Quin, my point wasn’t to criticize Bob Riley’s record in its entirely. His 2003 tax plan seems to have been an anomaly — but it was an act of fiscal heterodoxy and a strong example of the trend I was discussing.
Riley’s plan was a $1.2 billion net tax increase. He did not seek to address the regressivity of Alabama’s tax code by increasing personal exemptions but rather by engaging in redistributive taxation. And he explicitly justified this redistributive taxation on Biblical grounds: “Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least among us.”
The plan was heavily influenced by a liberal evangelical named Susan Pace Hamill, who was profiled by the American Prospect. It is worth noting that the plan was praised by liberals, religious and secular alike, and opposed by most conservatives. The debate played a role in the Alabama state chapter of the Christian Coalition, which was against the tax hike, separating from the national organization, which favored it. Jeremy Lott covered the strange-bedfellows aspect of this for The American Spectator.
After Alabama voters solidly rejected the tax plan, Riley reverted to a more traditional fiscal conservatism. But for part of 2003, he certainly seemed influenced by the more expansive view of government embraced by some younger evangelicals today.