Or Tennessee fans.
By and large, Alabamians also aren’t crazy about gun-control advocates, the most liberal of Washington Democrats, or those who don’t know the difference between a .410 shotgun and a .38 Special.
The state mustn’t like poor people, either.
That’s the only explanation as to why Alabama treats the poor as if they have an offshore bank account hidden from revenuers. It can’t be because we think it’s fair fiscal policy.
There are all kinds of poor Alabamians: white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American, hard-working, indolent, industrious, educated, unlearned, young, old, disabled, married, divorced, widowed, gay, straight, bisexual and single. Poverty’s blanket covers all comers. It doesn’t discriminate.
Yet, Alabama treats those in and near poverty like they’re moral criminals. You can hear the authors of the state’s tax code saying, with a hint of meanness, “It’s your fault because you’re poor. Don’t blame us if you can’t pay your fair share of taxes. Don’t blame us if you’ve been given a raw deal. You just need to work harder, get a new job and quit blowing your money.”
As if it were that easy.
Like Crimson Tide football, Alabama’s tax crusade against the poor is legendary. It’s a well-worn story. That’s why when the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank, this week released another state-by-state study on tax policies, I wasn’t too eager to see why Alabama was essentially deemed the worst of the worst.
Old story, remember.
But the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report isn’t just another “Alabama needs a new tax code” screed. It is a full-on expose of how inhumanely Alabama treats those who have the least.
If you’re a Christian and follow the Scriptures’ call to help the least of these among us, this must give you pause.
If you believe wholeheartedly in fair government for all, this report is a must-read.
If you think the poor already get enough entitlements and don’t deserve anything more, well, you live in a different world than me.
In fairness, Alabama isn’t the only state that throttles its poorest residents; Illinois, Hawaii and Georgia aren’t choir boys, either. But throughout the center’s report — in virtually every ranking of states, list after list after list — Alabama is either No. 1 or No. 2 among the unfair.
Too many states tax two-parent families of four with annual incomes at the poverty line ($23,0180 for those families). Only two states charge tax bills larger than $340. Alabama charges those families $548, more than any other state.
The three-quarter mark of the poverty line for the working poor is $17,264. Five states hit two-parent families of four who earn $17K a year or less with income tax bills. Alabama topped that list.
Four states can’t resist taxing one-parent families of three who earn $17K or less with a tax bill. Guess who’s first?
This is where this argument habitually bogs down. The facts are third-grade simple: Alabama needs the revenue it collects from taxing the poor. Alabama’s General Fund is adrift in waves of debt. State services have been cut, state employees have been laid off, state departments have been reduced, trimmed and scaled back.
Tax revenue is the gold standard for state government.
Meanwhile, the politics that muck up this argument — that the rich and their lobbyists do not want to pay more than they do today — are unavoidable. The evil 1901 Constitution, written by Alabama’s rich and powerful so that they’d stay rich and powerful, has not been euthanized.
That leaves Alabama, tax-wise, as the worst among the worst. It refuses to join the enlightened world that graduates its tax scales so that low-income residents can eat, afford livable housing and pay for education.
Or, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it, “(B)eyond helping poor families to provide for work-related expenses and basic necessities, research increasingly makes clear that raising the after-tax incomes of such families can boost poor children’s chances of academic success and increase their earnings prospects as adults. This suggests that relieving poor families of state income taxes can help states cultivate the highly skilled work force they will need to succeed economically in the future.”
Alabama can’t revel in people’s suffering, can it? It’s unfathomable that Alabama doesn’t care if the poor are treated like miscreants. Alabama can right this obvious wrong.
We just have to decide to do it.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/Ptutor_Star.