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August 18, 2003 9:00 AM   Subscribe

"We've got a conservative, evangelical Christian,Republican governor, trying to get a massive turnout of black voters to pass a tax increase so he can raise taxes on Republican constituents." Alabama Governor has massive and unexpected change of heart.
posted by jonson (35 comments total)

 
"Somewhat paradoxically, polls show the strongest opposition is among black voters, who make up about a fourth of the electorate, and people with incomes under $30,000 -- the very Alabamians who would receive the largest tax cuts."

This is among the more surreal stories I've seen in quite a while. Staunch conservative governor turns his back on the big businesses that helped elect him in order to help the poor & disenfranchised, only to be defeated (potentially) by the poor & disenfranchised, who don't trust him since he's traditionally been such an enemy of their best interests.
posted by jonson at 9:06 AM on August 18, 2003


I wouldn't call what he is doing liberal, I would call it rational. And, far from unique in the South, he is trying to turn around the some of the last, most persistent and obnoxious remnants of reconstruction that still exist in several States.
The first hint that something is really wrong in the South is the lack of bookstores, except in the big cities. Effective education of any kind has long been opposed, because with education comes increased expectation--something you can't have when you want a subservient work force.

The rich are still of a mind that they cannot enjoy their wealth unless they are surrounded by grinding poverty--a twisted notion, indeed, that you would expect to only find overseas.

Business is a closed shop--the good ol' boy network taken to the extreme--to include government and the courts. (An excellent example is Arkansas, where Tyson foods made a corporate memo with a price list for bribes for elected officials throughout the State.)

Anyone who breaks this up is not political, they transcend politics and become a true reformer.
posted by kablam at 9:15 AM on August 18, 2003


The rich are still of a mind that they cannot enjoy their wealth unless they are surrounded by grinding poverty--a twisted notion, indeed, that you would expect to only find overseas.

Spare us your vapid, unsubstantiated pronouncements. Surely you jest, kablam.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:17 AM on August 18, 2003


this is fascinating stuff. it's interesting to see the republicans across the country go after this guy like he's the devil

the poster child for Republicans who go bad. I want every conservative Republican elected official in the United States to watch Bob Riley lose and learn from it

plus the disgusting radio ads mentioned towards the end.

and then there's the support from some state party members that either makes them blind followers, reformed or wanting this all along.

"Alabama needs to raise some revenue; there's no question about that," said the GOP's Connors. "But this is not a tax increase any longer. This is a massive redistribution of wealth. We are the Republican Party -- of Alabama! If a Democrat had proposed this, we would be burning down cities."

and this almost made me spit out my lunch in laughter:

Christian Coalition response: "We applaud tax relief for the poor. You'll find most Alabamians have got a charitable heart; they want to do that," said the group's president, John Giles. "They just don't want it coming out of their pocket."

And where is the charity supposed to come from? Money growing on trees?
posted by evening at 9:24 AM on August 18, 2003


I'm in Mobile, Ala. at the moment, and have been partially working on a research project in poor and lower middle class neighborhoods. It seems sometimes as if every other residence in these neighborhoods has an anti-tax reform sign out front. Meanwhile, I'm living in the Old Southy section, midtown - with the graceful live oak trees, the huge antebellum homes, etc. - and the most prominent signage (there's not nearly as much here, though) says, "Let's do the right thing." These are pro-tax reform signs. Go figure. Sure, it's anecdotal info here, but polling seems to be reflecting my observations.

I've also seen some anti-tax reform signs in suburban areas, mind you, so it's not just the poor that are against Riley here. He just needed the support of the poor and minorities, and won't get it, especially not when vetoing a bill that would've given convicted felons who've served their time the right to vote again.
posted by raysmj at 9:24 AM on August 18, 2003


It's easy for republicans on the national scene to campaign on no new taxes, because with thier Don't Tax and Spend platform, they can deficit spend to their little hearts content.

Unfortunately, their counterparts in the state governments don't have the luxury of fiscal irresponsibility. You can look at a myriad of other states run by republican governors (Arkansas being one) who are now seeking tax increases, because they actually have to ballance their budgets.
posted by prodigalsun at 9:24 AM on August 18, 2003


While I'm not especially excited about the prospect of new taxes, it is clear that SOMETHING has to be done within the state of Alabama. Besides, when it comes to total tax burden among US states, this proposed tax increase will raise Alabama from 50th all the way up to 44th. And, for the citizens of Alabama, it's not a question of IF but more like WHEN tax increases are coming.

I am a resident of Alabama, and have actually met Bob Riley on several occasions. I am convinced that his heart is in the right place and that he truly desires that Alabama be raised up another notch on the national scene. He is very genuine and personable when you meet him in person; I am very much struck by the fact that every time I have met him - I felt that as we spoke, I had his undivided attention and that he was actually listening. This is a rare quality among politicians.

The bottom line for most of us conservatives...is it ALL about the pocketbook? I have decided that if I am to remain true to my moral and ethical core, it can't just all be about the money. The proposals Riley is making will fundamentally change the tax structure of the state for the better.

A perfect plan? No. Better thna what we currently have? Absolutely.
posted by insulglass at 9:29 AM on August 18, 2003


I am live and work in Montgomery. I was amazed that this package was pushed by a Republican. Riley seems content to be a one term governor. I really dreaded Riley coming into office (the incumbent he defeated has long been a friend of my school), but have grown to like him more during all this.

I am as a rule against new taxes, but you could triple my property tax and I am still paying around $300 a year on my house. I am wary of the plan, simply because I am distrustful about fine print pork and exemptions that I haven't been made aware of. But in the end, I have a "Let's do the Right Thing and vote yes" sign in my yard. Of course I am a public school employee and know where my bread is buttered.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 9:37 AM on August 18, 2003


"When I read the New Testament, there are three things we're asked to do: That's love God, love each other and take care of the least among us," Riley said in his office

An evangelical Christian who actually understands the Bible. That is the most amazing thing in this story.
posted by drinkcoffee at 9:38 AM on August 18, 2003


Rereading the article: Maybe not triple them to $300, but I am paying bext to nothing in property tax.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 9:41 AM on August 18, 2003


From what I know and have seen in Alabama, this man sounds like a real hero to me.

Spartacusroosevelt- I too wonder about hidden exemptions and pork. Surely if there was any, though, you ought to have heard about it in Montgomery. Well?
posted by crazy finger at 9:44 AM on August 18, 2003


Yeah....I understand about the property taxes. I live in N. Alabama. I'm not in the city limits but in a very well populated area between two growing cities.

I have a 3 bedroom/2 bath brick ranch home, appx 1700 sq feet with a separate additional 20x24 building for an additional garage slot and home office. I have a backyard big enough to have 430 feet of wooden fence around it....my total lot is about 3/4 acre. It is nice but not fancy.

I originally paid about $90K for this "spec home" in 1997 and have since made some improvements. My property value has grown over $35K in the last 5 years and it is a very salable home if I chose to put it on the market, I am confident that I could sell it in the $130K range if not more.

Last year my property taxes cost me $227. Under the new tax plan, this will rise to just over $300. Like I said, I'm not interested in paying new taxes but yeah, I can afford that.

I'm sure glad I don't live in the Northeast, though.
posted by insulglass at 9:51 AM on August 18, 2003


I felt that as we spoke, I had his undivided attention and that he was actually listening. This is a rare quality among politicians

I've found that most politicians I've met have this quality, especially at higher levels of government. In fact, it's probably essential to win any seriously contested election. The question is whether they really are listening or whether they're just really skilled at making you think they are listening.
posted by boltman at 9:53 AM on August 18, 2003


Yeah, I live in NH- multiply your payment by 10 and then some.

In NH we believe in the no taxes thing as well, all we have is the property tax! Of course that policy has led to some real problems in the last few years, especially with public education. Thankfully I graduated in May, the state is cutting a huge amount of education spending and most of that is coming from the University system.
posted by crazy finger at 9:56 AM on August 18, 2003




THAT explains all the signs I saw in Alabama this past weekend.

The first hint that something is really wrong in the South is the lack of bookstores, except in the big cities. Effective education of any kind has long been opposed, because with education comes increased expectation--something you can't have when you want a subservient work force.

That is such total unadulterated manure, for numerous reasons.

For one thing, undereducated people are anything but subservient around here. They have as much pride and desire to control their own destinies as anyone else.

Oh, and don't worry about us not having a Barnes and Nobles in every hamlet. We have automobiles to drive to the Big City.
posted by konolia at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2003


But the Christian Coalition of Alabama, which opposes all tax increases, staked out the other side. "We applaud tax relief for the poor. You'll find most Alabamians have got a charitable heart; they want to do that," said the group's president, John Giles. "They just don't want it coming out of their pocket."

Typical myopic conservative nonsense. "We'll cut social spending," they say, "and charitable contributions will increase to make up the difference." But they ignore the fact that social spending was instituted because charitable contributions were never enough in the first place.

Don't bother mentioning this to a "Don't tax me!" zealot. They literally cannot hear you.
posted by Cerebus at 10:16 AM on August 18, 2003


Yay for Bob Riley. I'm sure he's trying everything, but I'd think a good tactic would be to get community leaders on his side. The pastors and so forth. Invite them to a dinner and explain the effects of the new taxation scheme.
posted by orange swan at 10:28 AM on August 18, 2003


It is really an answered prayer.
posted by samuelad at 10:38 AM on August 18, 2003


Just to contrast, my house in Katy, TX is quite similar to insulglass' house in AL, except that I will pay almost $2000 in property taxes this year. Hmmm...$300 vs. $2000 - I'll take the former every time.
posted by ittybittyteenyweenyyellowpolkadotbikini at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2003


Riley's opponents also have targeted black voters, airing a radio ad on stations with mostly black audiences featuring a man with poor diction warning, "Our property taxes could go up as much as fo' hundred percent," and blaming "Montgomery insiders who have been ignorin' us for years."

First: Most people I know at the poverty level rent, they don't own. (This may be a function of where I live however)

Second: Tacky.
posted by jopreacher at 10:47 AM on August 18, 2003


As a resident of Alabama, I've been following this issue closely. The bill itself is several thousand pages, so the voters are having to rely on what others say it's all about. Both sides have published "Tax Calculators" which allow you to enter a few basic numbers and find out how your taxes will be affected. Not surprisingly, the figures vary wildly depending on whose calculator you use.

Here are the main arguments against the plan, from what I've been hearing:

1. Not $1 is guaranteed to go towards education. It's all put into a big fund that the politicians can then distribute as they deem fit. Given the horrendous track record of Alabama politicians, this scares most voters (I would bet Alabama leads the nation in politicians convicted for crimes while in office).

2. Some of Riley's people came out saying, "You're not a good Christian if you don't support this tax plan!" That angered a lot of Christians.

3. Riley lied when he promised that he wouldn't raise taxes, so now no one believes him when he says the taxes are necessary.

4. Many sources claim that the $675 million debt is a fradulent number. Most say it's actually closer to $230 million.

5. Some of the businesses whose taxes will be raised have claimed that they might be forced to relocate if this bill is passed. Alabama can't afford to lose those jobs.

6. Alabama is notorious for wasteful spending in all areas of government. Many wonder why Riley decided to raise taxes before first trying to do a better job with the money that's already there.

I don't necessarily agree with all of these, but that's the general opinion from people I know. My wife works for one of the state's big educators, and they are constantly being "urged" to vote for the tax plan. Other than the people she works with, I haven't met anyone who plans to vote for this tax increase.
posted by Reggie452 at 10:58 AM on August 18, 2003


Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, who gave Riley as congressman his group's Friend of the Taxpayer Award every year from 1997 through 2002, vowed to make Riley "the poster child for Republicans who go bad. I want every conservative Republican elected official in the United States to watch Bob Riley lose and learn from it."

The American Conservative Union, Citizens for a Sound Economy, National Taxpayers Union, Eagle Forum, Family Research Council and other grass-roots conservative groups signed a letter with Norquist denouncing Riley for a "grab for the special interests and unions" that "will burden every segment of society."

Wow. Now that's conservative praise for a Republican following his deeply religious moral convictions. Not even a simple "we disagree." Norquist basically said "we must destroy him NOW!" Meanwhile, a handful of conservative groups who thrived on the Anti-Clinton morality play of the 90's have suddenly decided to ignore the governor's use of every Bible-thumping tactic they hide behind because he's using it for a policy they disagree with.

Even more interesting is how the CCOA supports him, sort of. Which makes this a fight between ecomic lunatics and religious lunatics, I guess. Weep for the state.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2003


Reggie452: What kind of jobs? How many more new jobs would a more stable government and strong educational system bring in? You can always point out that not a dollar goes into education here. But, presuming that a larger tax bill did shuffle funds into education (never mind that a substantial part of Alabama's problem now is an insane amount of budgetary earmarking), would this objection still apply? Do you think anyone should all that worried about keeping employers around who would take off to Central America in a heartbeat? If you're talking about overly burdensome corporate or business taxation as compared to neighboring states, please explain yourself. But otherwise, if you want cheap asshole employers calling the shots, you'll never get anything but cheap asshole employers - unless you pay zillions in incentives to drag them there.

I think, by the way, that it's obvious the governor has not been politically savvy here, even if he's been bold. And it seems to me the plan is way too much to explain in too short of a time. But even $203 million in shortfalls would devastate this state, quickly. If that's true, the situation is still very serious - regardless of the whole "how much is wasted" question. (And it's not like you're going to cut out enough waste over the short term to deal with the problem.)

So my big question is, What's the opposition's solution, other than harping about waste?
posted by raysmj at 11:30 AM on August 18, 2003


The first I heard of a Christian tax increase was when Susan Pace Hamill took a leave from her position as professor at UA law school to pursue a masters in Theological Studies at Beeson Divinity School of Stamford University. The result was a master's thesis that argued for tax reform for Alabama based on Judeo-Christian ethics. I can't find the original online but some information can be found here.

I hope it passes but I'm afraid it won't. As one person in the article said, people believe in Christian charity as long as someone else does it. These are the people who give mainstream religion a bad name.
posted by whatever at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2003


I guess the question on my mind what's so great about Alabama's system of government and taxation that is worth preserving?

This entire state seems like a supply-sider's dream world. It's not just that the system favors you if you're rich. The system goes out of its way to HURT you if you are poor. The money that homeowners save on property taxes by living alabama as opposed to new hampshire can be easily redirected towards private school tuition.

In light of all of this, one would assume that Alabama is some kind of paradise, but it's not. How could the new tax system possibly make Alabama any worse than it is now? What are those who oppose Gov. Riley's plans proposing?
posted by deanc at 11:50 AM on August 18, 2003


Crazy Finger--

My boss until a month ago was a state senator who was amazed that some of the pork pushed by powerful people was kicked out. I am sure there is some buried in there but a lot that was destined for the bill ended up not making it. Encouraging. I
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 1:37 PM on August 18, 2003


Unfortunately, the statewide referendum (to be held September 9th) is polling about twenty points short of passing, and shows no sign of gaining positive momentum. At the bare minimum, Riley has broached the subject of tax reform statewide, and provided a better alternative than his predecessor's ill-fated lottery referendum to cure the state's financial woes.
posted by kickerofelves at 6:56 PM on August 18, 2003


XI. Thou shalt not raise thy taxes.

XII. Thou shalt not follow the teachings and examples of Jesus.

XIII. Grover Norquist shall deliver thee from the wilderness of the evil socialist government known as USA. He shall drown it in a bathtub for thee.

XIV. Thou shalt be a hypocrite for all thine days.

XV. Thou shalt post My commandments in thine courthouses but never obey them.

Your turn.
posted by nofundy at 5:44 AM on August 19, 2003


So my big question is, What's the opposition's solution, other than harping about waste?

Really? I know you won't want to hear this, but here goes: spend less. It's really quite simple. Cut wasteful programs instead of just "harping" about it.
posted by insomnyuk at 6:37 AM on August 19, 2003


You get what you pay for, and down here in the heart of dixe, we dont pay shit! I am beginning to think there are two things that are certain in this life, death and alabama having the most regressive backward ass tax system in the world. I've seen the economic growth and splendor that has been brought about by our non-existant property taxes, its a god damn amazing sight.

Every state government wastes, i fail to see where this is a new thing and means that we should continue to let timber companies get out of here barely taxed while the rest of the united states wipes their ass on our clearcut forests.

ps likw whatever mentioned, a lot of Susan Pace Hamill's writings, often quoted by Bob Riley, are here
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 6:48 AM on August 19, 2003


insomnyuk: You live in Ohio. Come to Alabama, examine what goes on here, then we'll talk.
posted by raysmj at 7:10 AM on August 19, 2003


insomnyuk: Riley has already trimmed over $230M so far since being elected.

The problem is, there are quite a number of federal mandates and other constitutionally allocated funds. Basically, Riley can only cut spending in certain areas. Remember that about 90% of Alabama's revenue is specifically earmark to a certain state agency or funding need.

The three largest discretionary areas are essentially the prison system, Health and Human services, and law enforcement. Even the Education spending can't be touched unless the state goes into mandated proration - after the budget crisis already arrives.
posted by insulglass at 9:18 AM on August 19, 2003


insomnyuk: Gee, what a vapid and useless thing to say, like telling diseased people to "quit being sick and just make yourselves better."
Is that some sort of CATO Institute program?
posted by kablam at 11:53 AM on August 19, 2003


Really? I know you won't want to hear this, but here goes: spend less. It's really quite simple. Cut wasteful programs instead of just "harping" about it.

Seriously, insomnyuk: When you make a statement like this it's incumbent upon you to suggest where and how actual, specific cuts could be made. Otherwise, it's just a knee-jerk response.
posted by kgasmart at 2:18 PM on August 19, 2003


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