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End of food tax now in senate’s hands

By Staff
Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
There’s an old quote that goes like this: “If you love the law and like sausage, don’t watch either being made.” It is certainly an apt description of our lawmaking process in Alabama where anything can happen at any given moment.
In my adult lifetime alone the following events have been observed: A senator physically attacking a colleague on the Senate floor…the presiding officer of the Senate urinating in a jug under his desk during a filibuster…firearms having to be removed from House members…views of significant female cleavage being flaunted over the balcony railing in the old House chamber and male house members responding with favorable votes…bills being physically removed from the floor of the Senate to keep them from being brought to a vote…clocks in the chambers being unplugged to delay the end of a legislative session…and as happened last week, legislators voting the electronic voting machines of absent colleagues.
The House needed 63 votes last week to approve sending a proposed constitutional amendment to state voters which would eliminate the four-cent state sales tax on food products and also raise the threshold at which low-income families start paying income taxes from $12,600 to $20,000. The bill would offset the tax cuts by eliminating the tax deduction for an individual’s federal income tax refund. Legislative Fiscal Office (LFO) predicts that eliminating the tax deduction would generate $345 million next year, while the proposed tax breaks would cost $320 million.
However, after the vote at least one House member admitted voting the machines of absent members to help push the vote total to the required 63 yea votes and it was reported that the machines of at least four representatives were voted by others. House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said he saw Rep. Randy Hinshaw, D Meridianville, vote the machines of two absent members. Hinshaw readily admitted voting the other machines. Hinshaw says House rules allow it, if no one objects prior to the vote. He said the people will have the final say on this at the ballot box and “we should not forbid the people from being able to decide this important issue.”
The fiscal office says a married couple with two dependent children earning $100,000 a year, would save about $300 annually under the proposed amendment.. With $200,000 in taxable income, the same couple would pay an additional $500 in taxes. But LFO says that 88 percent of Alabama households have an income of less than $100,000 and that most of those households would “fare well under the proposed amendment.”
Alabama and Mississippi are the only states that don’t remove all or part of their state sales tax from food or that don’t have a tax rebate for food purchases by the poor. Alabama, Iowa and Louisiana are the only states that allow citizens to deduct their federal income taxes from their state taxes. The fate of the bill now rests with the Senate.
Governor urging defeat of the amendment, Folsom supports it
After the House vote Gov. Bob Riley issued a statement saying he would urge voters to defeat the proposed amendment. This prompted a strong rebuke from The Birmingham News on Sunday.
Said the News: “This is the same Bob Riley who worked so hard in 2006, along with Rep. Knight, to raise the nation’s lowest threshold at which poor families begin paying state income tax from $4,600 to $12,600 a year. That bumped Alabama all the way up to fourth from the bottom, but since then, Hawaii and West Virginia have leapfrogged ahead of us. Only Montana, which begins taxing at $11,300 for a family of four, trails Alabama.
State worker numbers highest in a decade
The number of state workers has soared to the highest in the past decade.
The Associated Press says the numbers show state government went from 34,553 employees in fiscal 1998 to 37,512 in fiscal 2007, an 8.6 percent increase, mostly coming under the Riley Administration.
The number of employees in the biggest agencies of state government at the close of fiscal year 2007 was: Transportation 4,665, Human Resources 4,491, Public Health 4,212, Corrections 3,748, Mental Health 2,857, Public Safety 1,407, Conservation 1,302, and Revenue 1,269.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at bob@montgomeryindependent.com

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