Jacksonville (Alabama), Sept. 6: Alabama, one of the poorest states in America and the scene of many of the epochal civil rights battles of the 1960s, is embroiled in a new conflict — this time over tax — and the Republican governor is leading the charge.
To many Republicans, Bob Riley’s plan to shift the burden of taxation from the poor to the rich amounts to heresy, but as far as he is concerned it is nothing less than a biblical obligation. Riley, a former door-to-door egg salesman, is a conservative born-again Baptist with an uncanny resemblance to Ronald Reagan as a young man.
But he has turned the Right’s conventional wisdom on the evils of taxation on its head, arguing that it is a Christian duty to do more for the needy “and that this can best be achieved by government”. This has shocked members of his own party.
“The New Testament tells us to love each other, love God and love the least among us,” he said as he crisscrossed the state ahead of a referendum to be held on Tuesday, as required by Alabama law for any reform to the tax system. “I didn’t have a religious epiphany. I just think that one part of my faith is to help the least fortunate.”
In Alabama, Riley justifies the need for higher taxes by appealing to the pride of those fed up with their home state’s image as one of the most backward in the Union. Alabama can reach the top rather than continue languishing at the bottom of the table of the 50 states, he said. The southern state has to survive what Riley, 58, describes as its worst financial crisis since the Roosevelt era. One of his remedies is a £765 million tax rise to plug the deficit.