Is this 1998 or 2002? Situations similar

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

So here’s the situation: Alabama has just elected a governor and upon taking office in Montgomery, that governor discovers there are all sorts of problems with funding state-run programs.

Most importantly, the governor discovers that education is sorely under-funded and he makes a quick decision to ask the people of this great state for help. In reality, all the governor wants is for citizens to pass a plan that will bring more money to state government, while ending decades of seeing Alabama at the bottom of every important statistical category.

The governor gets on his jet and zooms around the state. He pitches his plan as one that will forever change Alabama. He tells us that we’ll have plenty of money for education, tons of money to build new roads and bridges, and we’ll even have some left over to make Alabama the best state in the union.

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Soon enough, the governor is met with stern opposition. People say the governor’s plan isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. The people who can least afford to pay the money will end up paying most of it. The legislators, who, for countless years have sucked this state dry of funding, will take this added money and build more bird sanctuaries in home-district gardens. The people, says the opposition, won’t get anything from this new revenue enhancement program.

The governor, obviously, is Don Siegelman.

Remember in 1998, when Siegelman told all of Alabama that he could change this state forever with his "Education Lottery"? Remember how he toured the state, touting his real plan for change? Remember how, on election day, that lottery plan busted like a balloon in a kindergarten class full of boys with needles?

Or wait a second… are we talking about current Gov. Bob Riley?

In one way or another, the two plans &045;&045; in very different methods &045;&045; sound eerily alike.

Earlier this week, someone sat in my office and said she would do anything to help education.

Shortly before that comment, I heard another scenario.

What if Alabama voters went to the polls on Sept. 9 and were given two options on the ballot. The first option is a $1.2 billion tax hike. The second option is a state-run lottery. And just for the fun of it, what if we lived in Communist Alabama and you were forced to vote for one or the other. You couldn’t stay home and you couldn’t mark the box that said, "None of the above."

How do you think people would vote then? Would we tax ourselves more, or would we open the door to gambling in Alabama.

Last week, I told you that if I had to face a ballot this week, I’d probably support Gov. Riley’s tax plan. This week, I’d probably vote against it. Next week, who knows. (Is it any wonder I’m still not married?)

On the outset, Riley’s tax plan and Siegelman’s lottery proposal have very few similarities. Dig a little deeper, though, and you might be surprised how close the two really are.

In Riley’s plan, a new tax would be placed on those people who make the most money in Alabama. Along with a property tax hike and no more deductions for federal taxes that we pay, the plan most vividly hits the corporations that spend enormous amounts of money in Alabama.

What we all should realize, however, is that there’s no such thing as a tax on the upper class. The people and businesses who provide jobs know how to run a business and know that profitability is the No. 1 component to running a successful business.

If Riley’s tax package passes, and wealthy business owners are taxed more, they’re going to do one thing: Hike the price of their products. If a business has to pay $10 more dollars in tax on a product, it’s a sure bet that they’ll increase the price of the product by $10.

In the end, the people who buy that product &045;&045; most times, the middle and lower class &045;&045; will have to spend more money out of their own pockets.

Taxes flow downstream as quickly as the campaign talk that comes from a politician’s mouth. There’s no way to even debate that assertion.

In Siegelman’s plan, the lottery was sold as a way for all Alabamians who travel across state lines to help fund education. The problem, obviously, is that poorer people tend to spend a higher percentage of their money on the chance to strike it rich.

If you don’t believe that, take a drive up Highway 43 and take a look inside Greenetrack in Eutaw. Your business CEOs aren’t the ones betting on the ponies.

Siegelman’s lottery proposal was a sure-fire way of generating money in Alabama. It also was a sure-fire way to take more money from the people who can least afford to pay it.

As for the comparison between Riley and Siegelman’s plan, I’ve got to conclude that either way you cut it, the economy will be hurt because expendable income &045;&045; from the top down &045;&045; would decrease.

Less money in the economy means less revenue for small business owners who then close down shop and lay off five middle-class Alabamians.

I don’t know if Riley’s plan awaits the same fate as Siegelman’s, but it’s very clear that both plans focused on getting more money while ignoring the economic impact of draining our checking accounts.