A conditional tax plan endorsement

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 18, 2003

It got hot early in Alabama, and we don't mean the weather. With the tax referendum vote looming on the horizon, tempers and accusations fly, most fueled more by emotion than by fact.

The fact is - we're in deep trouble, and so far, the governor's tax proposal is the only legitimate rescue in sight. Higher taxes are certainly not palatable, no taxes are, but like the foul-tasting prescription the doctor hands over, sometimes we have to swallow the bitter flavor to get well.

But we can't call this an all-out endorsement of the plan. There are too many loose ends, too many foggy answers to specific questions and too many inconsistencies. In some parts of the plan, Riley takes and takes and takes money from us - then he turns around in other parts, such as his college scholarship idea - and gives and gives and gives.

Riley moved quickly in the first six months of his administration, slashing departmental budgets, trimming fat, cutting expenses. It won't be enough, but it was a good starting place. What concerns us the most is - if the tax referendum does pass, will Riley maintain his Spartan government, or will he, like far too many of his predecessors, watch the money come rolling in, and decide those cuts weren't so necessary after all?

There needs to be some accountability. The voters, before they vote "Yes" to higher taxes, are going to want a guarantee that the monies raised will find their intended home - specifically education - and not get frittered away here and there, with no obvious benefit to the taxpayers. We don't want to continue feeding the machine.

We have to support the tax plan as it is, although we have reservations. The fact that we have one of the lowest tax rates in the nation and one of the lowest-funded school systems is not coincidental. Nor is it acceptable.