Alabama Democrat Artur Davis is on a crusade to change the state’s tax code, with the goal of helping those who are struggling financially. The four-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives is running against Alabama’s Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
As Davis travels the state discussing his proposals to change the state’s tax system substantially, he has couched his efforts in moral terms. Davis has even spoken to the Christian Coalition of Alabama (CCA) to praise current Republican Gov. Bob Riley for tax reform efforts that the CCA opposed.
Last August, the CCA hosted a gubernatorial forum at Taylor Road Baptist Church in Montgomery that was attended by Davis and five Republicans. During the event, Davis referred to earlier tax reform efforts led by Riley that the CCA had opposed.
“I will give Governor Riley a lot of credit,” Davis argued. “Several years ago he recognized that not only was it bad economics but it was bad ethics. It was immoral to say to people in this state making $4,600 a year that ‘you owe the state of Alabama income taxes.'”
“We started taxing income at the low level of $4,600 a year,” he repeated. “That was wrong.”
“A lot of you probably never thought about that, ladies and gentlemen, until Governor Riley acting with the Democrats in the legislature fixed it a few years ago,” Davis added.
In 2003, Riley proposed major changes to the state’s tax system to shift the burden from the poor to wealthier individuals and to corporations. The $1.2 billion tax plan was also designed to reduce budget deficits.
“I’ve spent a lot of time studying the New Testament, and it has three philosophies: love God, love each other, and take care of the least among you,” Riley said at the time. “I don’t think anyone can justify putting an income tax on someone who makes $4,600 a year.”
Although the national Christian Coalition supported Riley’s proposal, the plan was criticized by the Alabama chapter.
“The Christian Coalition is unable to support any new permanent tax proposals to cure historical systemic failures and poor public policy of reckless and unmerited spending habits,” the state chapter declared in a resolution.
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Although Riley’s plan was voted down by the voters, some aspects, such as raising the minimum tax level, were later approved. Riley faced a challenge in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2006 from former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. However, Riley easily defeated Moore and then his Democratic opponent.
Riley’s 2003 proposal was inspired in part by the work of Susan Pace Hamill, a law professor at the University of Alabama. During the 2003 public debate, the CCA leveled personal attacks against Hamill. It was reported this month that the CCA, which has recently been criticizing Riley’s crackdown on casinos, received more than $12,000 last year in donations from the gambling industry.
Hamill, who is now running for a state House seat in Alabama, spoke about tax justice at a 2008 luncheon sponsored by EthicsDaily.com. In 2007, she appeared in the EthicsDaily.com documentary “Golden Rule Politics,” which also featured Artur Davis.
During the August CCA forum, Davis argued that the state needs a new constitution, which was last written in 1901. He insisted that some of the problems with the tax system could be corrected with an updated constitution that would emerge through a constitutional convention.
On Feb. 8, Davis returned to Taylor Road Baptist Church for a second gubernatorial forum sponsored by the CCA, where the issue of taxes once again was among the topics discussed. Other candidates also discussed tax issues during the CCA forums, but usually with a substantially different focus than that of Davis.
Roy Moore, who is seeking the Republican nomination and recently spoke at the national Tea Party Convention, argued during the August CCA forum that for the economy to improve, the government must not “tax small businesses to death.” He called for appraising business property every four years instead of every year to reduce the taxes for businesses. Moore also called for private education tax credits – along with school vouchers – to promote private schools.
Republican state legislator Robert Bentley likewise argued that the state must “keep taxes low” in order to attract businesses to Alabama and improve the state’s economy. He also urged more “tax abatements and tax breaks” for businesses to create more jobs.
During the February CCA forum, Republican Bill Johnson declared, “I am a conservative Republican and I am for small government and low taxes.” He added that rather than seeking “big government solutions,” what was really needed was to work “through our churches, our families and our communities.”
Similarly, Tim James, son of former Gov. Fob James, declared, “The last thing that I would ever allow to happen to the people of this state is to raise taxes.”
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.