They’ll probably label it a tax hike. That’s what always happens anytime anyone attempts to reform Alabama’s mangled tax code.

Alabamians hate tax increases. Just ask Gov. Robert Bentley.

If you want to keep your special-interest tax deduction, credit or incentive, a flat income tax is a threat. After all, it is designed to simplify taxes. That’s the tradeoff. Removing specific deductions and carve-outs are the price you pay for lower rates and simplicity.

That’s how you attack a flat tax. Fuel outrage over a few people losing their special treatment and get the average taxpayer worked up enough to overlook the fact that their tax bill might actually be lower.

State Sen. Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, knows he’s taking a risk. Even though his effort won’t be a net tax increase for the state, some businesses and individuals in Alabama will pay higher taxes.

Hightower is one of them. He’s run the figures on his own individual income taxes and expects to pay a little more.

He simply sees the benefit to Alabama as greater than the increase in his personal taxes. “It will be simpler for everyone and the majority of Alabamians will experience a tax reduction,” he says. “Any increase, for most people, will be offset by the savings from not having to pay an accountant to file.”

“The people opposed to a flat tax are those who are only looking to see whether their individual tax bill increases or decreases,” says Hightower.

He’s urging Alabamians to consider the bigger picture, and he cites North Carolina as an example. North Carolina routinely engaged in a “government goodies” battle with South Carolina for attracting new business and routinely lost.

That’s how Alabama operates now. We cut generous deals to businesses trying to lure them to the state. You’ve seen it time and again. We can call it whatever makes politicians more comfortable, but we’re basically using tax dollars and specific tax breaks to pay a business to come to the state. Almost all other states do it, so the justification for the practice is that we’ll be left out if we don’t play the game.

North Carolina modified that game by lowering tax rates and simplifying their tax code. Hightower notes, “Most jobs are created by existing businesses, not new ones coming to the state. We need to make a good business environment for anyone to operate.”

Hightower has a point.

Ask existing businesses in Alabama how they feel about the state’s economic development strategy. State economic developers chase flashy names with generous offers and relatively little economic accountability on the back end. If you’re already here, you either have the political clout to get in on the action or you’re left out altogether.

Hightower sees a flat tax as a way to encourage economic growth while reducing the use of “government goodies” to attract business.

Before conservatives get their hackles up, the tax hawks at Americans for Tax Reform are backing Hightower’s idea.

In fact, a flat tax is the kind of conservative idea that Alabama needs: Take out the special treatment and lower taxes for everyone. The change wouldn’t hurt Alabama’s revenues, and it would help a lot of average individuals and businesses with their taxes.

The folks who won’t like a flat tax are the ones fine with the status quo. If a change threatens what they have, they’d rather keep the rest of Alabama footing the bill. Sen. Hightower is willing to take the political risk; the average taxpayer would be wise to take him up on his offer.

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