Riley says no hidden tax to be discovered

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 28, 2004

Kim Henderson

Some in high places are saying that Amendment 2, which will be presented to voters on the Nov. 2 ballot, has a hidden agenda.

"This is the most deceptive piece of legislation I have ever seen, and it is simply a fraud on the people of Alabama," former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said in a statement on Amendment 2.

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The measure, one of eight proposed amendments to the state's 1901 constitution to hit the general ballots next month, would strike down segregation language and poll taxes, if passed.

Alabama remains the only state in the nation with a remaining section in its constitution promoting segregation in its public school systems – regardless of a federal law that struck down the practice years ago.

Under a provision in Article 14, racially-biased wording which reads, "Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race," still exists.

Judge Moore, along with organizations like the Alabama Association for Judeo-Christian Values, holds to their belief that the amendment should not pass and that Article 14 should remain as is.

Moore claimed in his statement that the passage of Amendment 2 would result in a "huge tax increase."

Sandra L. Smith, president of the Alabama Association for Judeo-Christian Values, was quoted by The Birmingham News as saying that this amendment "will open the door to require we pay huge taxes for education."

Governor Bob Riley's office disagrees. There is no hidden tax, Riley's chief media representative declared.

"The governor said just yesterday that he had legal scholars and legal advisors look over it," remarked Riley's Deputy Press Secretary John Matson. "They found no truth to that," Matson added of the possibility of additional taxes.

"They said there's nothing in it that would cause taxes to go up. The governor said yesterday that he supports the amendment."

Moore's stance on the amendment is believed to have its roots in language, while not on the amendment itself, that is contained in Section 256 of the Alabama Constitution – the same section entitled "Duty of legislature to establish and maintain public school systems; apportionment of public school fund; separate schools for white and colored children."

The language Moore's office has stated he has a concern with is language that would be stricken if Amendment 2 passes.

That text reads, "…But nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense, nor as limiting the authority and duty of the legislature, in furthering or providing for education, to require or impose conditions or procedures deemed necessary to the preservation of peace and order."

If voters strike the above language, the state would be up to par, according to Amendment 2 supporters, with other states in the union – agreeing that all children are entitled to a public education.

Moore contends in his statement that the state legislature would have additional powers to increase education taxes once that language is removed.

According to Governor Riley's office, the legislature already levies educational funding to public schools – as required by the federal government – and nothing in Amendment 2 would act to increase the tax burden on Alabama citizens.

"The governor supports this because it removes the racial language from the constitution," Matson said. "Riley said that, even though this is unenforceable language that will appear on the ballots, it's time to strike that language."