Taxing Issues: Geography, Politics and the 2003 Tax Reform Referendum in Alabama

By Webster, Gerald R.; Webster, Roberta H. | Southeastern Geographer, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Taxing Issues: Geography, Politics and the 2003 Tax Reform Referendum in Alabama


Webster, Gerald R., Webster, Roberta H., Southeastern Geographer


In 2002, conservative Republican Bob Riley was elected governor of Alabama on a platform of cutting spending and freezing taxes. But within weeks of taking office, Riley proposed a tax reform package which promised to increase the state's tax receipts and reduce its tax code's highly regressive character. The tax reform package was submitted to the voters in September 2003, and rejected by more than a two to one margin. This article examines the electoral politics and geography of Riley's efforts to reform Alabama's tax system including the spatial pattern of voting on the reform pack age. It finds that Riley's political base of Christian conservatives was substantially responsible for the reform package's defeat. Conversely, those counties providing a majority of their support for the Governor's effort were nearly all substantially African American, and had voted for Riley's opponent in the 2002 gubernatorial election.

KEY WORDS: tax reform, electoral geography, Alabama

**********

Alabama has one of the most antiquated tax systems among all states in the United States. A recent comparative analysis of all state tax codes awarded Alabama's system of taxation "F's" for its "adequacy of revenue" and "fairness to taxpayers" (Governing 2003, 38). Due to the political power of large land-holding interests in the state, Alabama has the lowest per capita property tax assessments in the nation. But nearly half of the state's counties have combined state and local sales taxes above 9%, with some locations levying sales taxes as high as 11% (Hamill 2002, 83-85). Alabama's sales taxes are particularly burdensome upon the poor because they are levied on food purchases. The state's income tax has an equally egregious effect upon the poor due to the minimum threshold used for its assessment. In Alabama a family of four pays income tax when its income exceeds $4,600. Notably, the federal government defines the poverty level as $18,400 for a family of four (Birmingham News 2003c, 10).

Income and sales tax collections are frequently subject to substantial volatility due to fluctuations in the national economy. As a result of Alabama's disproportionate reliance upon sales and income tax receipts to support the functions of its state and local governments, the development of reliable budgets is difficult. The state has ordered mid-year cuts called "proration" in ongoing budgets fourteen times in the past 50 yr when incoming tax receipts fell below those predicted (Birmingham News 2003a, 5). In the 2000-2001 fiscal year, for example, public education suffered a 6.2% cut in an already lean annual budget half way through the school year (Tuscaloosa News 2004).

Alabama ranked 45th among the states in terms of the proportion of its per capita income collected as state and local taxes in 2002 (Tax Foundation 2003). Due to the deductibility of federal taxes from state taxes provided for in the Alabama tax code, the state falls to 49th when the combined effects of federal, state and local taxes are considered. Similarly, if one considers states in the South for a comparison, Alabama has the lowest per capita state and local tax burden among eleven of its neighbors. In 2002, Alabama's tax system raised $2,117 per state resident compared to $2,841 in Georgia, $2,664 in North Carolina, $2,436 in Louisiana and $2,214 in Mississippi (Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama 2003). Thus, Alabama's tax system commonly fails to collect sufficient revenues to meet the state's minimum needs, places a disproportionate tax burden on low income citizens, and its receipts are characterized by volatility given its disproportionate dependence upon revenues generated from economically sensitive sales and income taxes.

Due to the politically sensitive character of tax reform in Alabama, the state's political leaders have generally avoided attempts to correct problems in the tax code. But in 2003, Republican Governor Bob Riley attempted to enact Amendment 1, the most sweeping reform of the state's tax code in Alabama's history.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Taxing Issues: Geography, Politics and the 2003 Tax Reform Referendum in Alabama
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.