COMMENTARY: STAUNCH RIVALS AGREE ON AMENDMENT ONE
By THOMAS MEREDITH and WILLIAM V. MUSE
On the gridiron, the fierce rivalry between Auburn and Alabama is legendary. But when it comes to sound, progressive public policy to benefit the citizens of our great state, we stand together on common ground.
Although we will take opposing sides next month for the Iron Bowl, on Nov. 7 we will be together in voting "yes" for Amendment One. We support this important constitutional amendment because it rises above partisan politics. Amendment One is about progress.
Our teammates in this initiative are Democrat and Republican, urban and rural, rich and poor. Amendment One has earned strong bipartisan support among Alabama legislators and carries the powerful endorsement of more than 40 business organizations and chambers of commerce. David Bronner, chief executive officer of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, says Amendment One is a sound, strategic and progressive investment policy. Attorney General Bill Pryor calls it "a safe investment for Alabama."
Why does Amendment One attract such broad support? Because it is good for all of Alabama. First, it provides a funding source for vital improvements that are essential if our state is to grow and prosper in this complex and competitive global economy. Second, Amendment One will make it possible for the Alabama Trust Funds to become stronger through a more progressive investment strategy. And, under Amendment One, the Alabama Trust Funds will be preserved and enhanced for generations to come.
Consider these diverse and far-reaching improvement projects that will become reality with the passage of Amendment One.
If you work in law enforcement or have been the victim of crime, you should vote "yes" on Amendment One. Today the backlog for DNA testing (which is critical for the prosecution of murder and rape cases) is 21 months. The delay is so long that Alabama's forensics science laboratories are in jeopardy of losing their accreditation. If that happens, such evidence won't be admissible in Alabama courts. If Amendment One is approved, the forensic laboratories will receive urgent upgrades. Otherwise, there are no dollars to pay for these improvements.
If you are a teacher or a parent whose child rides a school bus, you should vote "yes" on Amendment One. Every day buses must detour more than 17,000 miles to transport Alabama students to and from school because county bridges are structurally unsound and highly dangerous.
These extra miles cost the state nearly $40,000 a day - money that could go to improve education. If Amendment One passes, the state can issue $50 million in bonds to provide the local match for an additional $200 million in federal funds to fix these bridges. Without it? The general fund simply cannot afford these improvements.
If you are a farmer or depend on the agriculture and forestry industries, you should vote "yes" Nov. 7 on Amendment One. If the initiative is approved, $52 million in bonds will be used to build and improve animal diagnostic laboratories and research facilities at Auburn, Tuskegee and Alabama A&M. Without Amendment One, there are no dollars in the general fund to pay for these improvements.
And whether you cheer for the Tide or the Tigers, Amendment One will provide essential funding mechanisms for other urgently needed economic development projects, including major new initiatives at Alabama's public research universities. From our perspective, that is an unbeatable opportunity.
If Amendment One is approved, all of these necessary improvements will be accomplished without any additional taxes. The existing principal of the Alabama Trust Funds will not be touched. Only 28 percent of future oil and gas royalties that would otherwise flow to the funds would be used for these improvements. Instead of leveraging future royalties to buy bonds, they will pay for tangible assets like bridges, port facilities and research facilities that improve lives and generate additional economic activity for Alabama.
The remaining 72 percent of the royalties will continue to flow into the Trust Funds. Under the more productive investment strategy proposed in Amendment One, the funds will grow faster than under the current investment plan. Experts like Dr. Bronner say added growth from the new strategy will more than offset the portion transferred to pay for the development activities that will move our state forward.
If Amendment One is affirmed by Alabama voters on Nov. 7, the positive effects will sweep the entire state. From safer roads and bridges to modern ports, competitive agricultural technologies and economic development incentives, it is no wonder Amendment One is attracting strong support from even long-standing rivals.
Alabama is on a roll. We have great days ahead. But, to fully achieve our potential, we must take advantage of our opportunities and invest in our future. With that in mind, we ask you to go to the polls on Nov. 7 and, with the same enthusiasm with which you support your team, please support Amendment One.
(Meredith is chancellor of the University of Alabama System; Muse is president of Auburn University)