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Riley Recruiting Help From Local Leaders on Tax Package

06/19/2003
on 6/19/03.

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - Gov. Bob Riley is recruiting local elected
officials and community leaders to help him sell his $1.2 billion tax
and accountability package to Alabama voters.
Speaking to an invited audience Wednesday in Mobile, Riley said he
needs people to lobby for his package within their communities.

"If I can convince you of that, then we will win," Riley said. "But
the only way I can do this is to have that grass-roots kind of demand
for excellence."

Similar presentations are being planned around the state, including
one planned Saturday at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Montgomery.

Pepper Bryars, Riley's deputy press secretary, said local elected
officials and opinion leaders are being invited to the meetings because
people will look to them for advice on how to vote on Riley's package on
Sept. 9.

He said the events are being organized by the Campaign for Alabama,
which helped Riley shape his tax package.

Bill O'Connor, manager for Campaign for Alabama, said Riley can sell
people on the package if he has 30 minutes to explain it to them, but he
can't talk to everyone in Alabama before Sept. 9.

"That's why we need extensive outreach," O'Connor said. "It's going
to take more than the governor. It's going to take those who have waited
a long time to see this happen."

Critics of the tax plan, such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, say
Riley needs to do more cost cutting before pushing the biggest tax
increase in state history.

In Riley's speech at the Mobile Museum of Art, he said getting by
with existing state revenue would mean increasing the number of students
in each class, kicking Medicaid patients out of nursing homes and
cutting their drug benefits.

"It's amazing the mentality that says, 'That's all the money we have
- get by with it,"' Riley said.

State Finance Director Drayton Nabers added to Riley's description of
the financial problems facing the state. Without the new revenue, the
prison system would face a 22 percent budget cut that could result in
thousands of prisoners being set free, he said.

Nabers also said Riley's plant would bring more financial integrity
to government by making it a crime for department heads to help
legislators with "pass-through pork" and by setting strict financial
standards for school systems.

Not everyone in Riley's audience was sold on his plan.

Reggie Copeland, president of the Mobile City Council, praised Riley
for pushing his tax package through the Legislature but said he didn't
know enough yet to take a position.

Mobile County Commissioner Mike Dean, a former Republican state
representative, said he liked Riley's accountability measures and could
support increasing taxes on cigarettes, labor services and maybe even
the proposal to eliminate deductions of federal income tax payments.

"I'm not going to vote for a property tax increase," he said. "My
family and friends own property. I own property.

"If it weren't an all or nothing thing, I think he would really have
a chance at moving the state forward," Dean said.