Huntsville, Alabama
August 4, 2003

Dear Fellow Republican,

Cathy Hansberry of Decatur has provided a suggested answer to the rhetorical question I asked in my last e-mail. There I gave voice to the question that has so puzzled so many of us: What could prominent Republicans that are supporting the Hubbert-Riley Tax Plan be thinking?

Ms. Hansberry has kindly given me permission to publish her letter, and I give it in full below.

The question is asked, "What could these people be thinking? (Bill Cabaniss, Winton Blount, Jim Martin, Twinkle Andress, Will Sellers, Spencer Bachus, Lt. Gov. Steve Windom). These people likely are thinking that Alabama faces a real crisis in state government, not only a verifiable shortfall of $675M, but also a need to streamline the way Alabama government is managed.

The Accountability/Tax Reform package is the best hope we have. It bans pass through pork, it streamlines the way state government and education will be managed-- thereby saving millions of dollars every year into the future. It provides an oversight commission to make sure any new tax dollars are spent for the purposes outlined in the bill. It solves the problem of court-ordered prison and mental health, Medicare initiatives. It assures Alabama will no longer be dead last in every statistical measure of well-being.

And for the first time, Alabama's tax system will be progressive, not regressive. Working poor families will no longer pay 12% upwards of their income in state taxes while higher earning families proportionately pay much less.

So, what could these people be thinking? They are thinking about the future excellence of Alabama. They are thinking about a better educational system and resulting better economic development for our state. I say their thinking is based on sound logic and a vision for a better Alabama.

Cathy Hansberry

I disagree with Cathy Hansberry on many of her points: I doubt that there is a genuine crisis in financing state government. The Plan does not ban pass-through pork. And the proposed oversight commission is a sham.

But I will not argue these points here. Instead I will focus on just one of her phrases: [The Plan] assures Alabama will no longer be dead last in every statistical measure of well-being.

How many times have I heard the illusion, in some words or others, of Alabama being "last"? But it's never just last, but always-- as here-- dead last. On the absolute bottom. Buried so deep it's verging on the very domain of hell. This fact, or if you don't mind my calling it that, alleged fact, is sure to figure in every tax debate.

I have had occasion, from time to time, to browse through various of these "statistical measures," and I cannot recall having seen where Alabama was last in anything, much less dead last. Might we have a quick look at a few of these measures?

In the matter of teachers salaries we are not last. In fact the average salary we pay our teachers is more than any of the four states that surround us save Georgia. Here, according to the NEA, are the average salaries for Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and Mississippi, respectively: $44,073, $39,268, $38,554, $35,719, and $32,800.

We are not last in what we spend per student per year. According to Bill Bennett's compilation in his book The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, Alabama spends more than Arizona, Louisiana, Idaho, Mississippi, Utah, or Arkansas. Incidentally North Dakota, which spends slightly less than five percent more than we do, was ranked number one in eighth-grade math according to the measure that Bennett used.

Regarding test scores, we certainly are not last. New Jersey and Washington DC, whose per pupil expenditures are at the top, are in the basement on test scores. I don't have readily at hand exactly where we are in the ranking, but if I am not mistaken our average SAT scores are about 55, the national average being 50. This means that we are ahead of a significant number of states on this measure.

Nor are we last in personal income. Alabama is not the poor state you often hear bemoaned. According to the Census Bureau, our per capita personal income is $25,128 per year. This is more than Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and West Virginia. Would anyone describe Utah or Montana as a "poor state"?

As you will doubtless have already understood, I am aiming nothing of criticism at Cathy Hansberry. She is the representative of a very large class of citizens who believe as she does, and I am merely using her letter as a motivation for these comments that I have made.

But here is a most curious question: From whence comes the erroneous information that our state is last? You and I may think that we are intelligent enough and perceptive enough such that we are impervious to the torrential propaganda from the media, but the truth is we are not. Many of us have fallen victim to their stories, repeated decade after decade.

And this begs the next question: Are there those who know better, but use false information to induce guilt in the electorate, thus to achieve their goal of increased taxes? I can't rule out such nefarious possibilities. Surely the erudite people who populate the media know the facts. Surely those who have been elected to office are schooled in the basics and understand the difference between truth and fiction. Or am I wrong on both counts?

In any event, don't let anyone talk you into voting for the Hubbert-Riley Tax Plan based on embarrassment at being "last."

Sincerely yours,

Hugh McInnish
Madison County, Place 1
State Executive Committee