Riley stumps for votes

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Bob Riley has no other choice but to ask Alabama voters to raise taxes, the governor told a Shelby County crowd early this week.

&uot;Now if you want to have a debate about whether it is $675 or 700 million dollars as opposed to a billion dollars, that is a legitimate debate.&uot;

But Riley said he could not in &uot;good conscience&uot; ask voters to raise only three quarters of a billion dollars &045; just enough, he said, to &uot;maintain the status quo&uot; and &uot;continue to be 48th, 49th and 50th in everything that we do.&uot;

&uot;We can’t do that,&uot; he said.

Instead, Riley has proposed a $1.2 billion tax increase, the largest in state history.

The package is aimed at eliminating a near $700 million shortfall in the state budget while preventing drastic cuts in state-funded programs.

The governor’s traveling endorsement of the plan brought him to Montevallo’s American Village Monday, where he spoke to a select crowd of Shelby County legislators and other invited guests.

Riley’s speech was part of &uot;Governor’s Day&uot; at the village, sponsored by the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and the Partnership.

Riley spoke briefly about the plan and encouraged the audience to &uot;sit down with the literature that’s available and understand this program.&uot;

&uot;I could spend three hours talking to you just about what I want to do with education,&uot; Riley said, &uot;just how we could make it a world-class education system for all of our kids.&uot;

But without an increase, Riley said drastic cuts may be necessary in the classroom.

There has even been talk of eliminating extracurricular activities such as band and athletics.

&uot;We need to have that same pride in our education system &045; we need to have that same demand for excellence in everything that we do in state government that we have for our football teams,&uot; Riley said. &uot;If we do that, we’ll be competitive. But we have to change a mindset to make that happen and we’ve got two months to do it.&uot;

With a statewide vote fast approaching, Riley is expected to aggressively promote his plan in the coming weeks.

But he will have a hard time convincing some critics, like Clarence Goodwin of Shelby, who does not believe taxes need to be increased.

&uot;I just don’t think the money’s being (used) properly,&uot; he said. &uot;To tell you the truth, I don’t care how much money they’ve got down there. I don’t think they’re using it right.&uot;

Still others have questioned the accountability of state government.

Riley said accountability measures are built into the package that will come before voters Sept. 9.

&uot;Over the next three years, we’re going to continue to make government more efficient, more accountable,&uot; Riley said. &uot;We’re going to make more reforms than we have ever seen in this state’s history.

&uot;These aren’t mutually exclusive goals. Just because we’re trying to raise taxes doesn’t mean that were not going to continue to cut.&uot;

Riley said he has been asked why he called for a statewide vote instead of trying to pass tax increases through the state legislature.

&uot;This is a decision that the people of Alabama need to make,&uot; he said.

But Alabamians won’t have much time to think it over. Riley said a budget must be in place by October.

&uot;We’re going to try over the next two months to tell every person in this state how important this vote is,&uot; he said.

&uot;This is truly a defining moment, and I’m not being overly dramatic when I say that,&uot; Riley said