Voters: No how, no way
By By Bill Crist Special to the Advance
Voters in Escambia County said 'they'd had enough' and voted no on Amendment One Tuesday. Countywide, 8,684 voters took to the polls, with 5,848 voting against the amendment and 2,836 voting for it.
The margin of victory, just over 2-to-1, followed the pattern established in earlier opinion polls and then of the statewide results from Tuesday that were available at presstime. With nearly every precinct reporting, 849,724 voted against the package compared to 410,979 who voted for it.
Amendment One, Gov. Bob Riley's $1.2 billion tax plan, faced an uphill battle ever since it was made public. Its defeat leaves many questions unanswered, but some local residents think it also leaves a great window of opportunity.
Brewton resident Earl Cooper put a positive spin on the outcome, calling it a win-win situation for the people of Alabama.
"I feel this is a win-win situation," Cooper said. "A lot of people were actively opposed to the amendment, but deep in their hearts they are concerned about the state of the state, education, etc. I think this will create more government involvement by the citizens. For too long we've been dictated to by the legislators."
One of the groups hoping for a different outcome were the state's educators.
"We're going to do a couple of things," Brewton City School Superintendent Lynn Smith said. "The legislature has approved the (Escambia County) commissioners' request for a 3 mill renewal and 10 mills additional ad valorem tax."
That request, originally to have been voted on this month, was put on hold pending the outcome of yesterday's vote. According to Smith, a grassroots effort will be organized for a tentatively-scheduled December election.
"I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed," said Melvin 'Buck' Powell, superintendent of the Escambia County Board of Education. "It is about what I expected."
Powell has said he has next to no local funds left to augment what the state allocates for schools.
"Escambia County is just about busted. I heard the 'no' folks say tonight (on a television broadcast) that we had plenty of money. I just don't believe that." Powell said.
Some experts say that opponents to the plan had the easier job selling their message. They were able to play on the public's distrust of politicians and that about the unneeded size of the package.
"It was an awful big bite of the apple," he said. "I think it was overwhelming. But it will be a good opportunity for the legislators to get in line with what the people think instead of the lobbyists."
Although Smith said he didn't think there would be an immediate impact due to the vote, several factors could make December's vote even more important.
"We're impacted by the things that happen around us," he said.
Smith referred to the possible closing of schools within the Escambia County system, and even Conecuh County.
"Hopefully we'll be able to generate enough support in Escambia County that the measure will pass."
Amendment One was designed to overcome a projected $675 million deficit in the coming year's budget as well as pay for new education programs.
The governor is expected to call the Legislature into special session next week to work out the coming year's budget. The state's fiscal year begins Oct. 1. By law, the state must operate under a balanced budget.
In additional to educational leaders at both the K-12 and college and university level, local health care officials are particularly concerned about the results.
Dr. Marsha Raulerson, a Brewton pediatrician, said before the vote that several agencies that provide vital services to the public, such as AllKids and WIC, are in danger of ceasing operations due to a lack of funding.
"Our biggest healthcare issue will be funding Medicaid," Raulerson said last week.
She said that Escambia County had received over $22 million in Medicaid funds last year.
Smith acknowledged that the December vote would only help the schools, and that it would not start flowing into the coffers until December 2004, if it passes. He said that if necessary, the schools would be able to borrow money based on the future tax income.
"Hopefully the legislators will use this as a reflection of the public's will," Cooper said.