Reason to hope, says Mitchell

Published 2:22 pm Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The new administration in Washington faces enormous challenges, and there will be no quick fixes to heal the ailing economy.

But hope should nonetheless prevail.

That was the message shared by Alabama Senator Wendell Mitchell on Tuesday as he spoke to members and guests at the Greenville Kiwanis Club.

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After opening his remarks with personal anecdotes and a list of fascinating and fun bits of presidential trivia, Mitchell said he was especially pleased to be speaking with the club on such a momentous occasion as Inauguration Day.

“We see the transfer of power in such a smooth way (in this country). And that’s uncommon in this world. We sometimes take it for granted,” Mitchell said.

“Our new president has an enormous responsibility taking on this challenge, but I know each of us in this room hopes for the best in this administration . . . the key word is ‘hope.’”

The senator said past efforts to “band-aid” and provide a quick fix for short falls and small downturns in the economy would not work today.

“This is the most severe financial situation I’ve seen in seven terms and I just don’t know how you patch something like this,” Mitchell said.

“Alabama requires a balanced budget; we can appropriate more, but we cannot spend more than we take in. If the downturn continues, the budget projections of being seven to eight percent over revenue will climb over ten percent, I am sure.”

He voiced disappointment with departments in state government that had requested increases in the face of Gov. Riley’s request for ten percent budget cuts across the board.

“I don’t know if they are being selfish, or just asking for more than they expect to receive,” Mitchell said.

So, in the senator’s view, what is the cure for the ailing economy?

“Cuts, and more revenue. Historically, the citizens of Alabama are against taxes. We all see the need for additional revenue, but we don’t want that burden on ourselves, which is understandable,” Mitchell said.

Alabama, with its low property taxes, is a state that relies disproportionately on consumer spending for revenue, he added.

“I do not predict more taxes, but look out for taxes at the federal level, which will probably be earmarked for the highways in the country. Our infrastructure is beginning to crumble and Congress may well address this.”

The senator said determining how to be fair and equitable in the unavoidable budget cuts to come “will be tricky.”

“By May, we should have a better idea of the state of our economy,” he said.

To provide a real boost to state revenue coffers, Mitchell said he wanted to see the gambling industry, particularly Indian-run casinos, taxed in Alabama.

“This (gambling industry) started subtly . . . the federal government has favored Indians and Indian rights from early on and they are almost completely exempt from state supervision,” Mitchell said.

“They started small, but now you have a huge casino in Atmore and another planned in Wetumpka. There are 143 bingo machines in Jasper bringing in $75,000 daily. Some of this needs to come under government control.”

“Gov. Riley doesn’t believe in gambling and neither do I. I don’t gamble. He and I want it to go away. But it is here, folks, and it ought to be taxed,” Mitchell said.

He said proper regulation of the gaming industry could lead to appropriate and fair taxation, which “would go a long way in helping our state treasury out.”