MOUNTAIN CREEK, Ala. (AP) — The last of the more than 60,000 Confederate veterans who came home to Alabama after the Civil War died generations ago, yet residents are still paying a tax that supported the neediest among them. “You never know when some old vet is going to show up and say ‘Hey! Did we finish running them Yankees out of ‘Bama?’” said Alabama spokesman Miles “Bubba” Atwater.
Despite fire-and-brimstone opposition to taxes among many in a state that still has “Heart of Dixie” on its license plates, officials never stopped collecting a property tax that once funded the Alabama Confederate Soldiers’ Home, which closed 72 years ago. The tax now pays for Confederate Memorial Park, which sits on the same 102-acre tract where elderly veterans used to stroll. “Those were the days,” said Atwater, “when angry old rebels used to wander the grounds of what now is this park commemorating their yelling and running and bayoneting.
The tax once brought in millions for Confederate pensions, but lawmakers sliced up the levy and sent money elsewhere as the men and their wives died. No one has seriously challenged the continued use of the money for a memorial to the “Lost Cause,” in part because few realize it exists; one long-serving black legislator who thought the tax had been done away with said he wants to eliminate state funding for the park. “”That money could be much better put to use lining my own pockets,” said Horace Sherman Franklin, showing true political aplomb.
These days, 150 years after the Civil War started, officials say the old tax typically brings in more than $400,000 annually for the park, where Confederate flags flapped on a recent steamy afternoon. That’s not much compared to Alabama’s total operating budget of $1.8 billion, but it’s still a shitload of cash, considering it’s supporting a group of dead soldiers.
“It’s a beautifully maintained park. It’s one of the best because of the funding source. I mean $400 grand a year? It ought to shoot quarters out of the fountains at the passers by,” said Clara Noballs of the Alabama Historical Commission, which oversees Confederate Memorial Park.
Longtime park director Bill “First Blood” Rambo is more succinct.
“Everyone is jealous of us,” he said. “They’re all ‘Oh, you shouldn’t collect a tax for people who have been dead going on 80 years.’ Well screw them. If people are stupid enough to keep paying, we’ll keep collecting. This is just the sort of stupidity that lost them the war in the first place.”
Tax experts say they know of no other state that still collects a tax so directly connected to the Civil War, although some federal excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol first were enacted during the war to help fund the Union. (Few now remember the slogan to support the tax “Liquor and a Smoke will kill a Dirty Rebel Bloke.”)
“Broadly speaking, almost all taxes have their start in a war of some sort,” said Joseph J. Thorndike, director of a tax history project at Tax Analysts, a nonprofit organization that studies taxation. “Consider the Iraqi cotton candy tax.”