Conservative groups align against tax rise in Alabama

Copyright (c) 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights


Tuesday, August 12, 2003


More than a dozen national conservative organizations have condemned Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s proposal for sharp tax increases, which they say would kill 24,000 jobs. In a letter to members of the Alabama Legislature, 13 major political organizations led by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the Republican governor’s plan to raise taxes by $1.2 billion “is bad for families, bad for small business, bad for farmers, bad for homeowners and bad for children.”

The tax increases, which will be submitted to voters Sept. 9, also has sparked a political split in the Christian Coalition. The coalition’s national organization, founded by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, has endorsed the tax plan, but its Alabama branch is fiercely opposed to it.

The Christian Coalition’s unqualified endorsement of the tax proposal, aimed at closing a $675 million deficit, also triggered sharp words of condemnation from some of the conservative leaders who signed the letter, which was sent Friday.

“Christian conservatives for a long time have talked about the importance of letting families keep more of their income and make more decisions about their lives, and this completely flies in the face of that philosophy,” said John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union, who was one of the signers.

Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, lobbied for the tax plan in a four-city tour of the state last week. She said the increases were “clearly and unquestionably designed to help the least among us and asks those who are able to pay their fair share of the taxes.”

That was not how the Alabama Christian Coalition, nor the conservative groups aligned against the plan, saw it.

“The tax package is all-encompassing – income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, car taxes, cigarette taxes, mortgage and deed taxes, utility taxes, insurance premium taxes and business taxes will all be raised dramatically,” Mr. Norquist’s letter said. “Gov. Riley’s approach seems to be ‘If it moves, tax it more!’ “

A study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston “projects a loss of over 24,000 jobs if the Riley plan is approved. It forecasts a drop in investment in the state of $403 million and it predicts a drop in personal income of $1.22 billion,” the letter said.

Among its provisions, the plan would impose a host of new taxes on service bills, such as home repairs. “New service taxes would hit the poor hardest as they will pay a larger percentage of their income than the wealthy,” the letter said.

The governor’s advisers say the tax plan, which includes deductions for lower- income workers, is aimed in part at making the tax code more progressive and fair. But polls show that some of the strongest opposition to the plan is coming from lower-income workers.

Meanwhile, Christian Coalition officials in Alabama and conservative leaders who signed the letter say they are mystified by the national Christian Coalition’s support for the tax package, calling it “a flip-flop.”

Mr. Robertson, a strong supporter of President Bush’s tax-cut plan, has endorsed other proposals to raise taxes, including an increase in the Virginia sales tax to finance new road projects. That plan was defeated in November.

Other groups who signed Mr. Norquist’s letter were the American Conservative Union, the American Legislative Exchange Council, U.S. Term Limits, Jim Blasingame of the Small Business Advocate, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Frontiers of Freedom, Center for Individual Freedom, Eagle Forum, Family Research Council, the Small Business Survival Committee and American Shareholders Association.