However, Alabama fell from that lofty perch in fiscal 2008. The state’s place was taken by South Carolina, which collected a U.S.-low $2,923 per person that year, Census Bureau data shows.
What gave the Palmetto State the edge was the same thing that affected all states in recent years, the Birmingham News recently reported. The Great Recession hit South Carolina harder before it hit Alabama, and that state’s tax collections fell accordingly. If things keep going as they are, Alabama may reclaim its top spot with the fiscal 2009 tally.
Nevertheless, the irony of this situation should be obvious.
Many Alabamians complain of what they consider the state’s oppressive tax burden, yet Alabamians pay more than $1,000 less a year in taxes than the national median. Their tax burden is also more than $11,000 less than that of residents of Alaska, America’s most-taxed state.
There are those who say that Alabamians may pay less than others, but they still pay too much for what they get in return. That depends on what one expects to get for so little.
However, a look at what the state delivers on such a tight budget suggests that cash-starved agencies are doing much with the resources they receive. How much more could they do with additional funding?
Of course, there are Alabamians who would rather have mediocre schools, health care, public safety and the like if better means higher taxes.
There also is the argument that low taxes attract industries, though advocates of this idea are hard-pressed to find an industry that came to the state for that reason alone. Businesses settle in a state because of location, infrastructure incentives and a cheap and trainable labor force. Alabama has been more than wiling to give them what they want.
Even if taxes were higher, industries would come if the state provided the rest.
The point that seems to always disappear in the rhetoric over low taxes and adequate services is the fact that some Alabamians are overtaxed — even though the state’s overall tax burden is low.
Because of Alabama’s heavy reliance on regressive sales taxes, the poor, unemployed, under-employed and others struggling to make ends meet pay more in taxes than common decency requires. Over the years, those in the higher income brackets have successfully convinced the over-taxed that the under-taxed are struggling under a similar burden — when they aren’t.
Thus, what’s left is the most troubling irony of all.
When it comes to taxes, the ones who bear the heaviest burden sympathize with those who bear the least, while those who bear the least show little sympathy for the plight of the less fortunate.
As long as those benefiting from this situation can continue this deception, Alabama will remain the way it is. And Alabamians will continue to believe that this state is too poor and overtaxed to do any better.