The pressure is on the people

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003

If I hear one more politician or political pundit say Alabama is at a crossroads, I think I'll vomit. No, Alabama is not at a crossroads. We've been at a crossroads, at least according to every governor for the past 20 years.

Truth be told, we're way past the crossroads and just now realizing we've gotten lost somewhere along the way and are doubling back to try and find out just where in the heck we are.

In his address to the state Monday night, Gov. Bob Riley used the crossroads analogy - hoping to become a Ronald Reagan-type figure - saying the time has come for Alabama to decide whether it wanted to move forward, or fall further behind.

Yes, Gov. Riley was correct in his statement that the time has come for all of Alabama to come together and find a solution to the fiscal crisis our state is facing. Unfortunately, his proposal to fix the problem is facing the cold-hard facts that history hasn't been kind to his plan.

Gov. Riley has proposed the largest tax package ever in Alabama's history. Calling for a comprehensive accountability and tax reform, Riley's plan, at least on paper, would make Alabama's tax system fair, reducing the unfair burden on Alabama's poorest citizens, ensure that tax dollars are spent responsibly and strong accountability measures are in place.

That's all fine and dandy, but what exactly does that mean, and how will it affect Alabama?

We simply do not know at this point. What we do know is that just once, maybe we have a governor who is willing to make a clear change in Alabama. A governor who is willing to sacrifice his own political future for tax reform.

But, it's not just up to Gov. Riley. It's up to the legislature and the people.

When Gov. Riley called the legislature into special session, he presented them with a package that is an "all or nothing package."

There are no individual items to consider.

Part of the package calls for the creation of college scholarships, full funding of the Alabama Reading Initiative and expansion of the Alabama Math and Science Initiative. Those are all wonderful ideas. But, bear in mind

with these great new things comes something else

a way to pay for them.

How does Gov. Riley propose that?

Tax reform. And when tax reform is mentioned what usually comes?

Tax increases.

Just maybe though, Gov. Riley has come up with a true plan that will be fair.

Take a look for a minute.

To be fair, the governor has proposed raising the threshold for a family of four from $4,600 to $20,000. To get there, he proposes the level being raised to $17,000 next year, and then phased in to reach $20,000 in three years. That means increasing the amount of money earned before taxes are taken.

Changes in deductions which would eliminate the federal income tax deduction and allow deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and medical expenses; and change the rate structure of personal income tax to a level he considers to be more fair to the majority of Alabamians.

Perhaps the biggest change in tax reform is the thing most Alabamians are most proud of - their property taxes.

While the governor's plan does call for an increase in property taxes and changes in homestead exemptions, it's not to a degree that could be considered unmanageable. It probably wouldn't even raise the state out of the lowest property taxes in the country.

It's a rather large plan the governor has proposed, and lumping it into one single package puts all the pressure on the people of Alabama.

Gov. Riley has essentially told the people of Alabama that this is what he wants to do

now you decide if you want change.

It's not going to really come down on him if it passes or fails.

If it passes, he'll be lauded as the man who finally brought financial reform and accountability to Alabama. If it fails, he'll be the man saying, "I gave you the chance to change things and you decided you didn't want change. Sorry, but the teachers, the Medicaid patients and your scholarships must go. I tried."