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Riley to address Alabama in session

Gov. Bob Riley will go before the state Monday night to open, in his words, the most important special Legislative session in Alabama's history. In doing so, he opens the biggest push of his career in an effort to solve the state's financial crisis and push what promises to be the largest tax increase in Alabama history.

"Somebody, sometime had to do it," Riley said Friday. "Somebody had to stand up and be passionate about fixing this problem and passionate about Alabama's future."

Riley is expected to present a plan on Monday to Legislators that will include 10 revenue-enhancing measures. Early reports indicate that the plan will raise $1 billion dollars in taxes by hiking property taxes, personal and corporate income taxes, automobile sales taxes, taxes on services and taxes on banks, insurance companies and utilities.

If approved by the Legislature, the package will be submitted to Alabama voters for approval in a special election, perhaps as early as September. Voters will have to vote on the entire package of tax hikes and will not be allowed to select certain portions for approval.

"It has to all be considered together," said Mike Jordan, Communications Director for the House of Representatives. "While a tax on car sales might be acceptable to some, and a property tax more unpopular, in this case, if one fails, the whole thing fails and we're back to square one."

Jordan said some of the legislators were concerned that they were forced to go into the weekend without an advance copy of the bills that Riley will present Monday night.

"There's already been some talk of one or two additional special sessions," he said.

Pike County's representative, Alan Boothe, agreed with the sentiment that the people of Alabama would be better served if the representatives had been able to spend the weekend looking over the tax hike proposals.

"Some of these bills are over 100 pages long and they're just going to drop them on our desk Monday and expect them to vote on them," he said. "What I can say though, is that I will vote to give the people of Alabama a chance to vote on whether they want these taxes or not."

Riley is convinced that the tax increases, though likely to be unpopular, will be approved by voters.

"It really is to the point where we have no other option," he said. "We have not done everything we can to cut government spending, but we have run out of time. We are going to continue cutting, but we have a deadline approaching and a $600 million hole to fill."

The upcoming speech by Riley Monday night breaks with a trend of sorts. Governors usually open any special session with a speech before the full Legislature, but Riley believes this is a special case and will broadcast his address to all Alabamians.

"The people of Alabama are ultimately going to have to decide this package - not the Legislature," Riley said. "It is them who we all need to convince."

Riley has said he doesn't want the Legislature to look at passing a budget until after the referendum on the tax increases. After the election, the Legislature would return for another special session to pass the budgets before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

"The House has voted to recess until June 9," Boothe said. "We anticipate the package of bills this coming Monday and including everything from ad valorem to utility taxes. Having not seen the bills, we have to look at each one of them. The session can't last over 12 days, so we'll go back June 9."

State tax revenue in the year ending Sept. 30 totaled $6.06 billion.

BNI staff writer Leada Devaney contributed to this story.