History and Facts
Alabama’s 1901 Constitution stands as the longest Constitution in the world, with over 800 amendments. It is 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution. Only 70% of the Constitutions content pertains to single city or county issues, meaning only 30% applies to the whole state.
The tax structure is embedded in the document, making Alabama’s taxation a Constitutional issue. The regressive system of taxation in Alabama depends heavily upon the sales tax and much less on property and income taxes. Middle and low income Alabamians bear the burden. A family of four earning $12,601 must begin paying income tax on its earnings. This is one of the lowest thresholds in the nation.
The Constitution was written only by white men. John Knox, president of the 1901 Convention stated, “If we shall have white supremacy, we must do it by law.” The document was created to keep powerful, white men in control of the law. The document inevitably affects everyone. For example:
- Counties cannot stop a rock quarry, landfill or hog farm from coming next door to homes of residents because counties do not have zoning powers.
- It prevents any state money from helping set up public transit so locals will be able to get to work, job training or send their children to school.
- It includes a system of school taxes that keep local school unsure of funding every year.
- It includes racist language and intent throughout.
- It stands in the way of bringing new business to the state.
In 2004, an effort by the city of Trussville to establish a school system that spanned more than one county required approval of the state legislature and a state-wide vote according to the Constitution. Although the majority of Trussville residents voted for the bill to pass, the majority of the state voted against it, illustrating the lack of local government control in Alabama.
How Can We Change This?
1. Article by article: The Legislature can approve a bill that rewrites one of the Articles and then gives it to the voters to approve. If passed, it will be yet another constitutional amendment. The Legislature has changed only one Article in 110 years.
2. Have a Constitutional Convention: The Legislature can approve a bill that will call for a constitutional convention. Then the people can vote to approve that bill and elect citizens to write a new constitution. The people must approve or reject the new constitution or parts of it.
Who Would Write the New Constitution?
A bill calling for a citizen’s convention to write a new constitution for Alabama would provide for a non-partisan election of citizens to be delegates. The bill may allow voters to elect citizen delegates from their House or Senate District. These may be community and business leaders, teachers, scholars, ministers, doctors. They could not accept donations of more than $100 per donor and no money from PACs. They would write a new constitution and submit it to the voters for approval in part or in total form.
How about article by article?
Citizens and constitutional scholars would work with legislatures to write legislation to change one or more Articles. For example, they might write an amendment that would allow local control of counties. This would allow counties to carry out the needs of their citizens instead of requiring permission from the Legislature for amendments and then permission from a statewide vote of citizens who do not live in their county.
What reform effort do we have now?
We have a new Constitutional Revision Commission established in 2011 that is working on revising 11 of the 18 Articles in the Alabama Constitution. If they succeed, there will be reform of many aspects of the Constitution and hopefully, many of the 855 constitutional amendments will become state statute. Any recommendations they make must be approved by the legislators and then the people in a statewide vote.
The most important thing you can do is to contact your state legislators and tell them you want them to vote to allow the citizens to vote for legislation that will allow for constitutional reform. Go and talk with your legislator or send letters or emails. Ask others to do the same. Form groups in your district, get involved and recruit others.
Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform
P.O. Box 10746
Birmingham, Alabama 35202