One of the great myths in Alabama is that taxes are low.
No question, total tax revenue is low. We live in a state that is quick to throw people in prison, but is unwilling to maintain them at constitutional levels. Alabama has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation but one of the skimpiest safety nets. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in the United States — in fact, are close to those of third-world countries — yet we invest little in prenatal care. We have low literacy rates but begrudge investments in education.
Our embarrassing lack of investment in desperately needed programs is a result of refusing to impose reasonable taxes on those who flourish.
Instead, Alabama extracts every possible dollar from those who can least afford it.
A study released last week by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy confirmed the success of those who wield political power in Montgomery. Low- and middle-income Alabamians pay more than twice as much of their incomes in state and local taxes as the state's richest households. Alabama's regressive tax policy made the institute's "Terrible Ten" list.
The bottom fifth of Alabama earners make less than $16,000 a year, yet they pay 10.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes. The middle fifth pay 9.6 percent.
The low-tax myth in Alabama is accurate only for the wealthy. The top 1 percent of the state's earners pull in an average of $900,400 a year but pay only 3.8 percent of their income in state and local taxes.
Last week, state officials lamented that once again, revenue would be insufficient to meet the state's already skeletal obligations.
Teachers likely will go without a cost-of-living raise for the fifth year in a row. More infants will die unnecessarily. More people with diabetes, lacking access to health care, will succumb to cardiovascular complications.
Whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans, Montgomery has remained beholden to those who place their own profit above all else.
The state's refusal to invest in programs that would increase opportunity for an impoverished population is the result not of a lack of funds, but of a lack of political courage.
Alabama's tax system is skewed to favor the wealthy, and the results are tragic. It is time for voters to tell politicians they are tired of a political system that caters not to the majority but to the elite.
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