Riley pushes tax plan

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2003

Gov. Bob Riley didn’t waste any time getting to the &uot;meat&uot; of the matter.

Riley, who appeared at the St. James Hotel Thursday to speak about Amendment One, had less than five minutes to eat his meat and potatoes before being called to the podium.

Fine cuisine, though, wasn’t the reason Riley came to Selma.

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His voice rose in crescendos as he belted out his message of taxes and accountability to a crowd of about 100 listeners. Silence reigned as he made his argument, point by point.

Amendment One, which is estimated to garner Alabama an additional $1.2 billion in revenue, is up for a vote Sept. 9.

According to Riley, three options existed to remedy the state’s current deficit of $675 million.

First, no new tax would exist and the $675 million would be taken out of the budget. &uot;That is an option,&uot; Riley said. &uot;People say we’ve got to live within our means.&uot;

Removing the monies from the state’s budget, however, would cause cuts in programs that assist some of Alabama’s poorest residents. Riley said funds for prescription drugs and nursing homes would be cut. Additionally, the state’s highway patrol would adversely be affected.

Three hundred highway patrolmen currently patrol the state’s roads. Riley said a study indicated Alabama needed 900 patrolmen. &uot;We’ve gotten to the point where we’re putting mannequins in cars,&uot; Riley said.

Every week people approach Riley and say they’re interested in coming to Alabama. If classroom sizes increase and prisoners are being released from jails, though, why would people want to come, Riley questioned.

The second option, Riley said, was to create a tax that filled the $675 million hole Alabama was in.

Riley said his administration had created a program allowing Alabama to become competitive. For the past 50 years, the state has used bad models, funded them and expected change.

Instead, Riley said he wanted Alabama to follow North Carolina’s lead. According to Riley, 10 years ago North Carolina began a transformation of its economy through its education system.

And that example leads to option No. 3.

Riley said Alabama Education Superintendent Ed Richardson had created a revolutionary plan that, if enacted, would make Alabama No. 1 in reading scores in the nation.

And if people actively seek Alabama out as a place to live because of its education, the whole dynamic is changed, Riley said.

The tax package, if it passes, would cost citizens more money, but Riley said citizens must decide how much it was worth to make Alabama better.

The owner of a $100,000 home would pay $128 more in taxes after five years of the plan’s implementation. &uot;Is it worth that extra $100 a year to change Alabama?&uot; Riley asked.

Option one, removing the $675 million from the budget, was too much pain. Riley said he couldn’t ask for option two, only requesting for $675 million, because Alabama would still remain last.