Riley prepares to address state

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 16, 2003

Gov. Bob Riley will go before the state Monday night to open, in his words, the most important special session in Alabama's history.

In doing so, Riley rolls the dice on the biggest gamble of his political career: an effort to reform the states financial and governmental operations.

"Somebody, sometime had to do it," Riley said Friday. "Somebody had to stand up and be passionate about fixing this problem and passionate about Alabama's future."

Alabama legislators will now have the task of debating the Riley plan, which he said involves two-thirds reform and one-third revenue.

Early in Riley's young term, he stressed financial cuts in government agencies before proposing any possible tax increases.

Now, he said time has simply run out.

"Someone calculated earlier this week that this administration had cut $231 million from the budget," Riley said. "But that is not money we will see right now. We have to come up with $600 million in this next 90 days."

Riley said the next three months could be the biggest political initiative he has undertaken, including last year's gubernatorial race.

"In the race for governor I had 18 months to prove to the people of Alabama I was the right person for the job," Riley said. "Now I have three months to convince them that this package is what is needed to completely reform our state - once and for all."

Riley admits the plan's tax increases will be a tough sell, but believes they must be done.

"It is really to the point that we have no other option," Riley said. "We have not done everything we can do to cut government spending, but we have run out of time. We are going to continue cutting, but we have a deadline approaching and a $600 million hole to fill."

As for support from Alabama legislators, Riley feels everyone in Montgomery understands what must be done.

"Those who work everyday in running this state understand the dilemma we are in," Riley said. "We have three months to get this package to the people and convince them as well."

Going before the people

Riley's Monday night speech will break a trend. Governors usually open any special session with a speech before the full Legislature, not the entire state.

Riley believes this is a special case.

"The people of Alabama are going to ultimately have to decide this package - not the legislature," Riley said. "It is them who we all need to convince."

The package will be put before Alabama voters the first week in September and will be an "all or nothing" vote. Voters will have to decide on the entire package, not individual components.

Banking his political future

From day one, Riley claims he and his administration have not looked to the next election, but rather to Alabama's future.

"I understand that I have a temporary job; that there will be another governor after me," Riley said. "But, while I am here, I am going to do everything I can to fix our problems. And if that means, serving only one term as governor - so be it."