Dear Gov. Riley:
Congratulations on your re-election. Your 58 percent margin is the largest since 1982, when Alabama governor races started being competitive. For my part, I’m glad you won. You have demonstrated understanding about the needs of the poor in our state and have taken significant steps to address their needs.
The role you played in last year’s tax reform measure which changed the entry point at which families begin paying state income tax from $4,600 to $12,500 is a case in point. I have read your 2010 Plan and also appreciate your desire to raise the threshold to $15,000. That would certainly be helpful, but I hope to persuade you to do more.
I understand the math. You are trying to avoid raising taxes on anyone. Your 2010 Plan reportedly provides a tax cut for 90 percent of Alabama’s families. I assume this means the remaining 10 percent stay the same. But this elite group has been in a privileged place for a long time. The poorest 20 percent of our working families in Alabama have for years shouldered an unfair share of the tax burden. For decades while the upper 10 percent were paying less than 4 percent of their earnings in state and local taxes, the poorest 20 percent were paying nearly 12 percent.
This wealthy elite group in our midst have taken their tax advantages and turned them into investment properties, and lucrative portfolios. Meanwhile, middle and low income families have invested their funds into rent or house payments, groceries, medicine and child care.
My point is this. Why not go all the way and raise the entry point for state taxes to national poverty line—about $20,000. This tax cut would benefit Alabama’s most needy working families and it could be offset by asking our most privileged citizens to pay a little more.
In the original tax reform plan offered by Representative Knight last year, a genuinely progressive income tax system could provide monies for the Education Trust Fund at the current level while reducing the tax burden on the poor—all of this with only a modest increase for a small percentage of our citizens. In fact, the Knight plan would lower taxes for families of four earning $100,000 a year or less.
Beyond the tax issue, there is one glaring omission in your 2010 Plan. I am referring, of course, to our outdated state constitution.
I know you have thought about it, but why not do something about it? And there is no political risk involved. You don’t even have to take sides in the debate. Let us decide. Let your first day in your second term be the first day of a campaign to allow the people of Alabama to decide once for all, yes or no, whether to hold a constitutional convention to re-write our flawed governing document.
Throughout the 2010 Plan you make reference to, “what the people of Alabama want.” Well, find out what we want in this regard—find out what our expectations and aspirations are for a new constitution. I urge you to work with the State Legislature to get this before the people in the first year of your second term.
Helping to correct these two glaring examples of social and economic injustice—income tax and our constitution–may not get you elected president of the United States. But it will seal for you an honored place in Alabama history.
Go for it.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.