Riley: State must move ahead
Tim Reeves, BNI News Service
Gov. Bob Riley is rolling the dice on the biggest gamble of his political career: an effort to reform the state's financial and governmental operations through a wide-sweeping tax increase plan.l
"Somebody, sometime had to do it," Riley said during a recent interview with BNI News Service. "Somebody had to stand up and be passionate about fixing this problem and passionate about Alabama's future."
BNI is the parent company of the Hartselle Enquirer.
Alabama legislators now have the task of debating the Riley plan, which
he said involves two-thirds reform and one-third revenue.
Early in Riley's young term, he stressed financial cuts in government
agencies before proposing any possible tax increases.
Now, he said time has simply run out.
"Someone calculated earlier this week that this administration had cut $231 million from the budget," Riley said. "But that is not money we will see right now. We have to come up with $600 million in this next 90 days."
Riley said the next three months could be the biggest political initiative
he has undertaken, including last year's gubernatorial race.
"In the race for governor I had 18 months to prove to the people of Alabama
I was the right person for the job," Riley said. "Now I have three months to convince them that this package is what is needed to completely reform our state – once and for all."
Riley admits the plan's tax increases will be a tough sell, but believes they must be done.
"It is really to the point that we have no other option," Riley said. "We have not done everything we can do to cut government spending, but we have run out of time. We are going to continue cutting, but we have a deadline approaching and a $600 million hole to fill."
As for support from Alabama legislators, Riley feels everyone in Montgomery understands what must be done.
"Those who work everyday in running this state understand the dilemma we are in," Riley said. "We have three months to get this package to the people and convince them as well."
Ultimately, Riley said, it will be the people of Alabama who have the final say on the plan.
"The people of Alabama are going to ultimately have to decide this package –
not the legislature," Riley said. "It is them who we all need to convince."
The package will be put before Alabama voters the first week in September
and will be an "all or nothing" vote. Voters will have to decide on the
entire package, not individual components.
Riley knows the tax move is a gamble and one that could harm his political future. Still, he said, it is worth the risk.
"I understand that I have a temporary job; that there will be another
governor after me," Riley said. "But, while I am here, I am going to do
everything I can to fix our problems. And if that means, serving only one
term as governor … so be it."