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Without the work of opponents like the Tax Accountability Coalition, South Alabamians For Real Reform and the Alabama Christian Coalition, voters would have been misled by the question.

Readin’, Writin’ and ’Rithmetic:
A Back to School Guide for the Alabama Governor

Not only was Governor Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax increase defeated — it was bludgeoned to death with only 33% of voters voting "yes." On September 9th, Alabama voters sent a resounding message to politicians in Montgomery — no new taxes. The question is not "why did the measure lose" but "why did the measure lose so badly?"

In June 2003, the Alabama legislature placed Amendment One, a constitutional amendment, on the ballot for voter approval. Containing a conglomeration of 19 legislative bills, it proposed significant increases in income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, cigarette taxes and the corporate income tax (to name just a few). Like screeching tires on a busy roadway, the message of the proposal echoed across the state.

Facing a $675 million budget shortfall, Governor Riley attempted to tax his way out of an inherited problem rather than fix the problem head on. What’s worse, the tax increase didn’t just fix the budget shortfall; it also added an additional $525 million in new program spending.

Maybe Governor Riley should go back to school to re-learn the basics. Had he followed some of the basic rules of accounting, leadership and ethics, he might have earned an "A." But on September 9th, voters gave the governor a big fat "F."

Accounting 101: The first lesson students learn in arithmetic is one plus one equals two. In the case of Amendment One, a $675 million budget shortfall equaled a $1.2 billion tax increase. This left voters scratching their heads. As products of the Alabama public school system, voters were continually told they were the dumbest graduates in the country — at least that’s what the test scores said. But perhaps voters did learn that one plus one does equal two, and what the governor proposed simply did not add up.

Ethics 101: In most states, the use of public resources or facilities is illegal in any campaign. You wouldn’t know that by the way the pro-tax campaign was handled in Alabama. Principals and teachers were provided "Vote Yes" signs, pro-Amendment One literature was posted in public offices and some schools proudly displayed "Vote Yes" signs on their front lawns. The governor went so far as to replacing the typical elevator muzak or silence on the public office phone system "hold line" with a pro-Amendment One message, complete with instructions to the listener: "Vote yes on September 9th."

Campaign 101: What ever happened to the days when politicians kissed babies? Those days are apparently gone in Alabama, or at least for the Riley Administration. Instead of wooing voters with sweet compliments and southern charm, Riley resorted to the catchphrase, "Alabama is last in everything good and first in everything bad." His policy director, David Stewart, even went so far as to call the people of Alabama "stupid" when asked why the governor’s plan was doing poorly in the polls. To make matters worse, Charles Blair, president of the Huntsville school board called opponents of the plan "idiots" and "morons."

You can beat a dog into submission. It will listen for a while and do what you say, but eventually the dog will come back and bite you. Alabama voters bit the governor — and they bit hard.

No school is complete without a playground bully. Once again, proponents of the Riley plan used scare tactics to make their point: claiming that over 400,000 senior citizens would be forced out of nursing homes, schools would close and convicts would run free. These scare tactics begged many questions including, "what happened to the state’s federal bailout money?"

In February 2003, Governor Riley announced a $100 million deficit in the state’s Medicaid plan while lobbying Congress for federal money. Congress gave him $120 million for his Medicaid "money crunch" plus an additional $151 million in "free money," money that could be used towards something like, well, reducing the state’s budget shortfall! With regard to school closings, administration officials never once explained why, over the past 30 years, the number of principals, teachers and school administrators increased on average by 40 to 50 percent while the number of students decreased by 14 percent.

There is probably one class that the tax-and-spend politicians in Montgomery could pass at the end of this hypothetical semester at school — Creative Writing. The ballot question asked voters to allow the legislature to increase funding for programs like public education, college scholarships, health care benefits for senior citizens, etc. Yet the wording of the amendment didn’t even earmark the new revenue for the programs specifically listed in the ballot question. Deceitfully, the question failed to ask voters if they would approve a tax increase, it simply asked them to allow legislators to "adjust" various taxes. (Noah Webster would roll over in his grave).

Without the work of opponents like the Tax Accountability Coalition, South Alabamians For Real Reform and the Alabama Christian Coalition, voters would have been misled by the question. These groups, along with many national groups, educated Alabamians not on what the ballot question did say, but on what the ballot question did not say.

After aligning himself with the teachers’ union, public state employees’ union and members of his opposition party (to name just a few), Governor Riley should get down on his knees and pray that those who opposed his tax grab will forgive and forget. The governor even went so far as to tell the people of Alabama that voting "yes" would be the "Christian" thing to do.

Not only has the governor lost the support of his own political base, he has now become friends with people akin to Judas. Jesus eventually forgave Judas, but the people of Alabama may not be so quick to do the same. Maybe, and just maybe, if Governor Riley shows folks he can walk on water by balancing the budget in a sensible, fiscally responsible manner, he may regain the trust of Alabamians. But then again, maybe someone should just throw him a lifejacket and let him fend for himself.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Karen Bailey recently joined the Center for Individual Freedom as the Vice President for Public Affairs. She joined the Center after working as a state projects manager at Americans for Tax Reform where she played an integral role in the effort to defeat Alabama’s $1.2 billion tax increase referendum.

[Posted September 12, 2003]

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