Riley riles up crowd during UWA stop

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Riley spoke to a crowd of elected officials, members of the public, and faculty, staff and students at a pep rally for his tax plan Thursday afternoon on the University of West Alabama in Livingston.

The vote on his tax reform plan Sept. 9 "will determine what type of state this is for the next 20 years….This vote will make a decision on whether we regress or progress.

He described his cabinet as full of business talent. "There’s not a politician in there," Riley said. "When they tell me that we are $675 million in the hole, you better believe it."

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There are different ways to solve the problem: first, he could take $675 million out of the budget. That would take six to seven percent of the money out of an educational program which is already ranked 50th in the U.S., he said.

The Medicaid budget could be cut 20 percent, and the federal government would cut 80 percent. "Then we’ve got to tell people who are taking prescription drugs, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to pay for it.’"

In his tax plan fails, "we’re going to have to make choices that are going to be extreme, but it is an option," he said.

Riley could just be ask for the $675 million in taxes, but that would keep us right where we are, "first in things that are bad, last in things that are good.

Riley said the foreign automobile manufacturers had marveled at the Alabama work ethic. "They have never seen people work like an Alabamian," he said. "…They’ll set a goal, and these Alabamians will exceed it."

In addition, "we have more natural resources here than any other state in the union other than maybe Alaska. So, why are we perpetually and habitually last?

The state needs new programs and systems. Riley said he was not afraid to borrow good ideas from other states. As a U.S. congressman for six years he was used to sharing ideas with representatives from other parts of the country. "We’ve never changed," he said. "We’re doing things like we did 40 or 50 years ago."

Ten years ago North Carolina invested in its education program, which is now among the top five. Alabama’s program went from 48th to 50th in the same time.

Riley decided to ask for $1.2 billion in taxes to help "transform Alabama….I don’t want Alabama to be average. I want us to be great and you do it through education."

The tax reform plan is fair, he said. "It’s the first time we’ve had this kind of fairness reform in the code in a 100 years. And it’s time that we do it."

Riley was asked after his speech why poor Alabamians are against the plan when they might benefit from it the most. "If we could ever convince the people who are getting the tax cut, that it’s real, then this (vote) wouldn’t even be close," he said. "…Most of the people that are going to be paying more are supporting it. I honestly think it is because of what they see on television, saying your taxes are going up 200 or 300 percent. It’s not going to happen."

Are the voters in Alabama scared of change? "I think there is a level of distrust in what goes on in Montgomery," Riley said. "I think that drive it a lot."