Allow me to indulge my own odd-numbered anniversary. The beginning of this month marked the ninth year I’ve worked at The Anniston Star.
Much has changed since Dec. 1, 2003. At the same time, much has stayed the same. That’s not necessarily bad so long as the right changes are happening.
When first looking around town, we relied on a map that showed a road heading north from Leon Smith Parkway straight into the former Fort McClellan. We tried but failed to drive that road once. Turns out it was more aspirational than actual. The Eastern Parkway was not yet born. Just a little more money and a little more work and we’d get there.
Nine years later, we are closer to completion. A traveler can now drive halfway up the parkway and then take a winding detour through McClellan.
As The Star’s latest update on the project noted, a completion date is difficult to nail down. The parkway is littered with the roadkill of missed deadlines, misspent dollars and numerous disappointments.
Nine years ago, completion of the parkway was seen as important for McClellan’s growth. The U.S. Army had just left and the region was trying to figure out the best use for the former fort’s 18,000 acres. The property seemed ripe for vast economic development. Imagine a research park where next-generation electronics were developed and manufactured.
The good news is that McClellan is in far better shape than in 2003 when its development board appeared to be in slow motion. With coherent and stable leadership at the helm, McClellan is poised to fulfill its promise. Already we’ve seen enhancements that make the area a quality place to live, play and work.
However, like the parkway, despite all the hard work, smart plans and big dreams, we apparently still need to exercise patience.
Speaking of times that try our patience, in late 2003, many Alabama reformers were reeling from the stunning defeat of Gov. Bob Riley’s Amendment 1, the proposal to reform the state’s upside-down tax system that asks so much from those with the least. In September 2003, the effort failed, losing by a 2-to-1 margin.
Nine years ago in the aftermath of the vote for a regressive status quo, much of Montgomery was pledging a new day. Accountability was the buzzword. The voters had rejected Amendment 1, the thinking went, because residents don’t trust Alabama politicians with their money.
A new day would dawn by the end of the 2004 legislative session and succeeding sessions. Better ethics laws would be passed. Smarter budgeting processes would be installed. Honesty would rule the day instead of backroom dealing. In short, Montgomery would win the trust of the people and in the process correct its budgetary flaws.
How’d that work out? Well, in September 2012 another governor brought forth another Amendment 1. This one did nothing to improve an inefficient and starkly unfair tax code. Instead, it asked voters to approve the raiding of a state trust fund to the tune of $437 million over three years. Without the lifting of the trust fund dollars, the 2013 General Fund budget wouldn’t have enough to cover funding of courts, prisons and Medicaid. The words “give us the money or else” might as well have been stamped on the ballot.
The successful vote was a victory for Gov. Robert Bentley. He and the Legislature found a way to forestall deeper budget cuts without asking more of taxpayers.
However, the scoreboard that stretches back nine years shows a more depressing result. The tax reforms that a coalition of advocates for the poor, faith leaders and business titans called for are still not here. No matter how you’re scoring, it seems Alabamians still don’t trust the politicians they put in office.
Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @EditorBobDavis.