How to advance our vision for Alabama’s next century
By Chris Sanders, communications director
What kind of future do we want for Alabama? It’s a question worth reflecting on as our state enters its third century this year. Are we all right with limiting power and prosperity to a select few? Or would we rather build a state where everyone has a voice and where people of all races, genders and incomes have a real chance to get ahead?
Alabama Arise believes in justice and opportunity for all, and our policy priorities flow from that vision. It’s why we support expanding Medicaid for Alabamians who can’t afford coverage. It’s why we want to rebalance an upside-down tax system that taxes struggling families deeper into poverty. And it’s why we urge stronger investments in education, housing, public transportation and other services that improve quality of life and promote economic opportunity.
We expect lots of infrastructure talk at the Legislature this year. The regular session starts Tuesday, but lawmakers may move quickly into a special session on the gas tax. Gov. Kay Ivey has asked legislators to increase the state’s 18-cent gas tax by 10 cents over three years. That money would fund road and bridge maintenance and other infrastructure improvements.
Many of Alabama’s deteriorating roads are overdue for repair. But the definition of “public infrastructure” goes far beyond tar and gravel. Education, health care and public transportation also help lay the foundation for shared prosperity. This session could bring chances to strengthen those investments – and to make the tax system that funds them more progressive.
Hope on grocery tax, Medicaid expansion
One key breakthrough could be on a longtime Arise priority: ending the state grocery tax. We came heartbreakingly close in 2008, when a bill to untax groceries passed the House and fell one vote short in the Senate. But Arise members never gave up the advocacy fight. Now legislators face renewed pressure to end or cut the state’s 4 percent sales tax on groceries. (Some conservative lawmakers are urging a grocery tax reduction to accompany a gas tax increase.) Alabama is one of only three states with no tax break on groceries. It’s a highly regressive tax on a basic necessity, hitting hardest on people who struggle to make ends meet.
Pressure also is building for Alabama to expand Medicaid to cover more than 340,000 adults with low incomes. Medicaid expansion would save hundreds of lives annually and create a healthier, more productive workforce. It also would help save rural hospitals, support thousands of jobs and pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the economy.
Our work for a brighter, more inclusive future won’t end there. We’ll keep pushing for stronger consumer protections against high-cost payday loans. We’ll make the case for the state to fund public transportation and remove barriers to voter registration. And we’ll continue seeking an end to injustices in Alabama’s civil asset forfeiture and death penalty systems. Visit our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on these issues throughout the year.