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Alabama editorial roundup

Associated Press Updated: December 3, 2014 at 10:04 am

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Dec. 2

Anniston (Alabama) Star on paying for protection:

Alabama state troopers won't work for free. That's hardly a revelation, but its accuracy is hitting Alabama right where it hurts.

The truth is we've long recognized that it costs state government to operate a proper public safety system. We need troopers and we need the means to compensate them for their labors. They, in turn, need equipment that will make their jobs easier and, in the long run, keep Alabamians safe.

So, there are costs to go along with the benefits.

We long ago resolved this by having state government collect taxes from Alabama residents and businesses. That money, pooled together, paid for state troopers to protect our state (as well as a host of other vital services).

Alabama's taxing-and-spending system was far from perfect, but there was a basic math involved: You can't get something for nothing.

Since the 2010 elections, a denial of that mathematical formula has infected the highest levels of state government. Republicans in charge of the Legislature and the governor's office are math-deniers. They love to crow about how they slashed state government spending. They love to portray this very conservative state as a tax-heavy state that frivolously wastes taxpayer dollars. They won't acknowledge the toll this willful ignorance is taking.

In 2010, the state had approximately 750 troopers patrolling Alabama roads. Four years later, it appears that figure is under 300 troopers. Consider that the University of Alabama's Center for Advanced Public Safety has recommended that the state employ 870 troopers.

Let us emphasize: We aren't talking about some experimental government program hoped to bring a social good. The state is skimping on employing state troopers who provide an essential service to Alabama.

Why? Because the state's leaders are afraid to ask for money from residents. They are seemingly incapable of selling a basic notion of paying for public safety to the public. They are locked in an ideological prison of their own construction, having presented them as a state's saviour from runaway government. That's not leadership; that's cowardice.



Nov. 26

Gadsden (Alabama) Times on DEU:

Possessing, using and selling abusable street or prescription drugs is illegal. Many people throughout the U.S. believe that shouldn't be the case, that the "war on drugs" has been a failure and should be abandoned.

We're not stepping onto that battlefield. Right now, in the present, these are crimes — and not victimless ones, given the associated violence and human costs — that law enforcement agencies must be equipped to deal with.

Etowah County's Drug Enforcement Unit, like similar units throughout Alabama, has been forced to get by on less in recent years. Its total funding for 2014-15 is only about 83 percent what it was in 2011, mostly because of a significant drop in money from federal Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants, administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

The unit has cut costs and staff in an effort to keep functioning, but its case production this year suffered slightly, reinforcing the need for a permanent and secure funding source.

Based on the talk at a meeting this week between local legislators, the County Commission and the DEU board, option No. 1 is a reallocation of the county's 1 percent sales tax.

The sales tax was imposed in 1991, specifically to fund a new jail and courthouse renovations. It was reconfigured five years later, with a little less than half of it going to the local public school systems and Gadsden State Community College, and the rest to the County Commission, the county's libraries, community development projects, volunteer fire departments and rescue squads and mental health boards.

Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, plans to call a meeting early next year with representatives of entities that benefit from the sales tax, and will ask them to justify their use of the money and consider what they could lose to help fund the DEU. (We imagine they will say "none.")

Taxing all tobacco products sold in the county, not just cigarettes, and putting the DEU at the front of the line to receive court and restitution fees from drug cases also were suggested.

Williams is on the ADECA oversight committee, and plans to see why the agency has begun directing the federal grants away from drug units.

We're open to all options, although we'd like to see a thorough study of how the sales tax money is being used and any inefficiencies that could be eliminated before that step is taken. Priorities are involved and the DEU is a big one, but other folks count on that revenue, too, and reallocation would mean a sacrifice for them.

Most of all, we'd like to see the talking become doing.

This problem isn't new, it isn't going away and it's not going to get better. There needs to be a commitment to fixing it.



Dec. 2

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on Orion launch:

NASA once delivered manned space mission milestones routinely.

Alan Shepard became the first American in space in 1961. John Glenn became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth the next year. Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969, and the first space shuttle launched in 1981.

But in the past 33 years, NASA hasn't launched a manned spacecraft with a new design. Efforts to change that will make a major advance if Thursday's planned launch of an unmanned Orion crew vehicle is successful.

If weather and systems cooperate, NASA will take its first step toward putting humans aboard Orion in 2021 and allowing U.S. exploration beyond low-earth orbit.

North Alabama should have an especially keen interest in the mission. The launch will use a Delta IV Heavy rocket assembled at the United Launch Alliance plant in Decatur. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville oversaw development of propulsion elements in Orion's emergency launch abort system, an innovation that would activate in an emergency during launch or initial ascent to propel the Orion crew to safety. Marshall also had a role in Orion testing.

There are many interesting facets to Thursday's mission, which will last only 4½ hours but eventually could lead to a manned Mars mission in the 2030s.

Engineers want to see how well Orion's parachutes perform to slow the craft because it will return to Earth at an intentionally high speed to mimic that on a return from Mars.

Additionally, the speed will increase temperatures on re-entry into earth's atmosphere to 4,000 degrees and test Orion's heat shield protection. A large portion of the mission will be spent intentionally in the Van Allen Belts to let sensors test the craft's radiation shielding.

Orion's computers, which are 400 times faster than the space shuttle's, and the craft's ability to jettison parts as they become unneeded also will be under scrutiny.

We always have been driven to explore and benefited from it.

The United States should pursue space exploration with the goal of a Mars mission.

The U.S. needs a bold adventure to attract a new generation to science.

It will be interesting to see in the coming years what unknown benefits in medicine or technology have their roots in the first Orion launch.


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