Alabama is at a critical moment. Our state is currently facing a budget crisis unlike anything seen since the Great Depression. Almost one-fourth of our school systems will have depleted their funds by Sept. 30.
Without new money to patch the holes, school children will lose 5,200 teachers and support personnel. Extra curricular activities like baseball or music and arts programs will be curtailed.
The rising costs of services, the sluggish economy and our dependence on one-time funding sources are the causes of our fiscal crisis. The governor's tax package provides a plan that is fair, equitable, revenuepositive, and one that will support future needs of public education and other vital public services. This plan provides a long-term solution rather than a temporary quick fix. Take a look at what the plan really does:
. Creates a state-paid college scholarship program for students with at least a B average, fully funds the Alabama Reading Initiative, a proven successful reading program; reduces teacher shortages in areas that are difficult to staff by offering incentives to those who will teach in these areas; expands the Math and Science Initiative program to ensure thousands more students will graduate with nationally competitive academic skills; improves the quality of schools by making it less cumbersome and less expensive for school boards to dismiss teachers who cannot or will not teach; mandates higher qualifications and more financial training for superintendents and school financial officers; provides for greater fiscal responsibility of local school boards by expanding the state's authority to monitor school spending and its authority to take over poorly performing schools.
The overall cost per household of the plan depends upon how much you earn and the value and amount of real property you own. Most of my fellow baseball fans in Millbrook will pay no more in income and property taxes. And yet, this package requires those with wealth to step up to the plate and pay their fair share. Parents who earn less than $40,000 a year could see a decrease in their state income tax of $200.
According to the most recent data, Alabama's median income is $41,657. Nearly 70 percent of Alabamians will pay the same or lower state income taxes than they do now. This encourages employment, job growth and is a particular advantage for working poor families trying to transition from welfare to work. Right now, working poor families begin paying state income tax on earnings below federal poverty level. A family of four must pay state income tax when they earn $4,600. The new law provides an incentive to work and would allow them to earn more and keep more. The same family of four will not pay state income tax in 2004 until income reaches $17,000 and, when the proposed state income tax law is fully implemented, in over four years, this threshold will increase to $20,000.
The governor's plan eliminates the federal income tax deduction while mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and medical expenses will remain tax deductible.
Property taxes will increase under the tax plan, but overall, Alabama citizens will still pay 75 percent less than property owners in neighboring states. The owner of an average Alabama home ($85,000), currently taxed at about $25 a month, will pay roughly $8 more a month.
A $100,000 home, currently taxed at about $30 a month, will see a tax increase of about $11 a month.
On farm and timber land, the state average is approximately $1.25 an acre; that will increase to $2.50 an acre on average. To protect the family farm the first 200 acres will be exempt from state property taxes.
Like a winning coach, Gov. Riley has developed a game plan to make the tax structure fair. And yet, coaches don't win ballgames, players do. Ultimately, it is up to us, the taxpayers, to educate ourselves and lend our active support to the plan.
Lisa Parrish is the director of communications for VOICES for Alabama's Children .