"Regressive taxation is wrong!," shouts Dr. Susan Hamill. She claims she may be the only person in Alabama who is an expert in tax law and has a seminary degree. She says our tax system goes against Judeo-Christian beliefs.
"I don't use the word hypocrite in the article, but I think that's where we're going," she says. She recently addressed a conference for Alabama school superintendents; and says our taxes prey upon the people who can afford it the least. Hamill a law professor at the University of Alabama says, "the smaller the pie (family income), the bigger the bite (tax burden). The larger the pie, there's practically no bite." She's calling for tax reform and more tax dollars for education.
Montgomery superintendent Clinton Carter enjoyed her lecture, but isn't so sure the general public will. "Well I'm not sure that they would be as wooed as this group would be, but I can certainly tell you it should touch the conscience of every person in this state who has a religious conviction and who believes that we need to take care of the poorest of the poor."
Most efforts to raise taxes for Alabama schools meet bitter resistance. Hamill says accountability has to be part of any tax reform. She says the state's religious values call for lower sales taxes but higher property taxes. "Until we get our balance right, we will always have a long-term funding problem and we will always be oppressing the poor," she says.
She cites, forests cover 71 percent of Alabama, but the property tax on them make up just two percent of the state's revenue. However the state requires income taxes from families of four who earn as little as $4,600/ year. Hamill says, "we expect a family of four to shell out close to 500 bucks in state income taxes and the feds don't even touch them. Yeah, we're less compassionate than the feds."
The Alabama Forestry Association (AFA), an advocacy group for timber producers, agrees tax reform is needed, but warns against an open season on landowners. Executive director, John McMillan says, "I'd be happy to take her (Hamill) around and introduce her to plenty of landowners in Alabama, who own thousands of acres of land and if they didn't have a hunting lease on an annual basis, they couldn't afford to pay their property taxes at the current levels."
AFA says property taxes are just a portion of the tax burden paid by landowners. When their trees are cut they have to pay a severance tax; and every year they pay an acreage assessment tax that goes for fire protection. McMillan says that adds up to about $1.60/year for every acre of land; and puts Alabama in the middle of the pack in the southeast.
But how much money does one acre make when the trees are cut down? That happens once every 15 to 20 years. McMillan says, "in recent years some prime saw timber has sold as much as $5,000 dollars an acre....low end would be...down to just a few hundred dollars an acre."
McMillan says global competition and other factors have slashed timber prices to one-third of where they were eight years ago. He says if the state considers tax reform, his group will help make sure it's done fairly.
The timber industry is Alabama's largest with an annual economic impact of 13-billion dollars. 78 percent of Alabama's forest acres are owned by families and individuals. For more information visit www.alaforestry.org
To read Dr. Hamill's article on Alabama's tax structure and her assertion that it is theologically unsound visit www.law.ua.edu/directory/bio/shamill.html
This report was produced by WSFA education reporter: Michael Briddell
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