Riley's right: Alabama's progress is encouraging
Gov. Bob Riley's State of the State address Tuesday accurately described an Alabama that has progressed during his tenure.
We may question whether he can claim credit for all of that progress, but sometimes the best one can hope for out of a politician is that he not be a hindrance. At the least, Gov. Riley has gotten out of the way of an increasingly active economy. At best, he's leading a dramatic turnaround in Alabama's fortunes.
Unemployment is at an all-time low statewide and locally. As Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, put it, "Almost everyone who wants a job pretty much has a job."
Economic development to be feeds on itself in much of the state as the full impact of a fledgling automobile industry trickles into counties far removed from the assembly plants.
The state's success in the Base Realignment and Closure process may owe more to our congressional delegation than to Gov. Riley, but it promises a boon in Huntsville that will have a positive effect throughout North Alabama.
Education funding is up, and Gov. Riley has been instrumental in getting the Alabama Reading Initiative into elementary schools throughout the state.
Gov. Riley's efforts to curb corruption and pork-barrel politics have not been entirely successful, but they have helped. Certainly there is a sense, not always present in this state, that government is becoming more transparent. The governor's office in particular has transformed itself under Gov. Riley's supervision.
The most dramatic event during Gov. Riley's tenure has been the transformation of a $675 million budget deficit into a surplus of some undetermined amount.
Gov. Riley began his term with a determined effort for tax reform that failed. Many thought his will to lead would falter. Instead, he has displayed a stubborn streak — and a receptiveness to his constituents' views — that deserves praise.
Gov. Riley follows a proud tradition of Alabama leaders who succeed because they don't have the good sense to know they've been whapped. And yes, that's a good thing.
Our main quibble with the strategy Gov. Riley outlined Tuesday involves the slow pace at which he proposed increasing the threshold income at which residents must pay income tax. The governor, no doubt still reeling from the failure of his tax-reform package, errs by packaging one such reform with other tax cuts that would gradually cut taxes over five years.
The state should immediately raise the income threshold at which taxpayers pay income taxes from the draconian $4,600 to $15,000. That is the right thing to do, and Alabamians will embrace the change without significant dissent.