New legislative sessions begins today in Montgomery

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 3, 2003

Pike County's legislative representatives are gearing up for work.

Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D - 30th district) and Rep. Alan Boothe (D - 89th district) both said they would know more about what to expect in the coming session after hearing Gov. Bob Riley's State of the State address tonight.

Today is the first official day of the session and so far, Gov. Riley has not given specifics on how he plans to deal with the states vast financial crisis and such problems as prison overcrowding.

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&uot;The tone of the business agenda will be set by Riley's speech,&uot; Mitchell said. &uot;I expect him to outline his plans to remove the budget deficit. I expect him to come forward with a legislative program that he expects to be considered during this session.&uot;

Boothe agreed that a great deal will ride on the specific policy proposals delivered by Riley.

&uot;There's not a lot being done until after the Governor's speech. It'd be prohibitive to get involved in anything until the governor gives us some ideas,&uot; he said.

Mitchell said, while he had not been privy to Riley's preparations for the speech, he expects to hear about voter ID programs and some tax reform proposals.

Of the voter ID programs, Mitchell said he expected to see some sort of legislation proposed early in the session.

&uot;Primarily, the object is to make sure that person who comes to cast a vote is indeed that person and there is no fraud,&uot; he said. &uot;There doesn't have to be a newly issued card. It could be something somebody already possesses. In the past it's been a slow go on this issue because a lot of people feel that it would disenfranchise people, but I think it's just good government. Any person should be able to get a card to meet these requirements.&uot;

In addition, Mitchell said he expected to see proposals on lifting some of the tax burdens on Alabama's poorest residents. A recent Associated Press poll found that a majority of Alabama legislators agree with Riley when he says it’s immoral to start charging state income tax on a family of four that earns $4,600 a year.

&uot;The tax burden starts in Alabama under $5,000. We're the lowest in the country,&uot; Mitchell said.

Though he said he didn't know at what level people should begin getting taxed, he said the current level was unacceptable.

&uot;I'd like to see what a good fair average would be. You can't raise yourself, much less a family, on $5,000 a year,&uot; he said.

Boothe said he had already been in meetings and discussions with fellow representatives on the issue and predicted legislation to deal with the matter.

&uot;I think you're going to see a proposal to shift the burden off the backs of the people least able to pay,&uot; he said.

Would he support such legislation?

&uot;Well, $4,600 is pretty low, but I'd have to look at specific legislation. Do you then start upping it on others? It would have to be equitable. I would need to look at specific legislation, but we need to shift that burden.&uot;

A study last month by Governing magazine ranked Alabama’s tax system one of the three worst in the nation. The study showed Alabama to have the lowest income tax threshold of any state.

&uot;It is immoral,&uot; Riley said Wednesday. &uot;There is no way we can justify that.&uot;

Mitchell said he expected to also see a proposal to eliminate federal income tax from state returns.

&uot;If you file an Alabama tax return because of earned income in our state, you are allowed certain deductions and there's a deduction for federal income tax,&uot; he said. &uot;There will probably be a proposal to end that.&uot;

Mitchell also said he would support the elimination of taxes on prescription drugs and on groceries, items that he called &uot;vital.&uot;

&uot;I want any tax reform that we engage in to be fair,&uot; he said.

Boothe said he expects Riley to look for places to trim fat and said tax increases would be an unpopular way to fund government activities.

&uot;We're in a tremendous crunch. I don't know what the solutions to the problems are. People around the state have been defeating tax increases pretty soundly,&uot; he said.

When committee meetings start Thursday, Boothe said he would be busy, but still plans to push a bill to automate records in the Pike County Probate Office. The measure was approved several weeks ago by the Pike County Commission.

However, Boothe said the Pike County Commission had still not committed to whether or not there will be a bill proposing a 75-25 split of the 1-cent sales tax currently devoted to education.

&uot;The Pike Co. Commission has not told me what their intentions are,&uot; he said.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at