Students work with state organization for constitutional reform
The Plainsman, September 25, 2003
By Tiffany Gilland, staff writer

The Alabama Constitution has not changed since 1901, causing dissatisfaction among some state residents, including university students.

Auburn Students for Constitutional Reform is a new campus organization that was chartered last spring and is considered an official student affiliate of the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform.

The organization's main purpose is to inform students of the need to reform the Constitution and to promote an interest in Alabama government among students.

"I think bringing constitutional reform in Alabama to people's attention is necessary if the state wants to make progress in anything," ASCR vice president of communications Kellee Davis said.

"If someone is educated about the Alabama Constitution, then they know there's a need for a reform," ASCR vice president of membership, Brandon Costerison said.

Alabama's first Constitution was written after the American Revolution and was recognized as one of the nation's most democratic constitutions.

The 1901 revision was Alabama's sixth constitution, and it attempted to deny blacks and underprivileged whites the right to vote. Although many people opposed the ratification of this document, it was enacted.

The voting restrictions of this Constitution were eliminated by federal courts.

The Alabama Constitution has 742 amendments dealing with a variety of issues, which makes it almost 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution and 12 times longer than the typical state constitution.

The 1901 Constitution has also left Alabama's counties without local control because it focused power in the Legislature. About 70 percent of the constitutional amendments apply to a single county or city.

The total state and local tax burden in Alabama is the lowest in the nation, but these low taxes come at a high price. The state is struggling to fund matters such as education, infrastructure and public health.

Alabama ranked 44th in total education spending and 43rd in total revenue per student, according to a recent U.S. Census Report.

A 1995 report by the Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies showed Alabama behind by at least $1 billion in repairing dilapidated schools.

Alabama depends greatly on sales tax to make up for the low property taxes. This puts a burden on low-income citizens because they spend more of their income on food, clothing and other necessities.

According to one study, Alabamians making less than $15,000 a year pay 9 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while those making more than $100,000 pay about 7 percent.

"If you live in Alabama this affects you," Davis said. "If you don't live in Alabama, this still affects you, from your tuition to the sales tax you pay at Taco Bell."

The Alabama Constitution also requires extreme earmarking of state tax revenues.

The typical state earmarks about 20 percent of its revenues, while Alabama earmarks nearly 90 percent.

Because of this, the Constitution allows the governor and Legislature little flexibility.

"The Alabama state Constitution of 1901 unfortunately causes many problems for our state," ASCR president Jessica Eastman said.

The Constitution can be rewritten in two ways.

The Legislature could rewrite the Constitution one article at a time and submit each revision to the voters for approval, or they could vote to call a constitutional convention, composed of members from across the state, to write a new document.

Voters could then approve or reject the new Constitution in a statewide vote.

"We need a new Constitution that simply allows us to be the best Alabama that we can possibly be," ASCR chairman and Samford University president Dr. Thomas Corts said.

"Constitutional reform is a bipartisan issue," Davis said. "Our meetings are open to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Constitution and what we as students can do to help make changes in the state where we attend school."

For more information visit www.auburn.edu/ascr.

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