BREAKING NEWS Tax package fails

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Shelby County has spoken in record numbers &045; &uot;no&uot; to Gov. Bob Riley’s tax package.

Amendment 1, Riley’s tax and accountability package, failed three to one in Shelby County yesterday.

Statewide, the results were about the same.

At presstime, with 2,384 of Alabama’s 2,702 precincts reporting, the measure had failed 68 to 32 percent.

Voting for the package statewide were 371,324; voting against it were 792,227.

Shelby County residents came out strong against the package, which was presented to make up a shortfall of some $625 million in the state’s budget.

Voting against the package, at presstime, were 33,646 county voters, or 70.5 percent.

Of the 47,734 who voted in the county, 14,088, or 29.5 percent voted for the governor’s plan with 64 of 65 boxes reporting.

Gov. Riley and legislators decided last May to put the $1.3 billion plan to a vote of the people.

Since that time, Riley and his supporters, the Alabama Partnership for Progress, and the Tax Accountability Coalition, those against the plan, have stumped throughout the state gathering support and attempting to educate voters.

Riley’s package included accountability measures, education planning measures and tax reform measures such as increases in property taxes, income taxes, cigarette taxes and more.

If the plan had passed, Shelby County Superintendent Evan Major had been told by state education officials that the schools would receive some $20 million, although no funds were officially earmarked.

&uot;We’ve got to start looking right now at what we’ve got to do to start moving forward,&uot; Major said following the vote on Tuesday. &uot;We’ve got all of the same problems that we had (before the vote).&uot;

Major said predictions from the state board of education are a 4 to 6 percent proration.

Major said if proration amounts to 4 or 5 percent, the cut from the county schools’ budget will be some $5 million.

&uot;We still have our five-year capital plan on the table and at this point, no way to fund it. We’ve got to start asking questions. We’re still growing in Shelby County,&uot; he said, pointing to an increase of almost 1,000 students this year.

&uot;With that growth, we still face the need for additional classrooms to house all our students. We’ve got to find ways to still implement our five- year plan.&uot;

Prior to the announcement of the governor’s plan and the subsequent vote, the Shelby County Board of Education had placed a 9 mill local property tax on the table.

Legislators approved a vote of the increased millage; however, with the governor’s vote, the 9-mill increase vote in the county was put on hold.

&uot;At this point, we’ve got to take a look and see (about the 9-mill increase). We just don’t know,&uot; he said. &uot;It is highly possible we will come forward with a local bill; but at this point, we don’t know. All of (the money) may not go to capital improvements.

&uot;We’ve just seen the state of Alabama vote down a tax increase almost three to one. We want to make sure the people of Shelby County understand and are ready to move forward before we put ours back on the table.&uot;

Shelby County legislators will now join others from across the state in Montgomery to pass budgets for both the general fund and the education trust fund.

Shelby County Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said he recognized from this election that voters want more accountability.

&uot;They expect us in the Legislature to go back down there and make government more accountable in the way it manages money,&uot; he said, indicating he believed legislators and the governor should listen to the voters.

&uot;Right now, the people don’t want to see government with more money but better financial management.&uot;

He said there should be &uot;a comprehensive accountability package that addresses these voter concerns.&uot;

The governor has threatened deep cuts in both budgets; but Ward said he believes more cuts will be made in the general fund than the education trust fund.

&uot;There are a lot of places we can cut first before cutting into essential services such as public safety and Medicaid,&uot; he said.

Former Shelby County Sen. Bill Armistead, who came out strong in opposition to Riley’s plan, said he believed the threats were just that &045; threats.

&uot;A lot of the threats they were making were just to get people to vote on the tax bill,&uot; he said.

&uot;I don’t think there is any way they would release 5,000 prisoners as they claim or close 50 schools.

&uot;They’ve got to do selective cutting. We have got to find a way to consolidate, streamline and economize government to achieve more efficiencies.

&uot;The people of Alabama spoke with a loud and clear voice today. And what they told the governor and the legislature is go back to Montgomery and give us a plan B without spending a billion dollars,&uot; he said.

&uot;They want government to be streamlined, consolidated and efficiency brought into place. That’s what Gov. Riley ran on, and that’s what they want him to deliver on,&uot; Armistead said. Armistead lost the race for lieutenant governor to Democrat Lucy Baxley last November