Several years ago, when Jefferson County’s hull was just beginning to slip beneath the waves, news broke that former county commissioner and political pal of Larry Langford, John Katopodis, had used money Langford gave him from county funds to hire a gay porn star to fix computers for his charity, Computer Help for Kids.
“We can write about the county going bankrupt until the cows come home, and nobody cares,” one country courthouse reporter said to me then. “But put a little sex in a story, like a gay porn star, and it’s all anyone can talk about.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this morning. You see, I’d wanted to write a column about education in Alabama. Then I turned on my computer, spent 30 seconds grazing Facebook, when … BAM!
It seems that since leaving Alabama politics — and Alabama for that matter — the former Birmingham city councilor/ADECA director/gubernatorial candidate started hawking his … (There’s really not a good euphemism for sperm, is there? So let’s get biblical.) … seed to women in New Zealand as a seedy (ba-dum!) back-channel Internet donor. And successfully, it seems. At least three women there are now baking Bill’s bread.
Education funding versus Bill Johnson and the sex stuff? Interest-wise, the Johnson and the lesbian baby stuff wins hands down. (Can we really call it a sex scandal, if there’s wasn’t a … um … direct deposit?) But I was going to write that boring-as-toast education column, and dammit, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Education. Yes, making Alabama children not stupid. Important. Focus.
So last week, the State of Alabama released some good news: After several years of shortchanging education, the state might not have to prorate Alabama schools. If you’re not from the state, “proration” might sound like a good thing. Just look at that prefix — pro — sounds good, right? Like pro shop or produce or procreate …
(It occurs to me that I can’t even use the word “rimshot” in this column without it losing a PG-13 rating.)
But we could do just as well without the pro, because when it comes to proration and education, what Alabama really does is ration education. Because of Alabama’s regressive tax structure, when the national economy catches a cold, we get the flu. And when the nation gets the flu, then Alabama gets the plague. The state could solve this problem by shifting its tax base from sales taxes to property taxes, but in Alabama that’s about as likely as legalizing gay marriage (which, as it happens, is not legal in New Zealand, either. But civil unions, however, are legal there. But, uh, sorry …).
The state has prorated education spending since 2008, when the global financial crisis began in earnest. When proration happens, teachers lose jobs and students bring their own toilet paper to school. Schools skimp on new books, and suffice to say, education suffers. I grew up as a teachers kid, and it was clear that every time the state enacted proration, it set back education in Alabama another five years. We don’t graduate many MENSA members, but what does that really mean, when Bill Johnson is a member?
I really am writing this as Spermgate breaks, which seems to be going viral the way nothing to do with sperm ever should. Just since a started typing an hour ago, USA Today has picked it up. So has the Washington political gossip blog, Wonkette, which has touched up a photo of Johnson to add something dripping from his mouth. Gross. Headline: “Alabama wingnut politician secretly impregnating lesbians in New Zealand.”
So, when Alabama can’t scratch together the tax dollars to fund education, it lays off teachers and makes school children supply their own school supplies — luxury items such as toilet paper.
But this year, a miracle occurred. It happened so close to the holidays, you could even call it a Christmas miracle. The state has enough revenue this year, which is earmarked for schools, that it might not have to prorate education next year. It’s wonderful life, George Bailey, because the town folk came through with the cash. And remember, every time a bell rings, a lesbian in New Zealand gets pregnant with Bill Johnson’s …
Anyway, it seemed for a moment, Alabama would pay full price to educate its children, but no sooner had state officials said proration might not be necessary this year, than Gov. Robert Bentley told the press that the state might have to raid the Education Trust Fund to pay for non-education costs. The state, it seems, has a lot of other things to pay for. Things such as prisons and …
Should I look at Gawker? Just to see? How can I not?
Yup. It’s on Gawker. It’s official. I used to sneak cigarettes in the Birmingham City Hall men’s room with with Jimmy Blake and a dude who’s now the top story on Gawker. “Polidicks,” its says. That’s classy. It’s on Huffington Post, too. If the Internet makes me feel sorry for Bill Johnson, I might have to spank it.
If the state can’t pay its non-education costs, Gov. Bentley says he will ask the Alabama Legislature to unearmark education tax dollars. That might be a difficult sale on Goat Hill, Bentley told The Birmingham News, but it’s better than the alternative. The state will never raise taxes on his watch, Bentley said. That would be as unthinkable as … as …
My buddy was right. You can’t beat a sex scandal, no matter how important the stakes might be, even if nobody actually had sex. But the state of Alabama can screw children, and nobody cares. There are more interesting things in the world that demand our attention, even if they’re on the other side of the world.
The Messenger Shoots Back is a column about political culture.