Alabama vote may be bellwether for South Carolina
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report



We encourage your feedback. If you'd like to respond to something in SC Statehouse Report, please send us an e-mail. We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity. One submission allowed per month. Please keep your comment to 250 words or less:

AUG. 31, 2003 - - Have you heard the one about the conservative Republican governor who is using Biblical language to raise taxes by $1.2 billion?

The question isn't a setup for a joke. It's something going on two states over in Alabama. If GOP Gov. Bob Riley's "Plan for Progress" moves forward, it could foreshadow debate in the 2004 session of South Carolina's General Assembly.

On Sept. 9, Alabamians will vote on whether to approve a plan Riley claims would ease tax burdens on working families, drastically reform the state's education system, protect seniors and promote government accountability. But the state, with a budget shortfall of about $700 million, also needs the new tax money offered by the plan to make the books balance.

If the plan passes, Alabama residents would see property taxes go up about 30 percent (from $30 per month on a $100,000 home to $41). They'd also see increased sales taxes on some services and cigarettes, and an end to deductions of federal income tax for state tax purposes. But proponents also note that overall taxes would go down or stay the same for about 85 percent of Alabamians. Opponents cry about Riley's proposal as a tax on the rich that will kill growth.

If the plan doesn't pass, Alabama will be left in a big bind. Riley says he's already generated $230 million in savings through cuts and other practices. But without the plan, he and Alabama lawmakers may be forced to cut education, health and other social services to levels never experienced.

Riley is an unlikely promoter of a tax increase. He is known as a follower of Ronald Reagan. A member of Congress at the same time as our Gov. Mark Sanford, he was known as a tax-fighter who racked up an 85 rating by the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy.

But faced with a financial crisis that he couldn't cut his way out of, Riley's faith led him to conclude a tax increase and bold restructuring of the state's tax structure was needed.

Soon after announcing his plan, Riley told the Birmingham News, "Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least among us. We've got to take care of the poor."

Now after spending the summer campaigning for the increase, things don't look good for the governor, who has been joined by Democrats and lots of people in Alabama's business community. (He said he also was surprised at the 122-100 margin of the State GOP Executive Committee when it voted to oppose the plan.)

Two weeks ago, some 52 percent of Alabamians opposed the plan according to a poll from a Mobile newspaper. Only 27 percent supported it.

South Carolina politicians and budget writers are closely watching the political and economic outcome in Alabama.

If the Riley plan passes, it's a sure bet some South Carolina politicians will stick their necks out of the anti-tax turtle shell and start using religious-laden language to explore tax increases. If they do, the state may be able to find a way out of its $170 million current shortfall and the millions of dollars needed to pay for projected increased costs for Medicaid.

If the Riley plan doesn't pass, South Carolina taxpayers may be in for a lackluster session in which everybody points the finger at everyone else, but no one does real work to get something positive done to improve education and take care of the state's pressing needs.

Last election year, the winning bumper sticker made a great pitch for "Leadership." Now, South Carolina can use some of it.

Deep knee bends

This week's cartoon by our Bill McLemore:


Learn more about Statehouse Report

Copyright 2003, S.C. Statehouse Report, a media project of
The Brack Group, Charleston, S.C.
Retransmission or reproduction of more than one copy is prohibited without express permission of the publisher. For additional information, including subscription prices, go to