Whether or not Jesus would approve of the Alabama governor’s plan to raise taxes as a way to help the poor, the state’s voters do not.
Citizens of Alabama turned out in large numbers Tuesday to overwhelmingly reject a constitutional amendment to allow Gov. Bob Riley’s $1.2 billion tax proposal. With 88 percent of the vote counted Tuesday night, Alabamians opposed the tax plan 68 percent to 32 percent, according to CNN.
In conceding defeat, Riley said he would be forced to cut state services but would do so judiciously.
Riley had pushed for the tax increase, the largest in state history, to erase a $675 million deficit and improve Alabama’s schools, which are funded per capita at the lowest rate in the nation.
Gaining even more attention, however, the Republican governor, a born-again Christian, asked citizens in the Bible Belt to raise income and property taxes as a way to shift tax burdens off of the poor.
Riley, a former congressman who ran for governor on a platform of no new taxes, said he changed his mind after reading the Bible.
“When I read the New Testament, there are three things we’re asked to do: That’s love God, love each other and take care of the least among us,” Riley told The Washington Post.
Alabama’s pulpits were seen as a key component in the plan’s success or failure. Polls showed 58 percent of likely voters against the proposal on Sunday, as a number of ministers were expected to preach in favor of the tax increase in their weekly sermons.
Religious leaders in the past opposed the previous governor’s plan to support education through a lottery. Baptist, Episcopal and Methodist organizations last year issued statements supporting tax reform.
Eight past presidents of the Alabama Baptist State Convention endorsed Riley’s plan Aug. 5, a week after designating Sunday, Sept. 7, as a day of prayer for the state. Alabama Baptist Editor Bob Terry also supported the tax hike in an editorial July 17. “The Bible is clear that ‘to whom much is given, much is required,'” he wrote.
Alabama’s Christian Coalition, meanwhile, led opposition to the plan, saying government waste, and not low taxes, is the problem. “The Christian Coalition is unable to support any new permanent tax proposals to cure historical systemic failures and poor public policy of reckless and unmerited spending habits,” the state chapter said in special voter guides distributed in churches prior to the referendum.
In a rare break with a state affiliate, the head of the Christian Coalition of America came out in favor of the plan.
Proponents of the governor’s plan warned that rejecting it would require draconian cuts in basic state services.
Even with the tax increase, supporters said, Alabama would have one of the lowest property taxes in the country. Taxes on a $100,000 home would have increased $136, to $490 a year, according to the governor’s figures. On a $250,000 home, the amount of taxes would have been $1,540, up $536.
The plan called for raising the amount of money a family of four can earn without paying any state income tax from $4,600 to $20,000, and increasing the exemption per child from $300 to $2,200.
The governor’s numbers said two-thirds of Alabama’s citizens would pay the same or less in taxes, while the top third of earners, along with corporations and large land and timber owners, would pay more.
Opponents of the plan said it was too large, noting that Riley’s tax hike was nearly double his own projection of the budget shortfall. They also said it did not guarantee that new money would be used for education and gave too much discretion to legislators in spending.
In addition to ending deductions on state income taxes for money paid to federal income tax, the governor’s proposals would have raised taxes on cigarettes, imposed a 4 percent tax on labor and services and doubled filing fees on deeds and mortgages.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.