Steven Taylor has more on the issue, quoting a Montgomery Advertiser editorial which, in turn, quotes a Norfolk Virginian-Pilot editorial arguing the virtues of high taxes and warning anti-tax Virginians of becoming “like Alabama.”

“Alabama currently spends less per child on education than any state in the nation. It has 28,000 prisoners squeezed into prisons designed for 12,000…. Some nights thousands of miles of roadway are monitored by a half-dozen (state police) officers. It has a tax structure that … imposes an effective tax rate of 3 percent on Alabama’s wealthiest citizens and 12 percent on its poorest residents. A family of four subsisting on $4,600 a year has to pay income taxes, but out-of-state timber companies get by paying only $1.25 an acre in property taxes.”

The editorial goes on to lament that, despite the state’s problems, these national anti-tax groups are opposing the tax increase here anyway.

“For them, the Alabama experience suggests, there is no bottom line, no point at which shoddy schools or overcrowded prisons or unsafe highways outweigh the desire to keep taxes low. Fiftieth in spending among the 50 states isn’t low enough.”

While I agree with the substance of the argument, the specifics are a bit dubious.

  • SOMEBODY has to be #50 in spending. And, of course, one would expect Alabama to be among the lowest spending states since it’s one of the poorest. Plus, a large percentage of education spending is devoted to salaries and, given a lower cost of living, lower salaries naturally follow.
  • They’d love to charge out-of-state timber companies more but can’t without an identical increase on in-state companies. That pesky Constitution and all.
  • Alabama’s highways are terrifically well maintained. Indeed, they’re a lot better than those in, say, Virginia. (Partly, this is a function of weather and population density). Nor is there any evidence provided that they comparatively unsafe. It’s not surprising that a state with 4.3 million residents over a fairly large geographic area would have few state troopers patrolling the roads when people are asleep.

Riley’s tax restructuring plan sounds like a good idea–although I haven’t studied the issue all that closely since it no longer impacts me directly–and I’d probably vote for it if I still lived there. I agree with the editorial’s position that being reflexively anti-tax is a bad thing. But citizens can only be taxed so much. Citizens in very poor states aren’t going to be able to contribute the same dollar amount as those in wealthier states.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Don Young says:

    Interesting how some arguments are not making the press. Everyone here looks at the money GA spends on education in the lottery, but a GA news station reported last week that their state had the lowest SAT scores in the nation. Apparently the money thrown at the school system is not making students smarter. This has not made the AL news yet. I’m all for better education, but I have yet to see where more money is the answer.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Certainly an issue. If you hire the same caliber people to teach school, it’s not going to help if we pay them more.

  3. Biff says:

    If you hire the same caliber people to teach school, it’s not going to help if we pay them more.

    Actually, it might. In low-paid service jobs (which, unfortunately, teaching IS in this country), people do tend to work harder when they see themselves as being valued more. Performance-based salary increases can be effective in improving productivity.

  4. Paul says:


    I’ve heard that for 30 years and the kids still can’t do math.


  5. Biff says:

    I’ve heard that for 30 years and the kids still can’t do math.

    I’m not sure if that was supposed to be an argument…

    I’m a teacher, and I see this effect in myself and my colleagues every day.

  6. mark says:

    Having lived in Alabama for 15 years (I now live in Virginia), the plan will go down, and go down hard for one reason – people do not trust politicians with their money. A few years ago, the voters in Mobile County passed an increase in local property taxes. The city council, school board, and others said it was absolutely necessary to do so, and warned of dire consequences if the plan did not pass. So, what happens? The tax plan passes and the money is spend renovating the administration building, hiring assistants to the superintendent, and other dumb things. Nothing of substance was done to improve education. The people were shafted then, and they are not in the mood to be shafted again on the state level.