Monday, October 7, 2019

No Tolls amendment in Alabama is a real thing, and Montgomery ignores it at its gravest peril

South Alabama businessman Dean Young is serious about making sure that arbitrary toll road projects are history in this state. He's published a draft of a proposed amendment to the state constitution and he's made sure every member of the Legislature and all constitutional officers of the state have a copy of it.
“It gives the people a voice to say yes we want a toll or no we don’t want a toll, you’ve seen 79% of the people don’t want a toll so they will have a voice,” said Dean Young. Without vigilance on this issue, toll opponents worry tolls could pop up in other projects in the future.

“We’ve seen Prichard try to start a toll road,” said Young. “This is a systemic problem all over the state of Alabama.”

Young says he sent the amendment to lawmakers, most via certified mail, with questionnaires asking if they’d sponsor the amendment and if they’d vote for it. Young says the deadline for responses from legislators is October 18th.
Read his draft amendment here (PDF).

Dean was a part of the grassroots effort to defeat the Mobile River Bridge & Bayway project, which would have put a new high-rise bridge and new elevated Bayway between Mobile and Baldwin Counties. A toll of up to $12 round trip was part of the deal since proponents claimed that a toll was the only feasible means of paying for it.

At the vanguard of the effort to defeat the proposal was the Block the Mobile Bayway Facebook group, which still has 55,000 members. Founded by Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler, the group gave rise to the voices of people who felt their opposition to the project was not being heard or being taken seriously.

Members of that group worked together and found an obscure provision in an obscure federal law. The group then used their nearly unanimous voice to convince local elected officials to use that law to carry out popular will. When the group was through, Governor Kay Ivey pronounced the project "dead" and media observers and the political elite struggled to make sense of what had happened.

Their unvoiced questions: "Why did this unruly, ungrateful bunch of simpletons wreck our $2.1 billion dream?  Don't they know that we know what's best?"

Montgomery may choose to ignore the "No Tolls" movement. The Legislature may see the demise of the massive bridge project as a fluke. If they do and they don't take the movement seriously, the consequences could be severe.

John Fund at the National Review has an excellent essay on the peril faced by those who view the opinion of the people they represent less than seriously. Read the whole thing and see if you don't find some striking similarities between the events of 2016 and what happened here in the Summer of 2019.

The Block the Toll group mushroomed from a handful of to 55,000 in only three months. Like the populist movements in the U.K. and U.S. in 2016-17, the group includes a broad cross-section of voters. The group defies political stereotypes and cuts across every line political scientists use to define an electorate. There's no dominant racial, religious, age, ideology or class. Rich, poor, young, old, urban, rural... they're all represented.

Could a group like this come together and agree on a course of action, and then resolutely move a state to change the way it governs itself? Well, the Block the Toll Group has already stopped a Governor, a powerful state agency and some well-connected P3s from ramming a project through. Now, the group seeks have the Legislature put an amendment before the voters.

Getting that done will certainly see the group grow even more.  Perhaps it could even mushroom again--from a diverse 55,000 to an equally diverse 255,000 or 1,255,000.

The Governor and ALDOT learned that the more you fight popular will, the stronger it grows. The political elite in Europe and Washington, DC learned that, too.

Here's to wonderin' if the lessons stuck.


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