Amazing grace, how sweet the sound... In a stunning subplot to the fiscal crises roiling the states, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) - who for three terms in Congress boasted that he never voted for a tax increase and was elected governor on a promise not to raise taxes - is proposing to raise state taxes by a record $1.2 billion, eight times the largest previous increase and almost twice what is needed to close a $675 million budget deficit. Seizing Alabama's crisis as an opportunity to right historic wrongs, he says the state should act to improve schools funded at the nation's lowest level per child and to lift the tax burden from poor people, who pay income taxes starting at $4,600 a year for a family of four while out-of-state timber companies pay $1.25 an acre in property taxes. The changes would move Alabama from 50th to 44th in total state and local taxes per capita, he says. "I'm tired of Alabama being first in things that are bad and last in things that are good," an impassioned Riley told a Rotary Club . . . The born-again Baptist governor is telling voters in this Bible Belt state that their tax system, which imposes an effective rate of 3 percent on the wealthiest Alabamians and 12 percent on the poorest, is "immoral" and needs repair. "When I read the New Testament, there are three things we're asked to do: That's love God, love each other and take care of the least among us," Riley said in his office in the antebellum state Capitol. The Chairman of the state Republican party, is somewhat disturbed by this Pinochet-like conversion on the way to Damascus - and by Governor Riley's plan to rely on Black turnout to carry it out. Nice to hear the Biblical imperative of economic justice - rather than the social norms set forth in the literal text - getting some play in the press for a change...

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