Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2003
By Cheyenne Martin, The Messenger
On August 26 at 10 a.m. at Trojan Arena, Gov. Bob Riley will present his tax plan to Pike Countians, but not everyone is pleased with the arrangement.
The Riley Rally is being called among the "latest in what has become a pattern of abuse of authority and a waste of tax payers' money" by the Tax Accountability Coalition.
Bob Gambacurta, spokesperson for the coalition, said if such meetings are not against the law, they should be.
"These meetings are not right," Gambacurta said. "I've read the Code of Alabama 17-1-7 again and again and, from what I've read, these meetings on university campuses are against the law, but if they're not, they should be. They're just not right. They don't build trust among tax payers to give another 1.2 billion tax dollars to the state."
Dave Barron, director of University Relations and executive assistant to the chancellor, said anyone who thinks it is illegal for TSU to host the Riley Rally or that it is a waste of taxpayer's money is misinformed.
Although educators are visibly and actively supporting Amendment 1, Barron said the event at TSU is a good opportunity for every voter to learn more about the tax plan from the person who authored it.
"Everyone in Pike County is invited to attend and learn more about the plan," Barron said. "It is certainly appropriate that the citizens of Alabama be aware of the issue."
Barron said the speech is a great "lesson is civics" and local educators agree.
Superintendent Mark Bazzell said 150 Pike County High School and Goshen High School seniors and band members will be at the rally to perform and listen to what the governor has to say.
"Students do not get a chance to hear a governor speak everyday and if we waited to hear him speak at a time when there was not a political message, they would probably never hear him speak," he said. "This is a wonderful educational opportunity for our kids to hear about something that is important to them and all Alabamians."
As far as using the Riley Rally to impose political views on his students, Bazzell said he would do no such thing.
"Our kids are smart enough to say they don't want to go," he said. "But the university asked us to join with others in providing music and it's not uncommon for bands to perform in situations like this all over the country."
Rallies like this are being held at colleges and universities all over the state and are under just as much attack as the one planned for TSU.
"Friday a meeting in Hanceville of 3,500 employees of the state's two-year colleges was supposed to be a 'professional development day," Gambacurta said. "This was the first time ever all 26 of these colleges had met together for a professional development day. It turned out to be nothing more than a pro-tax rally. The governor was there. (AEA executive director) Paul Hubbard was there. People were there handing out pro-tax pamphlets and distributing yard signs.
"All 3,500 of the employees were there on the state payroll. One full day's pay for that many people would total $350,000 or more of the tapayers' dollars. It's a waste of tax dollars in support of the passage of a tax increase."
Gambacurta said two members of the state board of education challenged the meeting in Hanceville, but "the state ran over them like a steamroller."
Gambacurta said most four-year universities are hosting some kind of pro-tax event and are using university employees to organize and set up the rallies, "at tax payers' expense."
"I know that employees of Troy State University are helping to set up the Riley Rally," he said.
Gambacurta did not name the TSU employees; however, the TSU Riley Team, which is advocating the rally, includes university employees Dr. Jean Laliberte, Reba Davis and Debbie Fortune. Other members include Doni Ingram, Barbara Gibson, Bruel Davis, Eloise Kirk and Jimmy Copeland.
Gambacurta is right; TSU is arranging for Riley to speak and inform voters of his new plan, according to Barron. He said the rally was a both a chance to educate and to sell the plan, rather than face a tax outlook that was "dismal."
Gambacurta said these pro-tax rallies and the use of state employees to campaign for the tax increase are not the honest government Riley promised when he ran for governor.
"Bob Riley's campaign slogan was 'to bring honest government to Montgomery for a change' and this is not the kind of honest government people were looking for," he said.
"If state employees want to spend their time on evenings and weekends or take a leave from work to campaign for the tax hike, we have no objection to that," Gambacurta said. "But, we do object to their doing so on 'our' time, on tax payers' time."