Riley tax plan may cost him

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 20, 2003

MONTGOMERY &045; All those Democrat legislators who have been whining all spring about Gov. Riley not coming forward with a plan to address the financial crisis facing the state are whining a different tune now.

Comes to mind the old saw: Be careful what you pray for … your prayers may be answered.

In one of the most politically courageous moves in memory … some would say politically foolish … the governor has dumped into the lap of the Legislature the most ambitious and costly package ever.

Not only is he seeking the biggest tax increases ever but he is also proposing fundamental changes in the way the money would be spent.

The only consolation for the lawmakers is that Riley proposes that his entire package be subject to the approval of the voters.

If all goes according to plan … and it rarely does … the entire Riley package will be submitted to an up-or-down vote of the people some three months after the adjournment of the special session.

The most painful blow to taxpayers is a recommendation that federal income taxes paid would be disallowed as a deduction in computing state income taxes.

This would generate more than $400 million in new revenue. Another possibility would be a substantial increase in property taxes and doubling the sales tax on automobiles from the present rate of two percent to four percent.

Riley will also ask that none of the new money generated from these taxes be earmarked, but instead will go into what is called a &uot;third fund&uot; to be spent where needed as determined by the Legislature and governor.

Presently almost 90 percent of taxes collected by the state are earmarked for a specific purpose, giving state officials little or no wiggle room in addressing unanticipated shortfalls.

Reaction to the Riley legislation has been mixed. He has been given points for courage but others suggest that all he has done is assure that he will be a one-term governor.

It was a classic example of &uot;you scratch my back and I will scratch yours&uot; in the Alabama House of Representatives last week.

In one corner was the Democrat majority which very much wanted to pass a bill which would automatically grant voting rights to convicted felons who had served their time.

On the other side was the Republican minority who wanted to make sure that the name of George Bush … the certain-to-be-renominated GOP candidate for President in 2004 … would be on the ballot.

The Republicans had blocked passage of the felon voting rights bill for weeks, the Democrats had blocked consideration of the bill to assure Bush’s name would be on the ballot.

Finally, a compromise.

The Republicans agreed to let the voting bill come up for a vote provided the Bush bill was next in line for consideration.

By a vote of 56-47 the felon voting rights measure was passed and moments later by a 97-1 vote Bush-on-the-ballot measure also passed.

If you don’t know, the present law requires that a

candidate must be certified for the General Election by Aug. 31, but in 2004 the GOP convention will not pick its presidential nominee until Sept. 2.

Without changing this deadline, the Republicans would have had to wage a massive write-in campaign for Bush next year.

The long-anticipated audit of the Governor’s Emergency Fund during the four years of Don Siegelman’s reign has finally been

released and what it shows is that he and his staff were a lousy recordkeepers.

He, his wife. Lori, and staff members spent more than $480,000 for trips, meals, gifts and other items without the documentation required by law.

Siegelman has already repaid $38,000 of this amount for expenses he admitted were not for public purposes.

A spokesperson for Siegelman insisted the questioned expenditures were all for public purposes however she conceded that &uot;perhaps better records should have been kept.&uot;

What state auditors found most troubling was some $157,000 charged to an American Express card used by Siegelman, his wife, and some members of his staff.

The audit challenged the use of the card by Mrs. Siegelman because she was not a state employee