Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Anniston (Alabama) Star on public safety:
Alabama and South Carolina are similar in many things — region (the South), population (4.7 million in South Carolina vs. 4.8 million in Alabama) and preferred brand of politics (deep-red Republican).
Ask South Carolina officials about the number of state troopers patrolling their roads and the answer is quick — about 700. And that figure, officials from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety hasten to add, is well below what's needed. "Our goal is to get back up to pre-recession numbers of about 967, which is where we were in 2008," Sherri Iacobelli, South Carolina DPS communications director, told The Star.
And what about Alabama State Troopers on patrol? The figure is about 300 officers, according to public safety officials in Alabama.
This week, officials from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency informed The Star that law-enforcers from other state agencies were drafted to patrol Alabama roads over the Thanksgiving holiday. That raised the number of officers on patrol to 404. That's better, but it's still 300 officers less than employed in South Carolina, which is smaller in land mass than Alabama.
Rick Davis, professor and head of the criminal justice department at Jacksonville State University, told The Star, "I've been amazed by how low our numbers are, compared to similar states."
Put simply, Alabama's political leadership is playing with fire. Gov. Robert Bentley and Statehouse leaders have overseen budgets that hollowed out state spending for essential services. Alabama's trooper shortage is a prime example of how thoughtless budget-cutting can damage public safety. Said differently: How much do we really save by having fewer law-enforcers on the streets?
We notice that when Gov. Bentley brags about cutting $1 billion from state spending, he never mentions the toll those cuts take. Fewer troopers to keep law and order on Alabama roads is too high a price to pay
Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:
U.S. and NATO forces recently held ceremonies to close their operational headquarters in Afghanistan. But that doesn't mean the war is now over.
That's supposed to mean that American troops are now there more for advice and training than to initiate combat operations. President Barack Obama promised to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, and that's what he still intends to do.
But perhaps Obama has learned from his experience in Iraq. Because despite his desire to withdraw, he's left just a little more wiggle room this time. Troops have more latitude to engage than was originally envisioned.
Obama discarded good advice and stuck to a schedule to withdraw from Iraq. Three years later, the country is now more chaotic than ever, and attacks by the Islamic State caused the situation in Iraq to deteriorate to the point where it took American intervention in the form of airstrikes to stabilize the situation. Now, a protracted struggle with a determined enemy is expected.
The president's supporters argue that it didn't matter how long American troops stayed in Iraq. Systemic corruption that is part of Iraqi military culture would prevent Iraq's army from ever becoming a competent fighting and security force.
The fact that deep-seated corruption played a tremendous part in the Iraqi army disintegrating before inferior numbers can't be denied. The same argument can probably be made in Afghanistan as well.
Once disingenuously sold as the "good war" by those most vocally opposed to fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan has soured, too. Insurgency there and in the Middle East always seems more likely to mutate than wither and die.
President Obama cannot be blamed for the war. He has opposed it and made no secret about that. But he would also be wise to accept reality. He proved that he can and will when he relented on his campaign promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. It was a great promise to a war-weary country but not as attractive in practice.
Departing just because you want to and letting your enemies know when you are going to leave can only lead to disasters like the Islamic state's inroads in Syria and Iraq. U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan when the United States achieves its national security objectives.
Once considered so remote as to not even be newsworthy, Afghanistan became the base for those who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. It could be again, too. Today, no country is too distant or remote to pose a threat. That is why we must also demonstrate that no country is so distant or remote that it can hide U.S. enemies.
Everyone would like the war to be over. But wishing for it won't make it happen. Leaving and coming back is much more difficult and costly than finishing the job.
Decatur (Alabama) Daily on lawmakers fixing finances:
Legislators have some difficult decisions to make come March about how to fund state government. A shortfall of at least $265 million is projected for the General Fund for the 2016 budget year, which begins Oct. 1, 2015. How to fill the gap is undecided.
Some lawmakers are talking about closing deduction loopholes on tax forms as one means to reduce the funding gap. Among the deductions that could be eliminated are those for federal income taxes and for retirement income earned under a structured plan, such as those provided to retired teachers and state employees.
With Republicans holding supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, and Republican Gov. Robert Bentley fresh off winning a second term, the "no new taxes" party finds itself in a difficult position. Even though the economy is recovering from the Great Recession, Alabama's tax revenue is lagging because of the poor way in which it is structured. Alabama is also one of only two states with separate budgets for education and other state services.
Lawmakers can't expect to close the budget gap by closing loopholes. Certainly, that will help and instill greater fairness in the tax code. But the state's funding problems are simply too big to not consider raising taxes.
Alabama's property taxes are the lowest in the nation. It's time some changes were made to reflect reality. Property values tend to remain relatively stable during economic downturns, making budget writing a little easier when times are tough.
Income taxes in Alabama are a curiously mixed bag. Though the threshold for the working poor was raised a few years ago, they, along with the middle class, pay inordinate shares of the income tax, while the wealthy can take advantage of numerous deductions. Corporations are especially adept at tax avoidance, which should not be tolerated.
The General Fund is not the only budget concern lawmakers will face. The state school board is seeking increases across the board for schools from K-12 to four-year colleges. Then, there is the prison system, which faces a federal government takeover if crowding is not eased and inmate safety improved.
More money is needed for the Medicaid program. For every dollar the state provides, the federal government provides almost $3.
Our Republican lawmakers should remember that even their most venerated president, Ronald Reagan, raised taxes when he was in office because it was the responsible thing to do.