BRADENTON, Fla. — Despite pleas from hundreds of Jefferson County employees who fear losing their jobs, the Alabama Legislature ended its session late Friday without passing a bill reauthorizing an occupational tax that provides major funding for the county budget.
In January, a local circuit judge ruled the tax illegal, saying that the Legislature had at one point repealed it. County commissioners have appealed the ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court and the judge is allowing the county to collect the tax until the appeal is settled. There is no set time for the state’s high court to act on the case. Occupational tax revenue makes up 26% of the county’s general fund budget.
Commissioners also asked lawmakers simply to reinstate it, but the bill died after local delegation members could not agree on whether to exempt some professionals who already pay business license fees to the county.
“Their failure to act jeopardizes the county’s ability to continue to provide vital public services and endangers the health, safety and welfare of our citizens,” commission president Bettye Fine Collins said in a statement following the legislative session.
Loss of the revenue will require severe budget cuts at a time when the Jefferson County already is struggling to restructure $3.2 billion of troubled sewer bonds. Because of the massive debt the county has teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, which still remains a possibility since the Legislature also failed to act on several bills that would have provided the county with revenue necessary to restructure the debt.