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Jacksonville, Alabama

Anniston Star Editorials From Oct. 17

Note: The following editorials are reprinted with permission from today's Anniston Star. To subscribe to the Star's on-line publication, please go to www.annistonstar.com.

The sky is falling President Walker
In our opinion

Who the Sam Hill does Auburn University President William Walker think he is?

Yes, he thinks he’s the president of Auburn, but he’s acting a lot more like a cabin boy for the university’s trustees.

Why else would he be dismissing the current troubles on the Plains — problems such as trustees leaning on past presidents to change grades — as “a few people” who “have been hollering for a long time?”

Is this the kind of leadership you want at one of the South’s leading universities?

No, what you need is someone who will go out and chase down the truth.

This is all pretty critical, you see, because not only is Auburn’s credibility at risk here, so is its accreditation.

President Walker’s attitude is something like this: Samford hall is aflame, smoke is billowing out the great clock tower and here sits President Walker telling anyone who will listen that there’s no fire at Auburn, all of this is simply a few people who have been hollering for a long time.

Wake up Mr. President, wake up and resign and take a couple of problematic trustees with you.


The great exemptions game
In our opinion

When people want to call attention to how unfair our tax system is, they often point to the fact that if you buy formula to feed your baby you pay sales tax on it, but if you buy formula to feed a calf, you don’t.

But that little inequity points to a bigger problem within our tax code.

According to the most recent information we could obtain, the state of Alabama grants more than a billion dollars in tax exemptions each year — and all of these exemptions are statutory, granted by legislative act, not constitutional amendment.

Now here we are in the middle of a financial crisis, a crisis that is forcing people to accept less from the state. Well, shouldn’t the special interests that receive these exemptions be willing to receive less as well?

Consider this. If the Legislature simply voted to cut the tax exemptions by 10 percent the state would have more than $128 million to apply to the shortfall we are currently facing.

You can buy a lot of textbooks with $128 million, hire a lot of State Troopers, house a lot of prisoners. And if the Legislature cut the tax exemptions by 20 percent — which would still leave the exempted well taken of — the state would have more than $256 million with which to work.

With the budget crisis promising to get even worse next year, some legislators are talking about a temporary sales tax to help us get by.

Wouldn’t it make sense to target the exemptions before considering a general increase in what is clearly a regressive tax system?

True, reducing exemptions would be a tax increase, but it would be more selective and might, in the long run, be less of a burden on the tax paying public.


... Or why not consider this?
In our opinion

But before we go off advocating that we cut the exemptions willy-nilly, wouldn’t it be better to determine if the exemptions are really justified? For example, if an exemption directly favors the general population and not a special interest group, that would be justified, wouldn’t it?

Sales taxes are not collected on pharmaceuticals, which is fair since all but a fortunate few need prescription drugs.

And sales taxes are not collected on haircuts — another exemption that touches just about everyone.

But what about the more than $140 million in agricultural exemptions on things like fertilizer and calf formula?

Where is the direct benefit to the general population? Or the $90 million in industrial exemptions? Or the numerous cases where less than the state’s 4 percent tax is collected on certain transactions?

Isn’t it about time we reconsidered these exemptions?

Here’s an idea.

The Legislature could declare a moratorium on the exemptions for a year (excluding the exemption on prescription drugs). The Legislature enacted these exemptions.

The Legislature can suspend them. And during that year each of the interests could present its case to a joint committee of the House and Senate, with some regular citizens sitting in.

At the end of the year the committee could recommend whether the exemptions should be renewed, revised or rejected.

In the meantime, we would collect those exempted taxes and apply them to our current budget crisis. And how much would that bring in?

Oh, about $1.2 billion. You know, the amount Gov. Riley said we needed to balance our books and prepare us for the 21st century.

Now isn’t that interesting?

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Contact the Star's editorial page: speakout@annistonstar.com

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