Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Read their lips

Historically, Alabama politicians have had three sure-fire ways to garner electoral support without having to get into much substance. They could race-bait (though the efficacy of that tactic mercifully has waned steadily since the 1970s). They could thump the Bible. And they could scream at the top of their lungs about the very concept of taxation.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, a renowned master of the second tactic, is trying the third on for size. Moore complains that Alabama counties' ongoing shift to annual property revaluations, rather than once every four years as in the past, is a "stealth tax" (even though property owners receive notices of their new valuations and can challenge them) and is "taxation without representation" (which doesn't make a lick of sense in this context but sure sounds nice on a bumper sticker).

Lest you doubt the power of anti-tax sentiment in this state, note that Gov. Bob Riley, whose administration ordered the annual revaluations in the first place, said through a spokesman that he's all for legislation to restore a quadrennial appraisal schedule. On the Democratic side, former Gov. Don Siegelman backs the old valuation system, too, while Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley says the decision should be left to the people.

For now, state law requires that property taxes be collected based on fair market value, which can change drastically in four years. A fair reading of that law strongly suggests that to comply, officials must conduct reappraisals more frequently than quadrenially, and that was the approach the Riley administration adopted when it instituted an annual revaluation schedule in 2003. From a practical standpoint, that change has state and county governments on track to collect more than $400 million in additional tax revenue annually by 2010, with much of it going to Alabama's perpetually underfunded public schools.

That'd be a big chunk of change to chop out of budgets, but Moore has the answer, which oddly enough is remarkably similar to his answer to the state's looming Medicaid shortfall: Just cut waste. Of course, the Mobile Register reports today that he's only pointed to several thousands of dollars' worth of wasteful spending, which is somewhat less than $400 million, but you get the idea.

Moore also recommends that the state use its Education Trust Fund surplus to help counties make up for any shortfalls resulting from a return to quadrennial reappraisals: "If the state has that extra money, they could help out the counties." And that would be a wonderful long-term solution in a world where the economy never takes a downturn, the government always has extra tax revenues on hand, and puppies ride on the backs of unicorns. One day, when future generations stumble across that world while hitchhiking across the galaxy, they'll thank the Granite King.


Blogger Kathy said...

I thought Roy didn't believe in constitutional reform. Aren't most of the funds he's talking about spreading around where they're most needed actually earmarked? And wouldn't it take major constitutional changes to un-earmark them?

8:22 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

I just attended a local legislative forum with the senators and representatives for Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook, and they were asked about returning to an every-four-year property appraisal. According to one representative, the leg is for it b/c the senior citizens are complaining. The property tax exemptions for low income people were passed in the late 70's, and the income threshold was set at $12,000, and (as usual) not indexed. The educators in attendance like the once a year plan because it leads to higher and steadier revenue streams.

We were also patted on the head and told to let the legislature handle constitutional reform. Uh-huh...

1:51 PM  

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