Waiting is worse

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 16, 2003

If Gov. Riley has his way, many of those facing hard times due to a drastically slashed state budget may get a reprieve. Riley would have the Legislature hold off on approving the budget, and its fallout - until

Alabama voters decide Yay or Nay on his proposed tax increases.

We understand the urge to maintain the status quo, protecting the soon-to-be-unemployed as long as possible. But there are other things to be considered, legality being the first and foremost. As Rep. Zeb Little (D-Cullman) pointed out, the constitution requires the budget be passed in a regular session, not the special called session that Riley's plan would require.

On the educational end of the issue, timing is critical. Are the teachers supposed to cling to the possibility of a job in Alabama in September, turning down definite jobs elsewhere, only to find themselves high and dry and unemployed when the tax referendum is voted down?

We have grave doubts that the referendum will pass. Riley will be called upon to explain often and in detail just why the state will benefit from the increase, and how it will improve our lives. Most people have tunnel vision, unfortunately, and once they read "tax increase," refuse to read further. It falls upon Riley to make them read all of the information, then to read between the lines. Can he do this by September, in time for the next fiscal year? Can he do this with such assurance that teachers and state employees can hold onto hope of employment?

For a governor who has sworn to defeat the lottery at all costs, Riley appears to be a gambling man. Unfortunately, it is not only his career he is gambling with now.

As flawed as our constitution is, it is our legal guidebook at the moment, and Little is correct in his determination to see it followed. The Legislature, painful as it is, must make those decisions now and give those affected a chance to get on with their careers and their lives in the best way possible. Since we doubt that the tax will pass, that heartache of cuts and terminations is coming.

Why force the stress and anxiety of months of uncertainty on top of everything else?

If we make the painful and heartbreaking cuts now, and the tax referendum fails, we are prepared. If we make the cuts now and the tax referendum passes, we have already set into motion cost cutting measures and practices, but we would then have the joy of being able to do more with more, and do it better.

Perhaps four months of doing without and suffering the financial deprivations and setbacks the cuts will cause will convince the voters to raise their own taxes like nothing else possibly could.