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Friday, March 21, 2008

The Audacity of a Dope

Alabama Governor Bob Riley evidently fancies himself as the David Copperfield of politics--a master of deception, if you will.

But Riley's sleight of hand is easy to spot for those who are paying attention. And it leaves us with this question: Just how dumb does the governor think we Alabama citizens are?

Pretty dumb, apparently. But I would say Riley himself is the real dope.

We learned this week that Riley has the audacity to pretend that he is concerned about Alabama's system of taxing natural gas that is pumped offshore by ExxonMobil and other corporate titans. In fact, Riley has proposed a plan that would overhaul the state's severance tax and impose a tax rate on the amount of gas produced. Riley said a volume tax would be easier to compute and administer than the value tax that is currently used.

What is so audacious about this?

* Alabama Lt. Governor Jim Folsom Jr. already has proposed a rewrite of Alabama's tax on oil and natural-gas production--and he did it more than two months ago. Folsom noted that Alabama's current tax is a percentage of the value of the gas after it has been processed, and he proposed a volume-based tax levied when the natural gas comes out of the ground. It's possible there are some differences between Folsom's plan and Riley's plan. But they sound pretty much identical from here, and it appears Riley flat out stole Folsom's idea.

* In announcing his plan, Folsom noted the devastating impact of the decision last year by the Alabama Supreme Court to overturn almost all of a $3.6 billion jury award against ExxonMobil and for the State of Alabama. Riley makes no mention of the ExxonMobil case. Perhaps that's because Riley is bought and paid for by the same corporate types who have bought and paid for the Republicans on the Alabama Supreme Court, the ones who cheated the state out of billions of badly needed dollars.

* Shortly after the ExxonMobil ruling, Riley announced that the state would not even try to have the case reheard. I'm not an expert on appellate law, but I have a feeling the case could have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. But we have no word from the Riley camp that they intend to seek such review. And it's too late to do that anyway. The Alabama Supreme Court ruling was issued in late October, so the 90-day window for seeking certiorari review from the U.S. Supreme Court has passed. Oh well, it was only $3.6 billion.

* Again, I'm not an expert on appellate law. I do know that the U.S. Supreme Court rarely reviews cases just because a state's high court has screwed it up. (That's why our elections for those state high-court races are so important, folks.) A case usually has to involve bigger issues than that to draw the attention of the U.S. Supremes. But the amount of money involved, the international scope of ExxonMobil, the national importance of natural-gas exploration, issues raised over interpretation of a contract with a multinational corporation . . . all of that might make the case of interest to the U.S. Supremes. But the Riley camp didn't even try. Now they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court about Riley's right to fill vacant county commission seats. But fighting for $3.6 billion for the citizens of Alabama? Nah.

* What is Riley really up to with his plan on natural-gas taxes? He's trying to provide cover for the Republicans on the Alabama Supreme Court who authored the ExxonMobil screw job. Unlike Folsom, who essentially says contracts need to be revised because the state high court won't protect citizens from corporate fraud, Riley says the contracts themselves were at fault. If you study the ExxonMobil case, you find that Alabama's contracts already had been strengthened to put the state in a better position than it was previously. That's why ExxonMobil didn't like them and decided to get around them by committing fraud. The current contracts appear to have been written with the idea that ExxonMobil was somewhat honorable and would not try to get around the contracts by committing fraud. The oil giant has proven that it is not at all honorable and will indeed commit fraud, so Folsom says even the hint of a loophole must be closed. Riley, on the other hand, points a finger only at the contracts, never raising the issue of fraud.

It's amusing to hear Riley harrumph about contracts that he says allow ExxonMobil and other companies to use Alabama's natural resources without paying a fair price. But the contracts don't allow that unless the company is trying to commit fraud, which the Alabama Supreme Court lets them get away with it.

Get a load of Riley's quotes:

"It's unconscionable. It is something that absolutely ends up fleecing the people of Alabama." (No, Bob, the Alabama Supreme Court is the one who allowed ExxonMobil to fleece the people of Alabama.)

"As long as I'm governor, we will not allow any company, Exxon or any other international company, to come into this state and take our natural resources free of charge." (You've already seen Exxon get away with fraud, and you chose to do nothing about it.)

"This is one of the most egregious acts that I've seen since I've been governor." (Oh, really? Where were you when the $3.6 billion screw job was going down?)

Here's a question: How many Alabamians will buy Riley's act of deception without batting an eye?

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