Hard Times in Cotton Country

Things could get ugly in Alabama:

With voters overwhelmingly rejecting a massive tax hike, it’s up to legislators to figure out how to run schools and government for another year despite a $675 million deficit.

With 100 percent of the precincts reporting Tuesday, 866,623 people, or 68 percent, opposed Gov. Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax plan, while 416,310, or 32 percent, voted for it.

The governor was expected to call the Legislature into special session Monday to deal with the red ink. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Riley and several leading lawmakers have said they would follow the voters’ wishes and make cuts if need be. The governor has said cuts could include releasing 5,000 inmates, ending nursing home care for hundreds of elderly citizens, and curtailing prescription medicines for the mentally ill.

State Sen. Hank Sanders, chairman of the Senate education budget writing committee, said he can’t imagine legislators raising taxes now.

be the first to find a lefty blog blaming this directly or indirectly on Bush.






24 replies
  1. 1
    RW says:

    Wow…releasing 5,000 inmates, ending nursing home care for hundreds of elderly citizens, and curtailing prescription medicines for the mentally ill.

    One would think that the administrative costs within the state gov’t would at least get a mention….

  2. 2
    David Perron says:

    Whaddaya mean, things could _get_ ugly in Alabama?

  3. 3
    mark says:

    Well, Kevin Drum blames the Christian Coalition and suggests that opposing the tax increase is not very, er, Christian-like. And, considering Bush has strong Christian beliefs, this could be a swipe at Bush and his supporters.

  4. 4

    You’re right, Cole. What an asinine thing it would be for some Democrat to compare the cuts in state services necessitated by a regressive, fiscally-irresponsible tax structure (and the refusal to acknowledge the need for reform of said structure) to the equally regressive, fiscally-irresponsible tax policies of the Bush administration.

    What kind of an ill-informed Bush-hater would point out that what is happening to Alabamaa state services is exactly what is going to happen to federal services (and state services no longer supported by federal grants) at some as yet undetermined point in the future (undetermined only because, unlike Alabama, the federal government can deficit spend, allowing the current administration to put of the Big Hurt until it is safely out of office).

    Good thing there’s no one like that around here – you would have really given them what for, wouldn’t you!

  5. 5

    A lovely display of the opening formation for the Washington Monument Defense: “Give us your money or we’ll release thousands of elderly and lunatics onto the streets!”

    I am reminded of the “Yes, Minister” episode in which Hacker tells Sir Humphrey to cut expenses in a government hospital, and Humphrey promptly expels all the patients — but leaves the entire administrative staff, hundreds strong, on the job. Two hundred typewriters clicked away merrily, with not a bed occupied.

    Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

  6. 6
    Andrew Lazarus says:

    Just as long as the Democrats in California get the same immunity.

    Or is the GOP going to recall Riley?

  7. 7
    John Cole says:

    You need to change your name, Reason Man. And, btw, you didn’t even do what I asked people to look for.

  8. 8
    mark says:

    Andrew,

    There is no recall provision in the alabama constitution, but Riley will face several primary challengers as a result of this stunt.

  9. 9

    Cole-

    “You need to change your name, Reason Man”

    I cannot tell you how clever and original it is to make cracks about my online moniker. Be proud.

    “you didn’t even do what I asked people to look for.”

    Correct. I did not mention you on my website. Instead, I mocked you in your comments for the implication that what’s going on in Alabama is entirely unrelated to the policies of the Bush administration and that the only people who would even think of such a correlation are crazy lefties and Bush haters.

    So tell me, which of my assertions in that last post do you disagree with, exactly?

    That Alabama’s tax code is regressive and fiscally irresponsible? That the tax policies of the Bush administration are regressive and fiscally irresponsible? That services are going to be cut in Alabama and, eventually, other states and the federal government in order to lessen the massive deficits? That the administration is backloading tax cuts and other items that will increase the deficit so that their full impact on the budget does not come until after 2008?

    Help me out here.

  10. 10
    Ricky says:

    Actually, MRM, the ‘tax code’ is apparently what the citizens of AL want. You may not like it, but that’s the way the system is, same as in the aforementioned CA, where the voters apparently want higher taxes & even *more* deficits.

  11. 11

    Ricky-

    “Actually, MRM, the ‘tax code’ is apparently what the citizens of AL want. You may not like it, but that’s the way the system is”

    Something that I haven’t disputed. Alabamans made their choice. My overall point is that, while things are, as Cole says, going to get hard in Alabama, it will at least serve as a little parable for the rest of the country about what happens when you have (once again) a regressive, fiscally-irresponsible tax code that you refuse to fix.

    The implications for the Bush anti-tax jihad are, I would think, obvious.

  12. 12
    Ricky says:

    Again, I reference the fine folks in CA, who have chosen to have a state government completely ruled by Democrats – and the leader is getting advice from Clinton.

    So, what lesson are we supposed to learn from all those tax hikes? The folks in CA are ready to RECALL the gov who hikes taxes, while the folks in AL just made their decision not to hike taxes.

    Trying to blame Bush for a public referendum in Alabama is just…….I’m speechless.

  13. 13
    Andrew Lazarus says:

    Ricky, I draw different lessons. Davis was not unpopular over the level of taxes, but over the fact that these taxes were inadequate to cover the state’s expenses. The deficit soared between Davis’s re-election in 11/2002 and now; taxes stayed the same. (Arnold is extremely vague about how he is going to keep a balanced budget, knowing any promises can and will be used against hin.)

    Riley will be socked twice, once by this, and once when Alabamans see what gets cut.

  14. 14
    John Cole says:

    MRM- It might shock you to hear this, but I think that the taxes in Alabama should probably be raised, and as far as I am concerned, are probably the most regressive in the nations. I do not find that our national taxes are regressive (although I am disgusted with the entire anture and structure of the voluminous federal tax code, whic give, IMHO, too many taxe breaks to those who do need them and to those who can figure out how to exploit them).

    I am also disgusted with the gargantuan and WHOLLY irresponsible increases in federal spending- so repulsedthat whenever I hear any Republican claim that this is the party of fiscal conservatives I almost vomit.

    However, I still believe that the federal treasury still takes in more dollars than are waraanted, and my initial claim remains as a challenge- be the first to find someone blaming this on Bush.

  15. 15
    Ricky says:

    Andrew,
    The reason the deficit ‘soared’ is because Davis cooked the books so he could get re-elected. However, I won’t argue against your contention that the folks in CA are pissed because their taxes aren’t high enough (to cover spending). They’ll be able to illustrate that in less than a month.

  16. 16
    Dean says:

    Andrew:

    Are you suggesting that Davis is unpopular because California’s taxes aren’t high enough>?

    MRM:

    According to one poster on a different web-site, there are over 100 community colleges in AL, EACH with a full faculty, administrative staff, etc. Many apparently have fewer than 500 students.

    Are you suggesting that NOT ONE could be cut? Yet, the AL authorities threaten to cut state police, nursing homes, etc.?

    Somehow, there’s always “waste, fraud, and abuse” that could be cut from the defense budget, yet there never seems to be any in any other account—only the need for more taxes. Now, why is that?

  17. 17
    RW says:

    mark says: “Well, Kevin Drum blames the Christian Coalition and suggests that opposing the tax increase is not very, er, Christian-like. And, considering Bush has strong Christian beliefs, this could be a swipe at Bush and his supporters.”

    It’s good to see that the art of irony isn’t dead. How else can one react when we hear criticism of the constituents of a state who decide to be undertaxed from a citizen of the current laughing-stock of the nation & one that has been so overtaxed that businesses and individuals can’t flee fast enough? Brought on by the same policies that said individual endorsed!!!

    Personally, I file this under my of-used “Shaquille O’neal lambastes someone for their free-throw shooting” folder.

  18. 18
    David Perron says:

    Actually, MRM is half right and half wrong. The income tax in Alabama does wind up being regressive. If you have no assetts and no deductions, you wind up paying nearly the maximum rate. If you have a house and one or two kids, you wind up paying practically nothing.

    In contrast, the Federal income tax is progressive. If you don’t make much money, you pay nothing. If you make a huge amount of money, you pay a much larger percentage of your income than do the middle-income crowd. Perhaps MRM wishes to make a case that Federal income tax leaves the higher classes with more pocket change, but that’s the way taxes work even if they were completely flat rate.

    Now, if MRM were to attempt to make a case that PAYROLL taxes are progressive, I’ll give no argument there. However, payroll taxes were not addressed in any way by the Bush administration, as far as I know.

    JMHO, of course. I guess it all depends on what your definition of “regressive” is. If “regressive” means that lower incomes pay less than upper incomes, then I’ll have to agree with you.

  19. 19
    David Perron says:

    Ummm…major typo there.

    “Now, if MRM were to attempt to make a case that PAYROLL taxes are progressive…”

    should read:

    “Now, if MRM were to attempt to make a case that PAYROLL taxes are REgressive…”

    Please adjust level of outrage accordingly.

  20. 20
    Dodd says:

    Yes, of course, it’s all about the “regressive, fiscally ir-responsible tax code” (nice Talking Point mantra – do you have it hot-keyed or something?). *Spending* has nothing at all to do with it. Alabama’s spending is a law of nature – only the tax rates are subject to negotiation.

    Or, perhaps not: “Over the last 30 years, the amount of money the state Revenue Department has received from Alabama taxpayers has tripled, in absolute terms.” They have persistently “relied upon economic growth” to ensure that the general fund remains solvent – IOW, they never set anything aside for the (inevitable) business cycle correction, they just spent whatever they took in.

    Gov. Riley does not want to balance the budget; he wants to spend even more: “Riley’s plan calls for increasing the number of days in the school year, providing college scholarships, giving bonuses for rural teachers, growing community corrections programs, hiring more staff for the Board of Pardons and Paroles and expanding the initiative programs.” All worthy goals, to be sure, but hardly vital ones that cannot wait. Politicans on spending binges love to scare the voters by naming popular programs that “will have to be cut” but the truth is, they aren’t willing to trim *anything* – they want to grow the budget and need a massive tax increase to do it.

    Someone will probably respond that Alabamians have the lowest taxes in the country. Two problems with that: 1) they also rank 42nd in per capita income – so *rate* they pay could very well be higher than quite a few other states whose citizens pay more actual dollars – and, 2) states like TN – which is 49th on the total taxes paid list, one spot above AL – and WY that don’t have income taxes – which are especially sensitive to economic growth – are running small surplusses *because they didn’t hike spending during the boom. Even Florida, which has a much larger elderly population than Al, managed to keep their budget under control, largely by avoiding the temptation to endlessly expand Medicare coverage. I ran some rough and dirty calculations and found that Alabama citizens pay a per capita tax *rate* of 9.2%. Tennessians pay more in actual dollars, but their rate is only 8.5%. Wyoming residents, OTOH, pay 11.5%. Alabama, falling right in the middle, obviously *could* balance its budget as the other two have, but they *won’t.* Oh, BTW, care to guess what Florida’s per capita taxes paid are? 9.4% If FL can do it, so can AL.

    Obviously, the amount being paid in taxes per citizen isn’t the problem. AL has a shortfall regardless of how the actual payment of that money is distributed. So your assertion that it is a result of “regressive” taxation makes absolutely no sense at all. Shifting the burden upward wouldn’t change the fact that they already take in approximately as much money per citizen as other states yet cannot manage their budget as well as those states can. So the problem must be spending: They do too much of it. Try wrapping your head around that concept instead of pounding the table repeating the same mantra over and over.

    As a side note, I hope they do release some inmates. They, like every other state, probably have thousands of non-violent drug offenders in the lock-up who oughta be set free anyway.

  21. 21
    David Perron says:

    Hmmm…it appears I wrongly attributed MRM’s argument to be regarding income tax and not taxes in general. Which is understandable, considering that the ONLY thing Bush has touched at all is income tax, AFAIK. Still, a mistake is a mistake.

    If you’re going to consider ALL tax, you’ve got to also consider sales and property tax. Alabama’s property taxes are so small that you may as well just call them zero; I pay more every month in Florida than I did for an entire year in Alabama. The sales tax there is dependent on which city and county you live in, but is typically 7-8%. Since there’s no deductibles, credits, etc on sales tax, this is effectively a flat tax, or in the language of the Left, “regressive”.

  22. 22
    Andrew Lazarus says:

    I agree that Davis cooked the books on the previous budget, in cahoots with both political parties. (CA budget requires 2/3 vote.) PERHAPS Davis would have been in similar hot water if he had cut spending earlier, and ALMOST CERTAINLY he would be in trouble had he made up the deficit with tax increases. I think, though, that it was the element of SURPRISE that angered much of the electorate. I wasn’t surprised, but then I read the newspaper pretty carefully.

    The small government Republican (McClintock) is running a distant third. Schwartzenegger budget pronouncements are mere hocus-pocus, devoid of any testable specifics.

  23. 23
    Ricky says:

    Actually, I think McClintock is running fourth. Davis has the majority of the vote (40%), followed by Bustamente. We *know* what type of budget proposals they’ve already been a part of and no doubt will continue to push. The questions are Arnold & McLintock.

    Sadly, the state will reap the prison guard union payoffs & workers comp payouts for years to come, no matter who wins.

  24. 24
    Andrew Lazarus says:

    Dodd: “Over the last 30 years, the amount of money the state Revenue Department has received from Alabama taxpayers has tripled, in absolute terms.”

    Does absolute terms mean, say, ignoring population increase? If so, then “tripled” is just a scare-number artifact. I hate to ask if it’s inflation-corrected either. Can you link to the source?

    Ricky, in fairness to McClintock, he has a well-detailed budget proposal founded on five bills to be passed in special session or by referendum, calling for a balancing the budget by major cutbacks (or zeroing out) in government programs that he feels are not government business. While he gets points for honesty, his poll numbers reflect the fact that this simply isn’t the level of govt services preferred by the majority of CA voters.

    For example, McClintock calls for the repeal of “Proposition 98”, which guaranteed a percentage of state revenues to K-12 education. This type of set-aside is a major problem in budgeting, even though I think it did materially help some school districts, including mine. Anyway, Prop 98 passed by a handy majority AND WAS A BRAINCHILD OF ARNOLD SHWARZENEGGER. That shows how far apart they are on fiscal matters, leave alone abortion, legalized marijuana, and homosexual rights.

    Arnold’s budget proposals, as I said before, are meaningless. His call to audit the state departments, while perhaps a good idea, is just more of the magical thinking that “waste, fraud, and abuse” are the cause of deficits, and not a fundamental conflict between public services demanded and public revenues collected.

    The Green candidate, BTW, has, like McClintock, a detailed and–for the Greens–unusually practical budget proposal. If the election weren’t close, I would probably vote for him.

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