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Budget Bailout Too Taxing for Alabama

September 10, 2003|From Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Bob Riley's $1.2-billion tax package was overwhelmingly rejected Tuesday night as voters agreed with those who said Alabama needs spending cuts rather than the largest tax increase in state history.

The Republican governor promoted the tax package -- the largest percentage tax boost proposed in any state -- as the way to get Alabama off the bottom of many national education rankings. Election returns showed 67% of voters opposing the measure.

"The opponents were able to play on the voters' cynicism about politicians in Alabama, that the tax increase wasn't necessary, and that even if it did pass, the money wouldn't go to education," said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama.

At polling places across the state, voters voiced their distrust of politicians.

"If the money they have now was spent wisely, we wouldn't need this," said Adie Ward, a 74-year-old retired state employee from Montgomery.

Some, however, agreed with Riley that a tax hike could lift Alabama's public schools.

"This tax bill is written for the future of our kids and of Alabama," said Roger Smith, a 54-year-old minister of music in Birmingham.

Riley repeatedly told voters during last year's election for governor that he never supported a tax increase during his six years as a congressman. But when he became governor in January, he said he "had no choice" in proposing a tax increase to alleviate the state's worst budget deficit since the Depression. Without a tax hike, he said, budget cuts would be so deep that state government couldn't function.

The Legislature is expected to be called into special session to deal with a $675-million budget shortfall. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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