dr Daniel Sutter: Lawmakers for Liberty?

Alabama has elected a new legislature. Few of our state officials have fought on a socialist platform. However, a recent Club for Growth report suggests that our legislators do not support limited government and free markets either.

The Club for Growth produces Legislative Scorecards for select states. Most recent ratings are from 2021 and not all newly elected MPs. They picked 21 House and 20 Senate votes after examining over 1,000 votes. Votes were weighted according to their importance in promoting a free market economy and a pro-growth agenda. Values ​​range from 0 to 100 for a representative who always votes for the club’s position.

The polls usually focus on spending or regulation. The three most weighted votes were passing the general fund and education budget, and a bill granting civil immunity to corporations during COVID-19. The club opposed budgets for increasing spending via “popflation,” or the sum of the rates of population growth and inflation.

House members’ scores range from 95 to 6, and Senate members from 35 to 0. The combined averages for the House and Senate were 24 and 23, respectively, with Republicans scoring slightly higher in both houses (28 and 27 in the House and in the Senate).

Alabama compares poorly to club scorecards for other southern states. I’ll compare the Republican averages to the House average given first: Georgia, 68 and 73; Tennessee, 50 and 44; Texas 64 and 76; Virginia, 80 and 69; and Mississippi, 34 and 28. The results are not directly comparable as the bills differ, but are encouraging.

Do these voting patterns translate into political differences? Consider the Tax Foundation’s recently published 2022 State Business Tax Climate Index. Alabama ranks 41st, down two places from 2021. Though large, politically favored companies get tax exemptions, high taxes weigh on small businesses hoping to grow. For comparison, Tennessee is 13th, Texas 14th, Virginia 26th, Mississippi 30th and Georgia 32nd.

Canada’s Fraser Institute just released its 2022 Economic Freedom of North America Index. Alabama ranks 22nd with a slightly improved score from 2021. But Texas ranks 4th, Tennessee 5th, Virginia 6th, Georgia 8th and Mississippi 37th. Alabama is not California or New in terms of economic freedom York – the last states in the ranking – but we are behind many of our neighbors.

Alabama is not a leader in education or educational reform. Alabama’s 4th and 8th grade results in math, reading, and science in 2022 on the NAEP, or “Nation’s Testimony,” ranked 41st or lower. In 2022, Arizona and West Virginia enacted major school choice reforms. Alabama holds on to our failing status quo.

The government in Alabama is small. My preferred measure is state and local taxes, which control differences in house rules, either per person or as a percentage of state income. Alabama consistently ranks in the bottom ten states on every measurement.

Alabama does not have a grand state government and our elected state officials do not promote socialism. And yet our legislators do not support a truly free market alternative to big government. What we end up with is ‘big government for cheap’, where the state performs many functions but does things poorly due to limited funding.

What do our national representatives advocate? Let me offer you a way. Even a small government is big business. Consider contracts for things like road repairs, government buildings, and new computers. The owners of the companies that win these contracts can pay their bills and live well. The government in Alabama seems to be primarily about contracting and awarding jobs, the business of the government.

The business of government doesn’t necessarily involve corruption, although I heard the joke about term limits in Alabama. Suppose the bidding process works well and identifies two bidders who can do equally well for the same cost. The identity of the winner plays no role for the taxpayer, but is of enormous importance for the bidders. The conduct of government business is political, even without illegal payments.

The start of a new legislature makes us, and then our elected officials, ask: what do we want? Do we believe that the state or the private sector creates wealth? I hope our elected officials care about the philosophy of government and not just about business.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics at the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policies or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email to with your name and contact information [email protected].

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