Won’t be a happy new year

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

MONTGOMERY &045; It is a standard greeting during this time of the year: &uot;Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.&uot;

But as far as Alabama taxpayers are concerned it might be advisable to delete the second half of that greeting. A Happy New Year it may not be.

Gov. Bob Riley and the Alabama Legislature are looking at two options to resolve what may be the worst financial crisis in state history, perhaps even worse than the Great Depression when then-Gov. B.M. Miller turned off the electricity at the mansion to save money.

There are only two avenues available to the state leaders &045; dramatic cuts in services and perks for teachers and state employees … or … dramatic increases in taxes.

Taxpayers can grumble all they want about waste in state government … and there is a lot of waste … but even if it were all cut out it would not make up for the shortfall.

While there has been a lot of talk about making up much of the shortage by requiring teachers and employees to pay more for their health insurance and retirement benefits, don’t bet on the Alabama Legislature agreeing to that.

Not with Dr. Paul Hubbert of the Alabama Education Association sitting in the balcony pulling strings like a puppeteer on the lawmakers who are beholden to him.

That brings us to the other option … tax increases … and already key leaders in the Legislature are looking at this.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said as much a few days ago.

He said if Gov. Riley didn’t come forth with a tax increase package of his own … and why would he after the Sept. 9 rejection of his tax-accountability package … then the Legislature may propose a plan of its own.

One things seems certain. If the Legislature does come with major tax increases, the hikes will all be subject to a vote of approval by the voters.

The legislature has the authority to raise some taxes without voter approval … most notably the sales tax … but Hammett indicated none of the legislators want to go that route.

They want the voters to have a say on all proposed levies.

State Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, the president pro tem of the Senate, echoed Hammett’s sentiments.

He proposed a menu of proposed taxes on which the voters could express their approval or disapproval.

&uot;I suggest we go back to the voters with a broad package and let the voters have some choices on how they would like for us to solve the financial crisis,&uot; Barron said.

He also said the taxes should be earmarked so voters will know where the new money is going.

Dr. Hubbert, who has made it plain that any attempt to charge teachers more for their benefits will trigger nothing less than a &uot;Holy War,&uot; said the AEA would support a &uot;fair package&uot; of revenue-raising bills.

But back to the point about 2004 being a Happy New Year, the facts are easy to see &045; it will be a year of massive cuts or massive tax increases. And if the legislature has its way, the choice will be yours.

What with all the hugging and kissing and forgiving that has gone on at Auburn University the last few days, you might wonder if that old hymn, &uot;Peace In The Valley,&uot; might become AU’s alma mater.

Coach Tommy Tuberville insists he has forgiven President William Walker, Athletic Director David Housel … and yes, even Bobby Lowder, the trustee who furnished the plane for the now-infamous flight to Louisville.

But these declarations of forgiveness have not spilled over into the Alumni Association. That organization has demanded that Gov. Riley call on Dr. Walker as well as anyone else connected with the contoversy to resign.

And it should not go unnoticed that the Alumni Association board member who made this demand public was Ralph Jordan Jr.

If you don’t know who he is the son of, then you aren’t an (Auburn Tiger).

Sidebar to this story … a funny sidebar.

The one-liner now going around is that Walker and Housel are insisting that they didn’t fly to Louisville to interview Bobby Petrino about being the football coach but were there to interview Petrino about being the basketball coach. It was all just a mix-up of names.