Tax bill quake on Goat Hill

MONTGOMERY &045; First there was the earthquake in Fort Payne then an earthquake of a different sort in Tuscaloosa.

But as the old expression goes, &uot;you ain’t seen nothing yet.&uot;

The needles on the seismographs will be spinning when Gov. Bob Riley unveils his plans to address the financial woes now facing public education and state government.

By the time you read this, he may have already released the details but if he hasn’t, fasten your seatbelts, take cover, whatever.

Riley is expected to propose a package of bills calling for the biggest tax increase in state history … as much as $1 billion or more.

His goal is not simply to address the current crisis but to fundamentally reform the way state government is financed and operated.

But best … or worst … of all: The voters of Alabama will have the final say on his package.

The entire package will be subject to a vote of the people. It will be put-up-or-shut-up time for them.

In an interview, the governor said: &uot;There will be one up-and-down vote.&uot;

The guts of the revenue-raising package will be substantial increases in property taxes; disallowing federal income taxes as a deduction on state income taxes; an increase in the sales tax on automobiles to 4 percent; and an increase in the cigarette tax.

Be sure the sweeping package will include what some call &uot;pot sweeteners&uot; &045; one most frequently mentioned is a college scholarship program which would open the door to higher education for thousands of students.

The only thing certain at this writing is that the Legislature will be asked to go into special session on May 19 to consider the sweeping proposals.

While the governor has the authority to call a special session, it will be up to the Legislature to agree to recess the current special session.

Timing is of the essence in addressing the financial crisis. There must be a 90-day waiting period before measures passed by the Legislature can be voted on by the people.

That means any such measures passed by mid-June could not be voted on until mid-September, only a couple of weeks before the start of the new fiscal year.

You can’t cut it much closer than that.

It was an odd trade-out in the House of Representatives last week.

In one corner was a majority of House members &045; led by the Black caucus …. who were determined to pass a bill which would automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons who had served their time and paid restitution.

In the other corner were a group of mostly Republicans who wanted a bill passed to change the date for certifying presidential candidates from Aug. 31, 2004 to Sept. 6.

The reason: The GOP will not select its nominee next year until Sept. 2.

Without the change, President Bush, the likely nominee, would not be on the ballot in Alabama.

The debate boiled down to an &uot;either-or&uot; situation … the Democrat majority said either you pass the felon voting rights bill or we will not pass the bill assuring that Bush’s name will be on the ballot.

The Republicans had no choice.

The felon voting rights bill was passed by a 56-46 vote and immediately thereafter the other measure sailed through by a 97-1 vote.

Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Mobile, had a cryptic comment about the trading that went on in the House.

&uot;Tell your constituents that we voted for felons voting before we voted to put the commander in chief on the ballot.&uot;

For the record, the felon voting bill would exclude some ex-felons from automatically regaining their right to vote.

Those convicted of murder, rape and treason are not included in the bill as well as those convicted of possessing pornography with intent to distribute.

After her daughter was gang-raped and brutally murdered in 1976, Miriam Shehane co-founded an organization called Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL), a statewide victims’ right organizations.

Mrs. Shehane has since become one of the most recognizable figures on Capitol Hill, and the organization has become one of the most effective in protecting the rights of victims of crime.

Last week that organization came to her support.

The Pardon and Parole Board conducted a hearing to determine if one of the three men convicted in the Shehane rape-murder … Jerry Lee Jones … should be paroled.

A standing-room-only crowd of VOCAL members attended the hearing to oppose his petition to be released.

The board unanimously rejected the parole request