Perennially unable to balance the state budget without borrowing or blowing BP money, the GOP supermajority is, once again, eyeing Forever Wild. For years, legislators have schemed to get their hands on Forever Wild funds, even though Alabama citizens consistently support keeping the program as is: 75% of voters in 2012 supported funding it for another 20 years.
Here’s how this year’s Forever Wild cash grab would work:
Alabama’s popular Forever Wild land conservation program could be required to reimburse state and county governments for an estimated $3.6 million in lost property taxes — plus $500,000 every year going forward –– under a proposed measure in the Alabama Legislature.
The bill, HB 502, would require Forever Wild to “reimburse the amount of any ad valorem tax revenue lost as a result of property previously subject to ad valorem tax being acquired by the Forever Wild Land Trust.”
“DCNR is opposed to HB 502 and believes that it would negatively impact the Forever Wild Land Trust by creating a perpetual financial burden that will ultimately deplete funding for future acquisitions and shut down the program.”
This plan is more than just “pennywise and pound foolish.” Forever Wild offers a huge return on investment (PDF) for Alabama.
The Trust for Public Land conducted an economic analysis of the return on Alabama’s investment in land conservation through the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust Program, which funds land acquisition statewide, and found that every public $1 invested in land conservation returned $5 in natural goods and services to the state. In addition, land conservation funded by Alabama supports key industries that depend on the availability of high-quality protected land and water.
Killing Forever Wild would be as stupid a financial decision as refusing Medicaid expansion in the state, so legislators couldn’t possibly think it’s a good idea… oh wait.
Although it’s refreshing to see a Republican concerned about Alabama’s unequal and unfair property tax structure, Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) is shooting at the wrong target. Corporate Welfare payments cost state and local governments far more in property tax losses than Forever Wild ever will.
Let’s remember 2014, when the GOP gave a Chinese company $190 million in incentives to build a $100 million dollar plant. Those incentives included $8.5 million in property tax abatements.
Forever Wild isn’t the only public entity under scrutiny. Remember in 2014, the Decatur City Council tried to grab money allocated for the Limestone County School system in order to fund a $40 million corporate welfare package in Morgan County.
Dividing the total subsidies across the 1,500 plant workers, the bill comes to over $650,000 spent per job.
Why, it’s almost as much as BCBS executives make.
Alabama’s tax structure is weighted against poor and middle income taxpayers, but lavishly rewards upper income people and businesses:
The bottom 80 percent of taxpayers in Alabama, who earn up to $78,000 a year, pay more than twice the percentage of their incomes in state and local taxes than do the top 1 percent of income earners.
Susan Pace Hamill found that 71% of Alabama property is classed as timber but it pays about $1 per acre — less than 2% or property taxes.
Since taking over state government, the Republican supermajority has borrowed, spent, and lied about state finances.
- Instead of rebuilding the coast, we used BP money to shore up the budget.
- Instead of seriously addressing budget problems, we spent over $1 million on a special election to borrow money to balance the budget. A loan amount just large enough to get the state past the 2014 elections.
- Instead of investing in education and broadband infrastructure that would make Alabama attractive to high businesses, we allow roads and bridges to crumble, hospitals to close, and loot public education to offer private school “scholarships.”
Alabama can’t have nice things now, but voters can change this dynamic in 2018. Until then, contact your legislator and tell him/her to leave Forever Wild alone.