A Taxing Situation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Still undecided about Governor Riley's Tax and Accountability Package?

The countdown to voting day, September 9, is drawing near.

Now with less than one month left for voters to decide on the largest tax increase in more than 100 years, many citizens are torn between the good and the bad of the tax package.

Here's some details about the plan, which will appear on the ballots as a whole entity as Amendment 1:

The amendment would create the Alabama Excellence Initiative Fund, which would get all but $1 million a year of the state money raised by Riley's plan.

All 19 tax and accountability laws will be taken into effect if Amendment 1 is passed by voters; no laws will be taken into effect and nothing will be amended to Alabama's Constitution if voters reject the package.

A Rainy Day Fund would be created under the amendment, generating approximately $72 million to prevent across-the-board spending cuts in the General Fund.

A $248 million rainy day fund was created last year by voters, but legislators weren't required to repay the money taken from it.

Riley's rainy day fund, however, requires lawmakers to reimburse any money taken from the fund, plus interest.

State sales taxes would raise $203.4 million a year for the General Fund, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.

Product installations and repairs, such as a refrigerator installed or a car part replaced, would be boosted with a 4 percent sales tax increase plus a county sales tax on warranty and service contracts.

Local sales taxes would not rise, but a .5 percent increase would be tagged on motor vehicles.

A 1.5 percent increase would apply to vehicle leases and rentals.

Cigarette taxes would double in the state from the current rate, 16.5 cents per pack.

Taxes on other tobacco products would also be doubled.

$52.4 million would be raised from the new tobacco taxes.

Riley's plan would generate $44.8 million a year from doubling filing fees on deeds and mortgages.

The deed recording tax would rise from $1 to $2 per $1,000.

The mortgage recording tax would rise from $1.50 to $3 per $1,000 of debt.

A net amount of $11.3 million would be raised from banks and other financial institutions.

The excise tax, which is similar to an income tax on financial institutions, would be lowered by .5 percent.

$19.7 million a year would be raised from cutting credits and deductions some banks get now, however.

Bank taxes would also be cut by $8.4 million a year by lowering maximum privilege tax on net worth that a bank could pay in a year.

Taxes would be slightly lower for customers of some electric companies, such as Alabama Power and AEC.

The net tax on a utility bill would drop from 6.2 percent to 5.75 percent.

The plan would raise taxes for customers on municipal utilities, who have paid less taxes in the past.

The customers of municipal utilities would see an increase from 4 percent to 5.75 percent.

Riley's plan would raise the standard for students to get

college scholarships for two-year colleges and universities in Alabama.

Students graduating no earlier than May 2004 who are applying for state scholarships for two-year universities will be expected to have at least two of the following requirements:

an overall B average, completion of 18.5 units of high school core curriculum, and a composite score of at least 20 on the ACT.

A student can not miss more than 10 percent of any of these requirements to receive a scholarship.

For example, a student with a 15 on the ACT and a B average in 18.5 units would not receive a full-tuition scholarship.

If the student raises his ACT score to an 18, then that student would be awarded the scholarship.

High school graduates attending two-year colleges must have maintained a 2.5 grade point average on a 4.0 scale to receive full-tuition from the state, under Amendment 1.

If the package is passed, Alabama will still have some of the lowest property tax rates in the nation.

The property taxes will still be below the Southeastern average and lower than states bordering Alabama.

Alabamians will still pay less than half the national average for property taxes within four years.

The homestead exemption will increase from $40,000 a year to $50,000.

Farmland under 200 acres will be exempt from state property taxes.

Property owners currently pay an average of $1.25 per acre in property taxes on farmland and timberland.

The average will be increased to $2.50 per acre.

Current use on land will be covered up to 2000 acres, and maximum current use values for farms would increase from $532 to $650 per acre exceeding that amount.

Property taxes on the average home priced at $80,000 will increase by $7 per month, and the net taxes will be phased in over four years.

An estimated 67 percent of Alabamians will pay the same or lower income taxes than they are paying now.

The individual tax rate would be raised from 5 percent to 6 percent on incomes over $75,000 (if single) or $150,000 (if married).

In accordance to federal exemption levels, the dependent exemption level would be raised from $300 to over $2000 in the first year.