ALABAMA: NO REFORM, THANKS
Not surprisingly, Governor Bob Riley’s radical tax reform package went down in flames:
Alabama’s conservative Republican governor yesterday met resounding defeat in his highly publicized crusade for a $1.2 billion tax increase — eight times the biggest previous increase in state history — to resolve an unprecedented fiscal crisis, shift the tax burden from poor to rich and improve public schools funded at the nation’s lowest level per child.
With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Alabama voters were rejecting Gov. Bob Riley’s ambitious package 67 percent to 33 percent, consistent with recent polls that had shown it likely to fail by 20 or more percentage points, even among low-income people who stood to receive large tax cuts.
Amusingly, the chief opponents were conservative Republican groups. As Steven Taylor observes, this almost certainly renders Riley a lame duck. Which probably serves him right, since he pulled this package out of nowhere, giving no inkling that he had anything like this is mind when he ran for office.
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that Riley is going to follow through on the promised pain that would come from defeating the referendum:
“The people of Alabama said they want accountability, they want honesty and they want trust,” Riley said. “We’re going to give them that. They said we want you to reduce the size of government before you come back and ask for another dime.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have to reduce government. We’re going to have to reduce government services,” said Riley, speaking at a post-vote reception Tuesday night at Embassy Suites Hotel.
Just what the state needs: reductions in spending.
Some critics think the measure could have passed with a better campaign:
David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said it’s wrong to conclude from Tuesday’s vote that Alabamians will just flatly not raise taxes.
“It was an uphill battle, but I don’t think this was necessarily out of (Riley’s) reach,” Lanoue said. “There were some tactical decisions that were wrong.”
Lanoue said campaign ads in support of Amendment One should have focused on Riley’s vision for better schools, a better economy and more secure services for senior citizens. Instead, Lanoue said, the themes of the ads were varied. The amendment was portrayed first as a tax cut, then as a battle against special interests.
“Then they decided to emphasize the tax fairness with the slogan, ‘Let’s do the right thing,'” Lanoue said. “That’s a wonderful sentiment but a terrible slogan because it emphasized the costs rather than the benefits. It’s simply another way of asking you to sacrifice your income to benefit somebody else, which is not a good way to win elections.”
While this criticism may be fair, I don’t believe it would have changed the outcome. Lanoue is new to the state and may not fully grasp the recalcitrance of its political culture.