Headlines for 2003 like last year’s

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 30, 2002

We will have a new governor in 2003, but the headlines for Gov.-elect Bob Riley will sound similar to those in 2002, because some things just never change in Alabama.

Facing a $300 million proration battle with the education fund, another $200 million anticipated shortfall in the general fund, the new governor will find that the job he wanted so badly will be a little bit tougher than the job he had.

It will be interesting to see how the new governor will resolve the issues he said he could resolve in his campaign &045; such as educational funding. It will be interesting to see if he will seek a cut of some 2,000 jobs in the education sector to balance that budget, instead of attempting to once and for all resolve the method of funding.

His major supporters, ALFA and the Business Council of Alabama, had their campaign hands so deep in Riley’s pockets that it will be interesting to see if the new governor can make any major tax shift moves without the support of those two groups. If Riley plans to seek re-election, he will have to listen to the two in some form or fashion to allow them to save face.

In a recent speech to ALFA, Riley told the group to be openminded about his plans. Does that mean he is going to raise property taxes? Does it mean he knows the dilapidated Constitution will need mending to fix the flawed funding formulas for education and general government in this state?

Or does it mean the ball will be placed back in the Legislature to resolve and keep his hands clean?

There will be no easy way out for Gov. Riley, but his opportunities far outweigh his predecessor’s. Don Siegelman did not have the support or the ear of ALFA or the BCA. Riley, at least when the campaign ended, had both. But that does not necessarily mean the two groups will support any movement in the tax reform arena.

Both have shown signs of support in the past for such reform, but until those groups sign-on, there will be no meaningful tax reform efforts in this state. That is unless the new governor draws a line in the sand, demands their presence at the table and decides he wants to be a one-term governor.

Then and only then will he be able to face the two powerful groups &045; who remember he is a little beholding too because of his election coffers &045; and bring them to the table to negotiate seriously.

It doesn’t matter which way you look at it, for Riley to be successful resolving Alabama’s funding crisis, he has to reform our tax system and find a stable way to fund the budgets of our state. Sales and income tax collections have too many ups and downs and it has once again placed Alabama in an economic tailspin.

The year 2003 and inauguration day loom just days away. You can bet the discussions are already being held about what Riley must do to get all sides at the same table. And he realizes that getting the groups together just to chat is not going to resolve anything &045; sans Guy Hunt, Fob James or his own commission ideas &045; because the time for talking is over.

A new budget must be passed during his first year in office as well, and if he does not find a new way to handle the funding problems, another prorated budget &045; even larger than the one he is currently facing &045; will face him the next fiscal year too.

It will be interesting to see if Riley can keep ALFA and the BCA at the table in serious discussions, without the political pressure of a campaign past coming back into play.

Kim N. Price is publisher of The Alexander City Outlook. His e-mail address is kim.price@alexcityoutlook.com