Alabama Voters Reject Tax Referendum

By Erik W. Robelen — September 10, 2003 2 min read

Alabama voters have resoundingly shot down Gov. Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax referendum, a plan the governor had promised would dramatically improve the state’s education system and the state along with it.

With all precincts reporting, 68 percent of the nearly 1.3 million Alabamians who went to the polls Sept. 9 said no, The Birmingham News reported.

One of the biggest obstacles the first-term Republican governor faced was a citizenry profoundly distrustful of government. Opponents capitalized on the sentiment, running ads that warned that state legislators couldn’t be trusted to spend the extra money on the programs promised by the governor.

The governor’s plan proposed to create merit-based college scholarships, extend the school year by five days, and expand the state’s reading initiative, among other measures. It also sought to impose new accountability demands on schools and state government.

As the results became clear, Gov. Riley said: “Ladies and gentleman, I have heard what the people of Alabama have said, and they said very clearly tonight, ‘We do want you to be good stewards, but we want a smaller government until you prove to us that you are stewards of our money.’ ”

Without the additional tax revenue, Mr. Riley has predicted, severe cuts to education and other government services will be needed.

He has projected that next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, the state will have a $675 million shortfall. The state budget for the current fiscal year is $17.1 billion.

The tax package would have rewritten the tax code and eventually would have raised an extra $1.2 billion each year, though the governor argued that many lower-income Alabamians would actually pay less in taxes overall. Alabama currently has the lowest combined state and local taxes in the nation.

Mr. Riley’s top selling point for the package was that it would transform education.

Beyond additional spending for schools, the plan also contained provisions to ensure better financial management by school districts, end tenure for some newly hired school administrators, and streamline the dismissal process for incompetent teachers.

“If you want to truly transform the state, you do it with education,” Gov. Riley said during an August interview with Education Week about the plan. “Think what it would do to this state if all of a sudden, people in America started saying, ‘If you want the best education in the United States, you’ve got to go to Alabama.’”

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