By Quin Hillyer, a Mobile-based Contributing Editor for National Review Online. His new novel, Mad Jones, Heretic, is available now at

Reformers in Alabama never seem to win, but that shouldn’t stop legislators from considering their ideas.

That’s what state Sen. Trip Pittman is doing Feb. 28 as the Senate General Fund budget committee he chairs is tentatively scheduled to consider his bill to modify the practice of “earmarking” specific state revenues for certain, restricted purposes.

It’s an essential idea for the long-term fiscal health of state government – and while Pittman’s specifics could use some revision, his colleagues should support the main thrust of his valiant, commonsensical efforts.

In Alabama, to “earmark” a revenue stream is to dedicate it specifically to just one use. For example, revenue generated by the state personal income tax can be used “for the payment of public school teachers’ salaries only.”

This makes some sense: Voters want their taxes to go to favored purposes, not wasted. This restrains legislators from going hog wild in spending the money.

The problem is, Alabama constitutionally or statutorily earmarks a whopping 93 percent of its revenue sources – an incredible 30 points higher than the next highest state. This means that as economic factors shift, legislators have almost no leeway to shift state spending accordingly.

Think of it this way: What if you and your spouse, who both work, divide spending responsibilities so that one always pays the mortgage and the other pays for groceries, gas, and the car note. Now imagine this arrangement being somehow mandated by law. Now imagine that your spouse wrecks the car and breaks a leg, and can’t work or buy groceries or a new car, for months. You, though, see good fortune: Interest rates drop, and you can refinance the mortgage for lower costs, thus using the savings for your family’s groceries and transportation.

Sorry! You can’t. Your salary is earmarked by law only for the house note. You’re not allowed to buy the groceries, period.

That’s how Alabama’s government is restricted….

[The full column is here.]




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