Become an 1819 Member
Finances are not my thing. I don’t like to touch budgets, investing, or the like with a 10-foot pole.
But in the spirit of being an informed and responsible citizen, I decided for my next self-education project I should seek to understand Alabama’s state budget. We all talk about hating taxes, and wanting to know where our money is going, but how many of us actually do the legwork to track our politicians?
Not many, especially among younger folks who may already struggle to manage their personal finances.
Well, I took the plunge into the migraine-inducing 503 page long State of Alabama Budget Report 2022. And let me tell you, I have problems. And questions. Lots of both.
Now, I’ve lived in Alabama for three wonderful years, but it wasn’t until recently that I gained a greater awareness of how Alabama’s budget is structured, and the two most glaring problems. Many of you probably already know this, but for the other young folks out there who may not, here goes:
That eases my guilt over being somewhat clueless about how the government is using my money - even legislators don’t know where all the money goes!
Actually, no, that makes me feel worse. How have we gotten to such an absurd place and why is no one willing to do anything? Several years ago API detailed a plan for how to reduce the amount of earmarked funds in Alabama’s budget to 25%. Yet, still, nothing has been done.
Are our leaders so weary from the current system that they’ve just run out of time and resources to tackle the big picture problems? Do they not want to rock the boat or, worse, do they personally benefit? I know we have some wonderful folks in the legislature, but I also wonder if we have to wait for an entire generation of leaders to die out of office before we can actually hit the reset button.
Can we really say Alabama is fiscally conservative? We have a higher percentage of earmarked funds in our budget than nearly any other state. What kind of example are we showing to the rest of the country, as we claim to be one of the most conservative states?
Twelve years ago we banned the earmarking of budgets at the federal level, a charge led by the GOP. Last year Biden undid this rule, but now conservatives are the ones benefiting the most. A report showed that Sen. Shelby was approved for the greatest amount of “congressionally directed spending” from Biden’s $1.5 trillion fiscal 2022 omnibus bill. These funds are for the defense budget, so that’s fine then? If it goes to the military, earmarking can slide, but if the funds go to Democrat plans, then it’s dangerous spending? Are Republicans just trying to snatch as many funds as possible while under a hostile Democrat administration?
This kind of inconsistent messaging hurts conservatives, especially young ones who are trying to establish a clear direction for how they want to vote, and which policies best guard their interests and America as a whole.
It makes it difficult for us to trust our leaders. We’ve been taught black and white concepts about fiscal responsibility, but we don’t see them put into action. We see bills that Alabamians support, like the grocery tax repeal, sitting in time-out. We’re left to wonder if our leaders are incompetent, liars, don’t care about what we want and need, or just don’t align with our beliefs like they’ve led us to think.
When Gov. Ivey was pushing the gas tax, she basically called Alabamians children for not wanting to pay for things we need. But why would we trust officials with our resources when they seem to have lost all common sense? The budgeting system already seemed insensible to me, but then I saw in the Budget Report that the Mental Health and Public Welfare Trust Funds have to receive money from the Education Fund. Why does money go to education, where it has to be parceled out to other areas of funding? Just send it where it needs to go from the start!
The conspiracy theorist side of my brain says that it’s all a plot to keep citizens uninformed. I spent hours trying to get a handle on the general organization and process of the state budget, and I’m still confused by the number of sources, the bills which seek additional funding, and the complication of federal funds like those from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Too many people mock younger generations who seem checked out, especially about more complex and specific political topics. After all, America’s political structure is reliant upon the idea that citizens will be informed and engaged. But the powers that be are too hard on us, and so are we. All that’s necessary to shut down the voices of the citizenry is to create such a bureaucratic mess, that the learning curve is prohibitive. Political gatekeeping? Of course, powerful people with their own agendas don’t want average people “getting in their way.” Lawyer-speak, bureaucratic mazes, and messy numbers act as the bouncer at the door, keeping out anyone who doesn’t have the education, time, or capacity to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes, let alone how to act.
And that’s the important part. It’s not enough to simply understand what’s going on - we have to be able to respond, change what needs to be changed, and solidify what works. If many young citizens are scrambling to simply attain a basic comprehension of state spending, we won’t be prepared when we gain an opening to enact fiscal responsibility, like this year, when we have a massive surplus in both our state budgets!
What a great time to repeal the grocery tax. But no, the legislature is much more interested in fighting over who will get the money from lotteries and gambling if they finally pass such a bill. With a record level of spending planned in this year’s budget, and a massive surplus of funds available, why does the government still want more of our money?
They collect millions from liquor sales, sin taxes, sales and income taxes, various fees, and even tobacco settlements. Gas tax revenue increases as prices rise at the pump, and Alabama has more federal money than legislators can spend. Yet they still want more of our money! Having access to only 7% of funds is not an excuse when it’s their responsibility to change systems that cause roadblocks.
Is it easier to agree on gaining more money than it is to decide how to use it, let alone to actually work together and do it? Is our disregard of conservative spending a symptom of the fact that many current Republicans were formerly Democrats?
Perhaps our leadership has lost sight of the entire point of a state budget - it’s to build up our society, and take us to a better place. If money is not accomplishing that end, what’s the point? If you could do something more effectively by collecting less money, why wouldn’t you do so - unless you’re clinging to power? Right now, you could build up Alabama at an individual and statewide level much more effectively by capping the gas tax than by grappling with gambling.
If our leaders won’t have our back in the good times, why would they do so in the bad times? Thank God it’s an election year. Perhaps it’s time to vote in some truly fiscal conservatives to lead us to a better future.
Caylah Coffeen is the host of Prayers For Life Radio in Huntsville, and a Millennial who speaks up for truth and a future as bright as the stars. . The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com