Have you seen the 1996 movie "Jerry Maguire?" It was technically billed as a romantic comedy-drama, but there were just enough sports scenes to make the guys feel like they didn't have to turn in their man card for liking the movie. Tom Cruise plays Jerry Maguire, a down-on-his-luck sports agent in a cutthroat world of backstabbers and money grabbers. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays Jerry's only remaining client.
"Jerry Maguire" was one of those movies that birthed a slew of one-liners that have made their way into pop culture. Like the famous, "You had me at hello," or," You complete me," or the little kid asking randomly, "Did you know the human head weighs 8 pounds?" All good, but the one that probably goes down as one of the most iconic catchphrases is the crazy phone discussion that Cruise's character had with Gooding's character.
Jerry was trying to save his career, and the other agents in his office were scarfing up his clients, and he couldn't dial the phone fast enough to stay ahead of the inter-office poachers. He was hemorrhaging clients, but he managed to get Gooding on the phone, who had just one of the criteria for Jerry to keep him as his client. You probably remember the line:" Show me the money!" They literally begin to yell it back and forth. "Show me the money!"…" I don't feel you, Jerry!"…" Show me the money!"..." Congratulations, you are still my agent." It was a classic scene.
The phrase "show me the money" is repeated by folks every day in a variety of settings, and it is so endemic to the American vernacular that it is likely that many folks don't even realize where the phrase originated. But there it is, the movie "Jerry Maguire" from 25 years ago.
But let me flip that script into a different venue. I have, on many occasions, discussed on air whether or not the state legislature is ever going to "show us the money." All kidding aside, that's a legitimate concern. We are the taxpaying citizens of a state that is more flush with cash than it has ever been …. ever … as in the history of ever. But the legislature is openly reticent about showing us the money.
Why? What good reason could Alabama taxpayers have forever being OK with seeing nothing from their elected officials in the form of true and across-the-board tax relief? Why would the combined Republican majorities in the State House, Senate and the Governor's office not be inclined to provide a tax break to its citizens?
Before I delve into that question further, let me just point out that I'm not suggesting something that is out of left field. Not at all. Every other southeastern state has enacted some form of meaningful tax relief in the last two years. Thirty-three states across the nation have done so. Some of those measures have been temporary to assist folks during this inflationary economy, such as Florida and Georgia waiving their state gas tax for a period of time. Other states have enacted actual meaningful tax reforms, like Mississippi lowering their overall tax rate or South Dakota pressing to do away with a tax on groceries. But yet Alabama has not.
Those examples and more are the actions of state leaders elsewhere that are happening now. They are measures that are being taken despite the complete understanding and acknowledgment of their state leaders that it will mean a reduction in revenues but with the understanding that it is just what is best for their citizens. So why not Alabama? Are there any good excuses as to why not? Let's walk through that for a minute.
Is it possible that the elected leadership in Montgomery believes that we don't have enough revenue? Not at all. The numbers don't lie, and Alabama has more cash on hand than we've ever had. Current revenue collections are more than what is needed to sustain current operations. Most recent reports indicate that Alabama made its budget requirements just 10 months into the fiscal year, meaning that revenues exceeded appropriations. The legislature just passed the largest Education and General Fund Budgets in the state's history. Those two budgets passed just a few months ago are actually for FY2023, meaning that legislators expect that revenue will remain at or above current levels for the foreseeable future. Alabama also has massive tranches of federal relief dollars that have yet to be fully spent. In short, excuse number one is out. The availability of money is not the issue preventing tax relief.
Well, could it be then that the leadership in Montgomery is worried that the economy will bottom out? Possibly. The Biden economy is certainly difficult to navigate or predict. But that does not mean a thing when it comes to short-term relief and even some forms of long-term relief. The fact is that, as a matter of law, the legislature can't just sock money away in a savings account. Generally speaking, funds on hand must be appropriated and spent or earmarked, but they can't just sit. We have a reserve account for both the education and general fund budgets, but they are both based on percentages of revenues and capped at certain levels. Neither reserve accounts are allowed by law just to grow and grow. Any monies in the state coffers must be spent on the budgets or reserved in accordance with existing law, or they have to pass a new act to allow them to harbor it off to the side. So, if they have excess funds (which they do), then the only thing keeping them from giving some back to the people is … nothing.
The next possible excuse is the question of whether the leadership in Montgomery believes that they can use the excess funds that came from all of the massive COVID relief to give the citizens a tax break. The answer to that is easy: they certainly can. It was actually our own Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall who helped to lead a fight against the Biden administration and won a ruling that declared that COVID relief dollars could, in fact, be used to provide tax relief. Massive amounts of excess funds still exist, which must, by an act of Congress, be allocated by a certain date and one of the things that those funds can be spent on is tax relief. The legislature has had epic levels of COVID relief dollars, so much so that they had to have a separate appropriation bill outside the usual budgeting process earlier this year to allocate over a billion dollars in excess funds. They did, in fact, allocate those funds and spent it all on government. They could have waived the grocery tax for three years. They could have lifted the gas tax for six months. They could have lowered the corporate income tax rate. But they chose instead to spend more on government.
The last I checked, there have been no government employees who missed a paycheck during the recession. There have been no significant reductions in force in government offices. There have been no curtailed services, no loss of public sector benefits. It has been the private sector that has borne the fiscal brunt of the past several years. Meanwhile, the legislature has increased the gas tax and declined to offer any meaningful tax relief, while both red and blue states around the nation have done so.
It is absolutely past time for meaningful tax relief to be provided by the legislature and the governor to the citizens of this state. There are no fiscal excuses to keep them from doing so. What it comes down to is the real question: Do they want to?
Taxpayers across Alabama should be on the phone with Montgomery, yelling, "Show me the money!"
To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement, go to www.rightsideradio.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.