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AFA Newsroom [EVP Column] [08/15/2012]
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From The EVP: Reform... If not Now, When? 
“Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress.  If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption.  If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature…”
These words, spoken by US Representative James Garfield just 4 years prior to his election as President, are as true today as in the 19th century.  Although spoken in reference to Congress, this principle of public responsibility for the character and quality of our government is applicable at every level, including state and local.

Although our role as citizens begins at the voting booth, it doesn’t end there.  It’s not enough to elect “the right people”.  Instead, we must remain part of the process as those leaders develop “the right solutions” and “the right plans” to ensure our nation, state, counties and cities continue to prosper.

In Alabama’s Legislature, we have two leaders who I would argue are among the best in the nation.  House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh are visionary leaders who are largely responsible for the first pro-business, conservative Legislature in 136 years.

Since assuming leadership of the Legislature, these two leaders have made great progress in putting Alabama on a path to a prosperous future.  However, and I think they both would agree, there is much work that remains.  Although they have made strides toward reforming state government in Alabama, much of the difficult reform lies ahead. 

Following the 2003 defeat of Amendment 1, a coalition was formed to address state government reform as a means to address state budget shortfalls.  Based on much of that work, the Alabama Forestry Association’s Board of Directors adopted a position statement calling for the following five reform measures:

1. Base all future state budgets on prior year’s revenues rather than projections.
2. Control costs of the public employee’s health insurance. 
3. Control costs of public employees’ retirement plans.
4. Consolidate certain general fund agencies to eliminate redundancies and reduce administrative costs.
5. Make the state’s system of post-secondary education more efficient through consolidation of campuses, programs and degrees.

Since 2010, the Legislature has adopted measures leading to partial reform in a few of the listed areas, but much needed reform remains.

Some might ask, “Why is the Alabama Forestry Association concerned about these issues?  These are not ‘pine tree’ issues are they?”

To answer this question, you simply have to look back to 2003.  Governor Riley proposed what would have been the largest tax increase in Alabama history in order to close a $600 million budget gap.  At the time, AFA took the position, “Reform First”, then let’s see how much an efficient, effective state government costs and determine how to pay for it. 

Instead, the Governor and the Legislature took the opposite position, “Money First”, then we’ll talk reform.  Fortunately, 68% of Alabama voters agreed with us…Reform First!

Today we are faced with much the same situation.  We can either proactively push for fundamental reform or we can wait for the inevitable push to raise revenue.  Make no mistake…that push will come!  Without fundamental reform, the demands for funding of state government programs are unsustainable. 

So, what can you do?  To paraphrase James Garfield, “If we don’t see fundamental reform, it’s because we, the voters, don’t demand reform.”  This is our chance to participate in the process.  Contact your legislators and let them know – NOW is the time for fundamental reform!

As Always...Thanks For Your Support!

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