MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Faced with the state's biggest budget deficit since the Depression, Alabama's new Republican governor is asking voters to support a plan to raise $1.2 billion through new income and property taxes.
Voters went to the polls on Tuesday to decide whether they are willing to pay for the deficit. The governor's plan seeks to improve the state's finances and education system, but would reduce the burden on poor families.
Currently, a family of four starts paying taxes after the first $4,600 in income, a lower threshold than in any other state of the union. Under the new plan, a family of four would be exempted from income taxes if it earned less than $17,000 per year.
A staunch conservative, Gov. Bob Riley (search) takes pride in his traditional Christian values, and reached back to those roots to make the case for the higher exemption.
"When I read the Bible, it says that we're supposed to do three things: love God, love each other and help take care of the least among us. And I think that's what we're doing," he said.
But while Riley's Christian roots serve him well in this Bible Belt state, his emotionally-charged proposal for a tax increase has alienated some of his traditional supporters.
The Alabama Christian Coalition (search) has come out against the governor's plan, saying it amounts to a bailout for decades of irresponsible spending by legislators in the state's capital.
"We live within our means. Montgomery must live within their means," Alabama Christian Coalition President John Giles said.
Charles Bishop, a Democrat who served as the governor's labor commissioner, resigned his post to lead the group opposing the tax increase.
"I've never in my life experienced something like this — a sham on the people like this," Bishop, of the Tax Accountability Coalition (search), said.
Opponents have produced TV ads claiming increased taxes on services will hurt working-class and elderly Alabamians.
"Same old insider game. Government wastes your money and taxes you more. Vote 'no' on Amendment One," says one anti-tax ad on the air now.
Supporters of the tax amendment fired back with their own ads, blaming opposition on campaigning by big landowners who don't want to pay their fair share.
"Now you know why they're fighting our middle-class tax cut. Enough is enough. September 9th, fight back. Vote yes," a pro-tax ad says.
Proponents say the plan would reduce income taxes for families making less than $40,000 a year. But a recent Birmingham News poll of 600 likely voters shows 58 percent oppose the plan. The opposition is even stronger among low- to middle-income voters, suggesting the governor's toughest sell must be made to the same people he intends to help.
Fox News' Jonathan Serrie contributed to this report.