Riley addresses Auburn
Special to the Advance
Governor Bob Riley has it all figured out. After trying to make sense of Alabama's financial woes the last four decades, he's reached the conclusion that unless Alabamians make a fundamental change in their approach to the structure of education and government in Alabama, the state will continue to dwell at the bottom of most national rankings.
"For all my life I've tried to figure out why we're last in everything," Riley said as he addressed business and community leaders Tuesday at Auburn University Montgomery's business breakfast. "I've finally figure out why. What we've done is taken a dysfunctional model and continually tried to reform it the last 40 or 50 years. Albert Einstein said it best 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.'"
Riley's comments came as he continues to press for passage of his sweeping $1.2 billion tax and accountability package that goes before voters in a state-wide referendum Sept. 9. Recent polls show the governor has some serious ground to cover if the package is to become a reality, and he knows it. But that's not stopping him from trying to pull the state out of a perpetual financial crisis that has plagued Alabama for decades.
"We have lived on borrowed money the last 30 years," he said. "It has been a cycle that has built up year after year and in the last four years has doubled."
According to the state finance office Alabama faces a $675 million budget shortfall for the coming year and opponents of the plan say Riley's $1.2 billion solution is too much. For them, Riley has two options. This first, he said, is to make sweeping, across the board cuts to state services and make the state government and the services it provides "totally dysfunctional." The second is to raise $675 million to satisfy next year's need.
"Do this and we will remain where we have the last 40 to 50 years," he said.
The majority of Riley's speech centered on how the package, when approved, would reform the state's educational system and catapult it to the best in the nation by fully implementing the state's reading program to every school system and fully funding the math, science and technology programs. It also includes provisions on college scholarships and changes in tenure laws to allow school systems to dismiss teachers who don't measure up.
"The Massachusetts school system came and took Alabama's reading program and put it in all their schools and now their reading scores are number one in the county," he said. "That should tell you something right there. But we can't afford it?"
Riley is not optimistic about the state's future if the plan fails.
"I promise you if this fails, you will not have another opportunity to do this – at least in my lifetime," he said. "The only thing I ask you is to believe in Alabama and believe we can be the best."