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Gov. Riley remains upbeat, but outlook is bleak

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–About as emphatically as they could the voters of Alabama told Gov. Bob Riley what he could do with his $1.2 billion tax-accountability package.
In one of the most predictable elections in state history, the plan was rejected by a 2-to-1 margin. If there was a surprise it was the fact that the plan actually was approved by the voters in 13 Alabama counties–the 10 predominantly black counties went for it, so did Montgomery, Chambers and Lee.
Gov. Riley was surprisingly upbeat when he threw in the towel on election night. In fact it almost seemed that he was looking forward to dumping the problem into the laps of the legislators, who in the final analysis must decide where the budget cutting will be done.
And there will be budget-cutting…big-time budget cutting. Already there is talk of the early release of as many as 6,000 prison inmates…an end to the funding of non-school programs out of the Special Education
Trust Fund (i.e., all those Halls of Fame…museums…Shakespeare Theater…Constitution Hall…et al)….not to mention massive layoffs.
Even more painful will be the changing the rules for qualifying for Medicaid coverage in nursing homes and health insurance for needy children. These and other programs are staring at major cutbacks.
And what can the Alabama Legislature do in the short time remaining before Oct. 1 and the new fiscal year?
Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, says he will introduce a lottery bill on the first day of the session but that would require a vote of the people and if approved would not generate very much money.
Big hikes in the so-called "sin taxes"–cigarettes, beer, liquor–would provide instant money but not nearly enough.
The only tax that can be imposed by the legislature that would provide the kind of money needed is the sales tax, and Gov. Riley is already on record in opposition to that.
The bottom line: The special session is going to be a blood bath.
And it will be nothing compared to what will happen next year when the lawmakers begin consideration of the 2004-05 budget.
You can believe it or not…and apparently many people didn't believe it on election day…but the fiscal crisis facing state government is real and if not addressed it will affect every Alabamian.
After George Wallace achieved national celebrity status his elections for governor attracted some attention, but nothing like the spotlight focused on the Riley tax-accountability plan.
All the major newspapers gave the election front page coverage–the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post. The national TV networks likewise.
Why? Because just about every state government in the nation is in a financial crisis and there was broad interest in what success (or lack of same) Riley would have with his ambitious proposal.
A spokesman for the Americans for Tax Reform, which opposed the plan, was quoted in the Birmingham News as saying that the Alabama voters "have saved taxpayers from California to Maine billions of dollars."
He lost his prolonged fight to keep the Ten Commandments Monument in the lobby of the State Judicial Building, and his defiance of a federal court order resulted in him being suspended as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.
That being so, it seemed almost right that he should get some good news…and he did. A jury in Gadsden awarded his wife, Kayla, $270,000, for injuries she received when she was struck by a car in a Gadsden mall in 1999.
The plaque is not alone on the wall–alongside it are other panels displaying the Magna Carta, the Justinian Code, the Mayflower
Compact, Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, the Constitution of the United States and the constitutional amendment which guarantees full citizenship.