The wolf#039; is at the door

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Alabama’s former Secretary of State and current Commissioner of Labor, Jim Bennett, spoke on behalf of the Governor’s ‘Plan for Progress’ at Thursday’s Rotary Club meeting in Greenville.

His message:

The finances of the state have reached a crisis ‘point of no return’ that requires action on the part of its citizens.

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&uot;Alabama is at that ‘fork in the road’ and we have to make some very serious decisions.

Governor Riley’s tax plan will have a profound effect on our state if it passes on September 9.

However, there will also be profound changes if it is defeated,&uot; Bennett warned.

With the state facing a $675 million budget deficit, &uot;We will either have to further cut services or find some new sources of revenue…if that revenue is not found, the state will be forced to make drastic cuts in areas such as Medicaid, senior services, prisons and schools,&uot; he said.

Bennett reminded his audience Riley had already implemented cuts in the state budget providing some $230 million in savings to taxpayers over the next fiscal year.

Still, he says, it is not enough to solve what has been referred to as the state’s ‘worst financial crisis since the Great Depression’.

&uot;I know Governor Riley’s record and he never voted for a tax increase as a legislator. He wants to move this state forward in unprecedented ways…you have to recognize [Riley’s] courage to take this stand to try to move us out of this financial crisis,&uot; Bennett said.

He remarked on how the Republican governor has managed to alienate some of his staunchest supporters with this tax plan.

&uot;This is greater than political partisanship; we are talking about Alabama’s future in the global marketplace. This is a time for leadership over politics,&uot; Bennett said, adding,

&uot;We can choose to do nothing and drastic cuts will happen. We can have the largest tax increase in the state’s history and still only provide a short-term ‘band-aid’ solution.

There is a third choice—move this state forward to sound financial footing.

&uot;Do we want to continue our route of low expectations [in Alabama], as if we didn’t deserve any better?

You owe it to yourselves to examine the entire program before you decide,&uot; he stressed.

With the state’s debt having doubled in the last four years, and cuts having already been implemented, Bennett believes the tax program is the only way to reverse the downward spiral.

&uot;This plan will make taxes fair and still keep taxes low…we will still be ranked in the bottom six states [for property taxes] even if it passes.

Our property taxes here in Alabama are well below the southeastern average,&uot; he said.

In terms of farms of less than 2,000 acres, &uot;95% of the same evaluations will apply,&uot; he said.

Regarding higher income taxes, Bennett stated 67% of Alabamians would pay the same or lower state income taxes than they do currently.

Bennett emphasized the many improvements the plan proposes to bring to the state’s educational system. &uot;In six years, our state could lead the nation in reading skills—now, that would be something to brag about,&uot; he said.

He stressed new accountability measures would insure the electorate &uot;will know exactly how the money is being spent.&uot;

(For more information on the governor’s accountability and education reforms, see today’s lead story.)