Gov.#039;s plan trails in polls with 13 days left

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Gov. Bob Riley has rental property, commercial property and farmland.

If Amendment One passes, he'll pay more in taxes n a lot more, but he doesn't care.

&uot;My taxes would go up in every area,&uot; he said. &uot;But my only interest is to do what's right for the state.&uot;

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What's right to Riley is a $1.2 billion tax-and-accountability package, which will be voted on during a statewide referendum on Sept. 9, and he's only got about 13 more days to convince the state of Alabama of that.

He knows it's a tough sell. In fact, the governor admits that if the vote were held today, it would fail.

&uot;If the vote was today, I'd say it would lose by 12 points,&uot; he said. &uot;I wanted to make it fair. We're going to try to give some tax relief. If we can convince that group of people that they are not going to pay more, I think we can turn it around.&uot;

Under Riley's plan, an estimated two-thirds of the people would pay less in income tax. However, many don't buy it.

Ray Pullium, a philosophy and world history teacher at Central Alabama Community College says most people have already made up their minds about the tax and accountability package, but none of them have actually read the bill.

&uot;It's 594 pages long. I went through and read the whole thing,&uot; he said. &uot;My point is if you don't read the bill, whether you vote for it or against it, you're just not informed.&uot;

To Pullium, both sides are feeding misinformation to the people and are not using the language in the bill to present their arguments. But to Riley, the opponents have a very simple sell n just say the phrase tax increase.

&uot;The opposition has been very good at spreading erroneous information,&uot; he said. &uot;The most difficult thing is we're saying you'll get a tax cut and they're saying it's a tax increase. They know they're wrong, but it's a great tactic.&uot;

It's a tactic that many of the people are buying. Recent polls indicate Riley's plan is trailing.

With the referendum only about two weeks away, Riley doesn't have much time to sway the voters.

While vigorously campaigning for the package, Riley and his staff are also having to consider alternatives if the plan fails.

Right now, Riley said the only other alternative is cuts. Alabama has an estimated $675-million budget shortfall. Riley's plan would fill that shortfall and over a four-year period bring in a total of $1.2 billion that will go, first where the most need is and then to education.

If the package fails, Riley said some tough decisions would have to be made on Sept. 10, and in his mind passing a tax increase at that point is out of the question.

&uot;I've said since the beginning that I won't ask for another dime until there's reform,&uot; he said. &uot;If (the voters) reject all that, I don't think I can support the option of raising taxes. If the people send the statement saying we have to live within our budget, we're going to have to make some very difficult choices about what is critical. Do we fund a program at the expense of someone who is in a nursing home? There is only so much money.&uot;

Although the Republican governor's plan has drawn much criticism from both parties, Riley said there's nothing he would have done differently.

The only thing he regrets is that he didn't have more time – more time to fix the problems and sell his tax and accountability package that he says will move Alabama forward for generations to come.

&uot;Sure, we had two or three months, but that's not a long time to convince people to make the right decision,&uot; he said. &uot;I've looked at all the alternatives, and I'm more convinced than ever that this is the right thing.&uot;