Tuesday, March 18, 2008
On this day:

New federal lawsuit seeks to force Alabama to raise taxes

Liberals have been trying for years and years to persuade Alabamians to raise property taxes, and so far they haven't met with much success. The chief barrier has been our much-derided state constitution. In order to increase property taxes or income taxes in Alabama, the constitution has to be amended, a process which requires a 3/5 vote in both houses of the legislature and subsequent ratification by a majority of voters via public referendum - held either locally or statewide, depending on the scope of the proposed increase.

Having been unable to achieve their dreams of higher taxes and bigger government at the ballot box, the would-be tax-raisers now seek to gain through court order what they've been unable to achieve at the ballot box. The Birmingham News reports:

A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of some Lawrence and Sumter county public school students challenges the state's property tax system, contending property-tax revenues do not sufficiently fund K-12 schools and that disproportionately hurts black students.

Jim Blacksher, a plaintiffs' attorney, said Monday the suit, if successful, would force Alabama to confront tax reform, not just in property taxes, but across the board. It seeks class-action status.

The suit, filed Friday in northern Alabama's federal court, contends the way schools are funded, rooted in racially discriminatory property tax restrictions in the state's 1901 constitution, forces local governments to raise school revenues primarily through regressive sales taxes.

Essentially, the plaintiffs are asking a federal court to force Alabama to restructure its tax code in a manner that would violate its own state constitution. There are some big problems with that.

Determining the level of taxation is an inherently political decision that is rightfully vested in the legislative branch of government - that branch which represents the people and which is responsible for making public policy. This is a function that the judiciary is neither authorized nor competent to perform. Our nation's founders were so committed to this principle of "no taxation without representation" that they fought a war over it.

Furthermore, the idea that the federal judiciary has the authority to do what the plaintiffs are asking it to do is a direct affront to federalism. Alabama's tax code may not be fair. It may even need a complete overhaul. Still, these are political questions that should be addressed by the people of Alabama and their elected representatives.

The good news is that this lawsuit stands little chance of success, but it's a useful reminder of just how far some people are willing to go to force their fellow citizens to send more money to Montgomery. It also illustrates the importance of having a Governor and Attorney General who understand that - in this case at least - the defense of state taxpayers coincides nicely with the defense of constitutional principle. I think it's safe to say that we are much better off having Riley and King in those two offices today than their respective opponents in the 2006 election: Democrats Baxley and Tyson.