Alabama lawmakers fight with cities over occupational tax, local control issue

Published 4:43 pm Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Alabama lawmakers moved forward Tuesday with an attempt to block Montgomery’s possible occupational tax, the latest clash between the Alabama Legislature and cities over local control.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee voted 8-2 to advance the House-passed bill that would prevent cities from implementing occupational taxes without the approval of the Alabama Legislature. The measure comes as the city of Montgomery weighs the creation of an occupational tax, a tax paid by those who work in the city, even if they live outside the city.

The bill follows legislative action in past years that blocked Birmingham from raising the minimum wage and majority-black cities from taking down, or altering, Confederate monuments. It continues debate over which decisions should be made by local officials and which by the state.

Proponents said that since occupational taxes are paid by those living outside the city, the decision should be made by legislators. The mayors of the state’s10 largestcities sent legislators an open letter against the occupational tax legislation, saying it denies municipal officials the ability to do their jobs.

“Our opposition to the bill extends beyond a possible ban on new occupational taxes. We are opposed to the bill’s assault on local governance. No municipal official desires to irresponsibly raise taxes,” the letter read.

The author of the bill, Republican Rep. Chris Sells of Greenville, said cities would still have the option of increasing occupational taxes. But Sells said the measures should involve local legislation at the Alabama Statehouse to ensurethose living outside the city have input in the decision.

“The option is still there. What it does is give the people outside a municipality a voice through us,” Sells told the committee.

Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed spoke out against the legislation during the committee meeting. Reed said the cities have limited options for raising revenue to provide services and lawmakers are attempting to take an option away.

“This is not just about Montgomery. It’s not just about one tax. It’s about local control,” Reed told reporters after the meeting.

Reed noted that that many state officials don’t like the federal government dictating things to the state “but at the same time the same time they turn aroundand claim the authority from cities and municipalities who duly elect their representatives to make decisions on a local level.”

Alabama lawmakers swiftly passed a state law several years ago that blocked Birmingham’s plans to raise the minimum age.Proponents argued the state should have a uniform minimum wage. Birmingham also faces a $25,000 state fine under a state law for using wooden panels to obscure the inscriptions on a Confederate monument that stands in a city park in the majority-black city.