With less than two weeks left in the 2012 legislative session, Alabama lawmakers have yet to consider bills that would provide fiscal relief to Jefferson County, the state's most populous county and home to Birmingham.
Last week, Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, filed three bills aimed at providing revenue for Jefferson County's dwindling general fund.
HB 654 is a local bill that would allow the county to continue to collect the one-cent sales tax that now secures $814 million of school revenue warrants after the debt is paid off. Currently, the last maturity is in 2027.
The debt is outstanding in the amounts of $534.4 million of Series 2004A fixed-rate warrants, $174.17 million of Series 2005B variable-rate warrants, and $105.5 million of Series 2005A auction-rate warrants.
In fiscal 2011, the education sales tax brought in $94.9 million, according to an annual report on revenues filed recently on the Electronic Municipal Market Access online platform.
Typically, excess sales tax goes to redeem the warrants early, though it is not clear if the county has done that in recent years when tax collections fell off.
Williams also filed HB 653 as a local measure that would authorize the county to implement an occupational tax with 20% of the collections going to the University of Alabama at Birmingham for construction and scientific, medical or innovative research projects.
In 2010, the county's occupational tax brought in $62.5 million. That tax was subsequently struck down as unconstitutional by Alabama courts and is a primary reason the county filed for bankruptcy in November.
Typically, a local bill only needs the approval of the local legislative delegation instead of the full state Legislature.
For several years, local lawmakers have used the privilege of controlling the bills to stop most legislation that would have provided relief to the county.
Williams, in a strategy to give his legislation a better chance for passage, also filed HB 652 as a general bill that pertains to the entire state but is written narrowly to apply to Jefferson County.
The bill, which would be considered by the full Legislature and not just the local delegation, would allow a county that has levied an occupational tax in the last 20 years to reinstate the tax.
The bill also distributes 20% of revenue to a local university.
Last week, Birmingham Mayor William Bell and several City Council members met with lawmakers at the capital in Montgomery and urged legislators to provide the county with fiscal relief, according to the Birmingham News.