Thursday, August 28, 2003

Who would Jesus tax?

GOP aims to make an example of Alabama governor who advocates fair tax system like Jesus would support.

There's no other state where a family of three or four pays tax on income of as little as $4,600 a year. Last year the lowest-earning one-fifth of Alabama taxpayers paid 10.3 percent of their incomes in state and local levies. But the richest 1 percent paid just 3.7 percent.

Enter Alabama's Republican Gov. Bob Riley, a staunchly conservative former congressman of the Newt Gingrich school who hosts Bible classes at the state Capitol in Montgomery. Confronted with a $675 million budget deficit, Riley revolted. Cutting that deeply, he feared, would trigger a "catastrophic failure of government" in a state already in the national cellar of per-capita spending for education and other basic services.

"I've spent a lot of time reading the New Testament," said Riley, "and it has three philosophies: Love God, love each other, and take care of the least among you. It is immoral to charge somebody making $5,000 a year an income tax."

Under Riley's proposal, just the top third of income earners, plus corporations and large farm and timber operations, would pay more taxes. The state's lowest-in-the-nation property taxes would rise moderately. Alabama would rise from 50th to 44th in total state and local per-capita taxes.

Alabama's mainstream religious denominations are backing Riley. Eight former presidents of the Alabama Baptist State Convention recently declared his plan will end unfair taxation, "bringing relief and justice to the poor who are our neighbors." Many mainstream business groups, including insurance, utility, banking and consumer-product firms, back the measure as a way to boost education and sharpen work-force skills.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, wants "to make Riley the poster child for Republicans who go bad. I want every conservative Republican elected official in the United States to watch Bob Riley lose and learn from it."

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