This is an eye-opening piece on the oppressive tax and legal system in the state where I now live. Much of it I have seen and there are things in the piece that confirm my suspicions.
While almost every state in the country, both red and blue, levies fines and fees that fall disproportionately on the bottom rung of the income ladder, the situation in Alabama is far more dramatic, thanks to the peculiarities of its Constitution. Over a century ago, wealthy landowners and businessmen rewrote the Constitution to cap taxes permanently. As a result, today, Alabama has one of the cruelest tax systems in the country.
So many moving from the north, as we did, love the low property taxes and understand so little as to WHY that came about, or why everything else is taxed at unbelievably high rates.
School systems suffer because of designed low funding:
During the 20th century, some public schools began asking students for recommended donations, or what might amount to tuition. They also asked parents to donate books, toilet paper and other supplies. Many school districts had no school buses. Most places have a simple and effective method for quickly ameliorating these problems: They raise property or income taxes. But Alabama often refuses to do so or makes it exceptionally difficult, dooming many to living standards unthinkable for a country as rich as the United States.
There is no local control over school district funding. It is STATE controlled (in a state that viciously attacks any federal “central” control). Want to raise money for your local school budget? Go through Montgomery. It’s oppressive.
State power was centralized in the central region where cotton plantations used to rule the economy. These were the power brokers who rewrote the Constitution in the midst of Reconstruction and the stated goal was to ensure whites would stay in power. That constitution is the longest governing document on the planet and it is still full of white supremacist language.
People like Knox (head of the state constitution rewrite) weren’t just racist; they were virulently classist, too, and hoped to exclude all poor people from the political process. The result of the 1901 Constitution was the mass disenfranchisement and subjugation of poor people — white and Black. The Constitution established the basis for a literacy test, a poll tax and stringent residency requirements. By 1943, according to the Alabama Policy Institute, an estimated 520,000 Black people and 600,000 white people had been disqualified from voting by different aspects of the 1901 Constitution. “In most counties more whites were disenfranchised than registered,” the historian Wayne Flynt writes in his authoritative book “Alabama in the Twentieth Century,” “limiting the vote to a select elite.”
And for a state that is so prideful on “being local,” much of the ownership of the land is out of state.
As a result, according to Conner Bailey, a professor emeritus of rural sociology at Auburn University, the social structure in Alabama is highly unequal, even today. Over 60 percent of the land in the Black Belt is owned by people who don’t live there. A few wealthy families and corporations own the land, pay little tax and profit off agriculture, all while roughly a quarter of residents live below the poverty line. This social and economic structure is one reason Mr. Bailey calls Alabama an “internal colony,” a place where wealth and resources are continually extracted by people elsewhere.
There is so much more in this piece that is worth digesting. It comes as a shock over and over to conservative whites that systems may be unjust, which allows states like this to form laws that set up systems that are indeed oppressive.