Riley, Baxley trade barbs during debate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 2, 2006

Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and Republican Gov. Bob Riley mixed personal attacks with divergent views over taxes, school funding and credibility Monday night in their only debate of the governor's race.

Baxley accused Riley of trying to raise $1.2 billion in new taxes in 2003 after campaigning on a no-new taxes promise, ordering a property reappraisal change that increased ad valorem taxes and failing to end $1 billion in no-bid contracts.

Riley, without mentioning the 2003 tax hike plan, said he passed an income tax cut this year without a word of support from Baxley and wants a broader cut at a time when the state has a $1 billion budget surplus. He said the reappraisal issue had been distorted, and used a famous debate line of former President Ronald Reagan:

&#8220Here we go again,” said Riley.

Baxley responded by giving a twist to another famous national debate line:

&#8220You're no Ronald Reagan,” she said.

On schools, Riley pressed his call for a $500 million bond issue to rebuild schools across the state. &#8220We can reform education,” he said, &#8220… we've done it the last two years.”

Baxley said any education surplus is just funds that have not gone to schools in dire need of improvements. &#8220Portable classrooms are back,” she said.

On taxes, she said she would look to close &#8220tax loopholes for big, out-of-state corporations” to improve funding in the cash-strapped General Fund, which pays for troopers and prisons. &#8220We can't just collect from the people, the working people,” she said.

Riley said his administration began facing a huge deficit and turned it into a surplus that will now allow a further tax cut.

Baxley said the Riley tax cut would take funds from schools. &#8220I will never support taking dollars out of education money,” she said.

Riley said Baxley is wrong to oppose an income tax cut that would affect 90 percent of Alabamians.

&#8220Here is a defining difference between my opponent and I,” he said.

Baxley said voters should be wary of Riley's promises after he ran on an anti-tax platform in 2002 and then proposed the largest tax hike in state history.

&#8220Why would you believe him this time when he did so different from what he said last time?” she asked.

Credibility was an issue throughout the debate.

Baxley said Riley promised in his 2002 campaign to end the no-bid state contracts of the previous administration. &#8220He's absolutely right. He did, and he's started Bob Riley's no-bid contracts,” she said.

Riley said legislative contract review panel leaders have praised his administration for restoring credibility to the process, and his administration has gone through four years without a hint of corruption.

&#8220That's how you rebuild trust,” Riley said.

Baxley said she had served eight years as state treasurer and four as lieutenant governor without any ethical questions.

&#8220You know you can trust me to do the right thing,” she said.

Baxley said the strong economy during Riley's administration is the result of auto industries recruited by his predecessor that didn't open until Riley got into office.

&#8220He has not brought a single new automotive industry. The one he negotiated went to Georgia,” she said.

Riley said Baxley has never made one visit or one phone call to recruit a new industry to the state.

&#8220I've never been invited,” Baxley said.

The two candidates' one-hour debate at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival was sponsored by Leadership Alabama, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, Alabama Press Association, and Alabama Public Television. The questions, all about issues facing the state, were prepared by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.