Governor Bob Riley stepping up pressure on state lawmakers

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Gov. Bob Riley said Monday he has met with a small group of local lawmakers to get an update on negotiations for an occupational tax compromise.

Riley said Monday afternoon the meeting happened Saturday in Birmingham.

Riley said he urged the lawmakers to move forward before the county is forced to make more drastic cuts.

"The only people that are going to be able to solve it now are the senators and the representatives," Riley said. "It doesn't matter what the commissIon does now.  they cant solve the problem so I'm hoping that as soon as we can get a coalition together thats willing to address the problem we can do it, and we would do it as soon as possible."

Republican State Sen. Jabo Waggoner and Democratic State Rep. John Rogers have been at odds over what a replacement occupational tax should look like and who it should cover, but they seemed to be getting closer to a potential compromise, even as the county continues to slash jobs and services.

Rogers was not one of the fourt lawmakers at the private meeting with the governor on Saturday, but he did talk to the governor by phone Monday and said the two parties and two sides may be getting closer to a compromise.

The house and senate plans to replace the occupational tax that failed during the spring differed on whether they would tax licensed professionals like doctors and lawyers. The house version did, the senate version did not.

Rogers said a new compromise being floated would reduce the old five percent tax rate to 3.5 percent, but would include everyone. Rogers said Republicans are asking to have the tax put up for a referendum vote so county taxpayers would have the last say on whether it stays or goes.

"If they will agree that everybody pays across the board, no exemptions, we can do that," Rogers said. "Anything else they wanna do, they can put a vote of the people on there, do anything else, fine. Just treat everybody the same."

"That's something we can talk about," Waggoner said. "Sure, I'll consider it, but I'm just one member of the Senate delegation and there's 18 members of the House delegation. So you've got about 26 people to deal with and come up with a compromise."

Republicans have also asked to allow licensed professionals to write off their license fees if they did pay the new tax, but Rogers said they can already do that on their income tax and he's not willing to compromise there.

Neither lawmaker is making promises, but both lawmakers said they feel a sense of urgency because of the county's dire financial picture and the personal lobbying efforts by Governor Riley. The delegation was scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the occupational tax issue.  Gov. Riley has said he would call a special session to re-instate the tax if the house and senate delegations can agree on a compromise ahead of time.