Tax plan opponent attacks spending

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 27, 2003

John Rice, a former Alabama legislator, has joined forces with other tax plan opponents to form the Tax Accountability Coalition.

In a speech, given to Kiwanians at their weekly luncheon on Tuesday, Rice pointed out what he thought were several flaws in Gov. Riley’s plan, but his biggest complaint was with the amount of campaigning that is being done on school grounds and by public officials using public dollars.

&uot;This thing about campaigning in the schoolhouses has got to stop,&uot; Rice said. &uot;It reminds you of dictatorships and government overthrows.&uot;

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He cited as an example an incident that occurred in a Mobile County school last year during an education tax referendum where students were sent home with pledges for support of the referendum.

Those students who came back with signed pledges in support of the referendum were sent to the cafeteria for ice cream. Those who didn’t had to sit at their desks.

&uot;Last Wednesday, my attorney, Mark Montiel, filed a challenge with the Attorney General to stop the practice of campaigning on school grounds, and remove the campaign signs from public property,&uot; Rice said. &uot;I don’t think one person that I’ve talked to thinks it’s right for public employees to spend your tax dollars and leave their duties behind.&uot;

Rice said the funny thing about the education department asking for more money was that the governor’s commissioned report on education spending, which was released on July 16, shows that the education system is rampant with misappropriations, misallocations and &uot;stupid spending.&uot;

The tax opponent said he understands the state’s budgets because of his years in the legislature.

&uot;I served two terms in the state legislature, and I know the budgets,&uot; Rice said. &uot;I have studied this tax package, and I will debate any human being on earth on this amendment. I studied it because of education.&uot;

Rice pointed out Riley’s commissioned education report shows we have the fourth best-paid teachers in the 12 southeastern states.

&uot;In per capita income we’re second best – that’s our ability to pay our teachers on our income,&uot; he said. &uot;The number of public education employees has risen 42 percent in six years while we have had a 14 percent decline in the number of pupils [attending public schools]. We have the same number of children in schools today that we had in 1955. However, the education budget has risen by 25 to 30 percent in 10 years, higher than the rate of inflation.&uot;

Rice said the report also said Alabama is 30th among the 50 states in general spending per student, and 14th among the 16 states in the Southeast Regional Education Board of State Appropriations.

&uot;We’re not last,&uot; he said. &uot;We don’t need to be last, but we don’t need to be first either. We’re not a state of low means. But we have a lot of retired people, so we have fixed incomes that make our total income that makes our income picture lower than other states. We’re still not on the bottom of the list.&uot;

Rice said the problem with the education budget was allocation.

&uot;Scott Beason, a state representative from Gardendale, has had a bill for two years that would make it illegal for state-funded universities to subsidize out-of-state students,&uot; he said. &uot;He can’t get it out of the education committee. Yet, it is supported by the Speaker of the House, Seth Hammett, and long-term Auburn University Board of Trustees member Jack Venable.&uot;

Rice said Jacksonville State University wants to grow its campus, and the only way to do that is to attract students out of Georgia.

&uot;The only way to attract those students is to subsidize them [with scholarships],&uot; he said. &uot;Folks, that’s your money, and we can’t get that practice stopped.&uot;