Forum aimed at helping educate public

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 6, 2003

So one thing is abundantly clear about Gov. Bob Riley’s tax reform package: It’s confusing. Reports over the past two weeks have shored up the perception that the tax package &045;&045; which goes before voters on Sept. 9 &045;&045; is full of detail and hard to understand.

Next week, the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce will do its part to help end the confusion.

The chamber’s board has decided to bring a representative from the Alabama Finance Director’s office to Demopolis to explain the package. The forum will be held Thursday, Aug. 7, at 6 p.m. at the Civic Center.

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Phyllis Kennedy, director of the Department of Industrial Relations, and David Perry, an analyst in the state finance office, will provide examples of how income taxes and property taxes will affect families and individuals. They also will field questions during the town forum.

Kathy Leverett, director of the chamber, said she understands the confusion of many voters in Marengo County and all across Alabama.

But going through Gov. Bob Riley’s plan won’t be like walking through a kindergarten book. As a conference held last week for newspaper editors and publishers, Perry was on hand to talk about the tax package and what it meant. The answers, and the presentation, were extremely difficult to understand.

Dr. Ed Mullins, chair of the journalism department at the University of Alabama, said people going home and understanding the tax package will be hard. At the same time, he’s not sure if the complex numbers have anything to do with the problem.

The Alabama Legislature, which will control most of the money from the $1.2 billion tax package, has earned a reputation of distrust and even slothfulness when using state money, according to Mullins.

In other words, the public has a distrust of state government &045;&045; much of which the legislature controls.

Mullins, who supports the package, said he believes confusion about the tax package only adds to the cynicism people feel about a tax hike.

Even Mullins doesn’t believe hope is lost for Riley’s tax plan, despite one recent poll that indicated that the tax would fail by 20 percent if people voted on it today.

(Paul Hubbert head of the Alabama Education Association and is considered the most powerful lobbyist in the state. His opinions, some say, carry more weight than even the governor’s.)