‘One Hit Wonders’ doesn’t have note of reality

Published 9:47 pm Monday, November 30, 2009

The term “one hit wonder” is used for somebody who only had one song that ever caught on. Musicians with just the one hit often sing it over and over again, trying to relight the magic when the public first listened.

Sounds like some of our 2010 gubernatorial candidates.

The one hit wonder every Alabamian should get ready for is the “cut taxes” song, and its sound alike cousin the “lower taxes” tune. While you’re reading some of the opinion pieces and statements from the candidates, the same song keeps popping up, the same tired melody of “tumbling taxes ‘til there ain’t no more.”

As the campaigns heat up, you can be sure to hear these songs over and over as if they were the only tunes to be played. Again, if you have only one hit, what else can you play?

What they’ll neglect to sing are notes of reality that would sound a sour note in their giddy tune.

The first forgotten note is the fact that Alabama already has the lowest taxes in the nation. We collect less per capita than all other states in the country. The Legislature has worked hard to keep taxes as low as possible, while paying for things we must have like public safety, public health, and public schools.

Yet, the candidates know Alabama’s taxes are the lowest. They also know that because we collect the fewest taxes, we spend the fewest taxpayer dollars on state budgets. We do more with every penny of revenue than just about anybody else. Are there places where funds could do more? Sure. Yet, the refrain remains the same: we collect the least in taxes and get more out of each dollar.

For many, including some of the candidates, this doesn’t seem to be good enough, and they keep singing, “How low can you go?”

The problem with this tune is it neglects some very serious problems that have arisen during the recession. First, is that we are suffering back-to-back years of proration in the state school budget. If proration were a tune it would be a funeral dirge, with its low doom like procession harkening the death of many important education programs and efforts.

We haven’t had back-to-back years of proration for almost two decades, and we have never experienced a $1.4 billion cut like we have in the past two years. Everything from textbooks to technology has been slashed or eliminated. We have seen hundreds of teachers let go and newly instituted efforts like school nurses and teacher mentoring reduced to almost nothing.

For the past two years, the Legislature has wrung every savings possible out of the state school budget to make the reductions as orderly as possible and to do what we can to protect the classroom. Yet, when more than 18 percent of the budget is gone, you end up cutting some bone as well.

The funding squeeze has put an abrupt halt to things we know improve teaching and learning, like the expansion of the Alabama Math and Science Initiative, which is modeled after the very successful Reading Initiative.

So where do these blue notes fit into the lower taxes tune?

The fact is that they don’t.

The reason some had only one hit is that the public caught on to the fact that they had only temporary catchiness rather than lasting ideas. Or, it ended up that the hit was the limit of their talent and their ideas.

If the gubernatorial candidates don’t start finding real ideas to move Alabama forward, then they may not even get to have that one hit.