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MONDAY, JANUARY 2, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Good idea, GOP: Cut taxes; start where itís needed most

Gov. Bob Riley and other Republicans are saying that if the state has more money than it needs, they'd like to provide tax relief to Alabama citizens.

The education budget is looking flush as fiscal year 2007 approaches. The General Fund is not as well off, but Mr. Riley told a GOP group in mid-December that "if there is any money left after we build this budget, we are going to give it back to the hardworking families of Alabama."

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Alabama GOP chairwoman, wrote in a column printed in Sunday's DAILY that "the money rightfully belongs to the taxpayers." Republicans "have recently proposed returning any leftover revenue to the people of Alabama once education, government services and other essential items have been properly funded," she said.

Good idea. Let's relieve the tax burden — giving priority to the taxpayers who need relief most. Those would be lower-income Alabamians, who pay a disproportionate share of taxes.

State officials should review "The Alabama Tax & Budget Handbook," published in 2005 by Arise Citizens' Policy Project and VOICES for Alabama's Children. They can find it at www.arisecitizens.org. This booklet documents the unfairness of our tax system.

Alabama's is the only state income tax that has not been revised in 15 years to relieve low-income taxpayers, and rising sales taxes are "taxing low-income workers deeper into poverty," the booklet points out.

Last year, Alabama achieved the dubious distinction of having the lowest tax threshold in the country. A single parent with two children starts paying income tax at $4,600 in annual income.

To his credit, Mr. Riley has tried to do something. "It's almost indefensible when you are charging somebody who makes less than $5,000 a year an income tax," he said in August 2002 before being elected governor. "It's not right. It's almost immoral." He said then that he'd like to take the state sales tax off food.

He tried to make taxes fairer in his 2003 Amendment One tax proposal, but voters knocked down the whole package because it included a big tax increase. Now is the time to separate the issue of tax fairness from that of a tax increase.

Mr. Riley could claim the moral high ground on this issue as he runs for re-election against Ten Commandments judge Roy Moore. Religious leaders — including Southern Baptists, United Methodists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians — called for tax reform years ago.

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