders will be momentous, and they may be unable to do anything more than postpone it.
The PACT program has no good options. To meet its obligations to contract holders, it will have to raid other areas of the strapped state budget, assuming the Legislature cooperates. But the worst option would be for trustees to wriggle out of their obligations to PACT contract holders by lawyering the contracts to death. Besides inviting lawsuits, that stand will effectively bar a large number of young Alabamians from college. It will also send a message to the public that when the State of Alabama says it will do something, that doesn’t mean it will do it.
When Lenora Pate ran for governor, she quipped that if Missouri is the “Show-Me” State, then Alabama must be the “Make-Me” State. The government here has an amazing capacity for failing to do the things Americans expect of state governments as a matter of course. It even falls down in its constitutional duties — until a federal court steps in and forces the state, after lengthy litigation, to comply with federal law.
The state motto, Audemus jura nostra defendere, is usually translated “We dare defend our rights.” In light of Ms. Pate’s comment, I’ve wondered whether a more idiomatic translation might be “Bet you can’t make us.”
(P.S. John Archibald has proposed that the state Capitol adopt a different motto: Caveat emptor.)