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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 September, 2003, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
US state rejects 'Christian' tax hike
Voters line up at a polling station in Vestavia Hills, Alabama
It seems voters were unmoved by Riley's plea
Voters in the US state of Alabama have overwhelmingly rejected calls for a large tax increase.

Governor Bob Riley had appealed to voters to back the $1.2bn, saying it was their Christian duty to help fund projects for the poor.

Early reports indicated that two-thirds of voters had rejected the $1.2bn plan - reputedly the largest tax hike ever proposed in a US state.

Opponents of the plan argued state politicians needed to rein in wasteful spending instead of raising taxes.

Austerity measures

Mr Riley claimed the plan would have provided much-needed funds for the poor, improved educational resources and reduced its crippling $675m tax deficit.

The Republican governor now says he will have to begin to put in place drastic austerity measures.

These may include budget cuts for school supplies and the early release of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowded and underfunded prisons.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I've heard what the people of Alabama have said," he was quoted by the New York Times as saying following the early results.

"And they said very clearly tonight... 'We do want you to be good stewards, but we want a smaller government until you prove to us you are stewards of our money'."

Bible belt

Alabama's archaic tax laws have been enshrined in the state's constitution for around 100 years.

If the money they have now was spent wisely, we wouldn't need this
Alabama voter
Alabama, a southern state situated in what is known as the conservative "Bible Belt" of the US, has the lowest threshold for paying income tax of all US states.

Critics say many of its tax laws are seen as disproportionately favouring the rich.

It is also one of the country's poorest states.

Appealing to the state's strong churchgoing population to accept the proposed hike, Mr Riley had even promoted his campaign with the slogan "What Would Jesus Tax?".

He also attempted to appeal to the state's more liberal groups, including ethnic communities, unions and even the rival Democratic Party in a bid to pass the bill.

Special session

But pundits said this strategy alienated his conservative, traditional voting core of business owners, farmers, Christian groups and loggers.

And voters, it seems, were largely unmoved.

"If the money they have now was spent wisely, we wouldn't need this," one disgruntled woman told the Associated Press news agency.

The Alabama Legislature is now expected to be called into special session in about a week to begin debating the proposed austerity measures, before the new fiscal year begins 1 October.


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